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Friday, November 27, 2015

Google Gets It Right: Android Moves To Laptops

Google's Android dominates the phone and tablet market worldwide, with over 80% marketshare. But Google seems to have been loathe to encourage use of the Android OS on a laptop or PC.  I've never really understood this.

Instead, Google has been pushing Chromebooks.  These are typically cheap laptops that require very undemanding hardware specs.  Chromebooks runs on Chrome OS, which is essentially the bootable Chrome browser and little else.  You cannot install much of anything on the laptop locally, which has only a tiny hard drive where not much of anything can be stored.  The idea is that everything is in the cloud and there is no need for local storage.

Despite low prices, Chromebooks have met with only limited success. There are times when people need to work offline or do other things that cannot be done on Chrome.  Therefore the laptop can be of extremely limited use.  If low cost is the issue, one is probably better off with a used ten year old Windows XP laptop than a new Chromebook.  Even an ancient Windows computer can install the Chrome Browser and access your online resources.  In addition, it has the ability to run local programs and store files locally.

Google seems to have been hedging its bets.  It has used Chromebook as a way of trying to drive users to the cloud, making the Chrome browser the gateway to all computer use.  At the same time, the Android OS for phones and tablets used the App based approach.  Most of what you wanted to do was not handled through a browser, but rather through dedicated apps designed for a specific purpose.  Many of these apps would work offline, so a user had some functionality even when away from an Internet connection.

The market seems to have spoken clearly on this one.  Chromebook sales are going to be a little over 7 million this year, while Android is on over 1 billion devices.  Android, which contains a Chrome browser by default, can do pretty much everything a Chromebook can do.  But a Chromebook is not capable of letting users run all the apps available on Android.

Rumors are that Google is looking to phase out Chromebook and adapt Android for better functionality on devices with a larger screen and keyboard, i.e. laptops and possibly even desktop PCs.  This makes sense to me.  I guess I don't understand what Chrome OS offers that Android does not.  Sure, Android is not a full service OS like MS Windows, but neither is Chrome OS.  Both of these products are designed for people who are willing to accept less functionality from an OS but who benefit from its lower hardware demands and the ability to operate faster with less computing power behind it.

By doing away with Chrome OS and making an adapted version of Android that looks better on a larger screen and works well with a traditional keyboard, Google should be able to combine these two separate tracks into one good OS that works well on phones, tablets, and computers - something Microsoft has been trying to do unsuccessfully for years.

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