With the release of the Pixel and Pixel XL phones coming up, rumors abound that Google will be announcing a new platform based on Android enhanced by Chrome OS features, called Andromeda . Google has already started bringing features from one to the other ( Android apps in Chrome OS, seamless updates in Android, etc.), but questions remain about how Google intends to gain market share in the laptop and convertible market.
Chrome OS already has a substantial niche in the education sector thanks to the low price of Chromebooks and their ease of use, but how will Google grow beyond that? How can Google use that niche to expand Andromeda to other markets? What can Google do to compete against existing laptop operating systems with long histories of native program libraries and users growing accustomed to the design language?
Developer support is vital, and a major problem is going to be app development. Right now Android Studio does not run on Android or Chrome OS, but it will need to run on Andromeda if Google wants to succeed. With Chrome OS, everything is web focused, so you didn’t really need a development environment for running anything locally (and development tools are limited ). With Android, historically most devices weren’t powerful enough to develop on, and developers typically didn’t want to develop on smaller screens anyway. With Andromeda though, Google is targeting an expansion of Chrome OS’s market share, by bringing Android (with some Chrome OS features added in) and the ability to run Android apps to the laptop and 2-in-1 markets. Full Android apps on, potentially, your primary laptop. If Google doesn’t port Android Studio to Andromeda, they will be severely handicapping themselves. They would essentially be telling any developer that can only afford one computer “Too bad. We won’t let you develop for our laptops while on our laptops.” They would be directly harming the ability of the developers most interested in their products to develop for those products.
Google needs to make sure that it is easy for developers to get involved in the Andromeda development scene, and Google does know this. They’ve been pushing how easy it is to get into Android development for a long time (which is a big part of why they chose Java), and it has gone a long way towards helping grow the Android platform, and especially the platform’s app store. They just need to keep pushing for it, they need to keep improving ease of use. Android Studio needs to be easy to install and update on Andromeda. It needs to run smoothly despite the low power processors (compared to what you see in workstations) that you will often see in Andromeda devices. It needs to be something that the students who will likely make up a significant portion of Andromeda’s initial customer base will want to use.
Google has made it possible to run Android apps in Chrome OS, and that is helping to bridge the gap and ease transition pains by unlocking a huge repertoire of apps for the new OS, from both Chrome OS and Android, but even that doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of the huge libraries that Windows, OSX, and Linux have (especially with Google discontinuing Chrome Apps). Andromeda will need substantial development to fill in the gaps, as even being able to do 90% of what people use their laptops for still means that for many people, Andromeda will not be enough.
Many companies have ported versions of their desktop software to Android for cheap or for free (like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word), albeit often with a reduced feature set, but will they block that version on laptops/hybrids in order to prevent cannibalizing their own desktop sales? What will Google have to do to convince them to target that market?
A developer may not want to sell a game on Andromeda laptops for $10, when the Windows/Linux/etc. version of the same game goes for $30. Some developers might split out the phone and laptop/tablet versions of the app into two different Play Store listings in order to try to keep their prices consistent in some ways. Andromeda will have a limited program library as it is, Google cannot afford to let it splinter.
If the program library problems weren’t enough, Google is also going to have to deal with the issue of inter-OS compatibility if they want Andromeda to take off in the corporate world. Microsoft Office tends to not play nice with other office suites, often having issues with both opening and saving files in industry standard formats (which Microsoft claims to follow, but that’s a different article), and Microsoft Office is extremely widespread. Google themselves have issues with it as well, with Google Drive sometimes struggling to export documents that won’t lose key formatting when imported elsewhere. If Google wants to break Microsoft’s hold on the office environment, they’re going to have to take a shot at it from multiple levels. Just having a fantastic product alone isn’t enough (as LibreOffice/OpenOffice has proven). Google needs to push for ODF support and for public adoption of open standards (especially at a governmental level), something that The Document Foundation has actually been seeing a lot of success with lately. Google needs to fight to ensure compatibility. They also need to move beyond the web-first mentality of Chrome OS . We’re already seeing it to some extent with the rumors of increased storage in the Pixel devices, and the increased focus on offline content (alongside Google’s recently increased attempts to drive usage of their cloud services through things like Assistant). Most notably, earlier this week Google launched YouTube Go for offline YouTube viewing in India.
Alongside the launch, Sundar Pichai published an op-ed in The Economic Times where he talked about why there has been such a shift in Google’s behaviour. Specifically, he noted that while many of the data saving features that Google has introduced have been targeted at India, they have become immensely popular elsewhere when brought to other markets. It appears to have made Google realize that much of the world (even in Europe and North America) isn’t as ready for online-only content as Google may have hoped.
“ Moreover, we learned the issues Indians may have with connectivity, and data constraints can be universal. We dreamed up Maps Offline for India, but people in the United States and Europe are finding it just as useful. Simply put, solving for India is inspiring new Google innovations. … new things built for and inspired by India that move us a few steps towards the vision of making the benefits of the open Internet available for everyone. ”
That only begins to scratch the surface of the issues that Google will have to face if they want Andromeda to succeed. The user interface will be a huge issue as well. Just stretching phone apps up to laptop sizes won’t cut it. Google needs to prepare for users using a mouse and keyboard. You have to look no further than Windows 8 (and even current Desktop vs. Metro Apps) to see a whole crop of issues that pop up with focusing too much one way or the other. Large tiles in the center of the screen and gestures swiping in from the top and sides of the screen are fine for a tablet, but don’t work so well on a laptop with a mouse and keyboard. Small little icons to click on around the edges of the screen are great for a precise mouse and keyboard, but don’t work so well for our larger fingers and a touchscreen.