Andy Rubin left Android, and Chrome and Apps boss Sundar Pichai is taking over. Desktop melts into mobile. It’s a familiar dance, following iOS and OS X and the whole Windows 8 philosophy down the same convergence rabbit hole. But this one is a little different.
It’s clear by now that the merging of desktop and mobile is the endgame for tech’s major players. Apple has been moving iOS and OS X closer together for years; bits like Reminders and Notes and iMessages traverse seamlessly from one OS to the other. Microsoft went in even harder with Windows 8, tying Windows desktop to a whole new interface aimed at bringing mobile and desktop experiences closer together. Both approaches worked, mostly. Windows 8 tablets and hybrids and Windows Phone 8 handsets are great in conjunction with Windows 8 computers. iPhones and iPads work quantifiably better with OS X.
But what if Android were brought under Chrome’s umbrella wholesale? If its reminders and syncing and everything else were all handled natively in the Chrome browser? By converging on Chrome, Google can give Android the same level of integration that Apple and Microsoft strain to provide within their own OS gardens, except on any computer that runs Chrome. Just plug your Android phone or tablet into any laptop, and it’s as at home in Chrome as an iPhone would be on a MacBook. After a Chrome convergence, Android could work perfectly with anything. That would be huge.
At the very least it would be an improvement over Android’s current relationship to most desktops, which is basically nonexistent. Syncing files requires cumbersome and anachronistic syncing apps, and even more fluid cloud solutions like Drive and Play Music require apps that are less than seamless to get things done. Which makes no sense, really. It can feel like you’re using third party hacks to get your stuff onto your phone or the cloud, where it exists wonderfully thereafter. All you can really do with a Chrome/Android pairing is fling web pages and bookmarks back and forth.
A merger with the Chrome ethos would offer welcome short-term benefits for Android as well. For a company that has such wide-reaching capabilities, Google’s parts haven’t really worked in harmony. For years, Search was its own app. The Android Gmail app is wonderful, but closed off from deeper integration like BlackBerry 10’s Hub idea. And only recently has Google Now started to synthesize the power of having all this data, spitting out useful cards keyed into your searches, calendar events, and email alerts. A tighter integration would go a long way to breaking down some of these walls between services, like not being able to pull a Google Drive photo into your Google+ account. It’s probably not a coincidence that Google Now coming to Chrome, iOS, and Windows 8 was announced just a few days ago in the latest Chrome beta build.
And then there’s this: mixing Chrome with Android puts Google in perfect position to build a Surface-like hybrid that beats Microsoft to finding the sweet spot of desktop and tablet. The Pixel is flawed in a lot of ways — specifically its insane price tag — but it’s a drop-dead gorgeous piece of hardware. And it’s easy to see how its tall screen could pull double duty as a tablet — just tap and swipe the screen. It’s already got a tablet-ready resolution on it, unlike other laptop/tablet hybrids. Google’s also gotten pretty good at building kits to export Android apps, like you saw with the droves of BB10 apps made from converted Android versions. The benefit to a desktop OS like Chrome OS might be limited, but could help get some butts in the seat.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Big picture? Services like Search and Gmail are more popular than Android. Bringing everything under the same tent makes Android vaguely more pleasant to use if you’re already an established user, but more importantly would go a long way to dispelling the image of Android as an overly complicated pain in the arse to anyone who hasn’t used it, or even subverting the entire “Android” brand. Oh, you got an Android? Just plug it into Chrome and you’ll be fine.
It will be a slow process, of course. There will probably be additions made here and there, features added as they’re needed. Getting Android’s messy notifications under control with a push to a Chrome-based notification centre would be a great start. But the future of Android is clearly Chrome, and Chrome’s is Android. That’s welcome news for Google, and even better for you.