Friday, August 16, 2013

Google's Android Battles May Accelerate Chrome OS

There is an important conversation brewing over Android: Will the mounting intellectual property battles Google continues to face related to its mobile operating system force Google to focus more intensely on Chrome OS? (Read: Google Appears Ready to Ditch Android Over Its Intellectual Proptery Issues.)

No one knows. But we'll likely soon find out.

For now, I wanted to better understand the implications of Google's current situation and if, indeed, Google might drop Android in favor of Chrome OS. The answer to this question is far beyond my knowledge and experience, so I reached out to +Jerry Daniels to shed some light on the issue.

Below is our interview. Thank you, Jerry, for taking the time to pull back the curtains and give me some valuable insight on this issue. (And thank you also for introducing me to Quip.)

1. How did Google end up with two operating systems: Chrome OS and Android?

A short answer to this question requires cherry-picking that history to suit a thesis, point-of-view, or even a bias. I'm reluctant do either an in-depth history or a too-easy couple of bullet points. But for the purposes of our discussion, here's a basic sum-up:

  • The origins of Chrome OS are somewhat disputed. One side of the dispute contends that the OS was a single-person project not originally intended to be a web OS, but rather a super-fast, RAM resident, Linux device with which Google engineers could code. It turns out that PMs within Google say that's not the case; that it was an internally sponsored project meant to be a web OS ideal for the burgeoning netbook market. I believe it was the latter. (Read: The Secret Origins of Google's Chrome OS.)

  • Android history is somewhat more straight-forward, with Andy Rubin pitching a mobile device OS to Larry Page — a pitch which Larry could not really refuse to catch, because of Andy's standing as the Sidekick and Apple guy. It turned into a long meeting. Many contend Android was a do-anything OS and was made to pivot while others say it was going to be a photo-sharing phenom. I believe the former. (Read: Google's Open Source Android OS Will Free the Wireless Web.)

Google ended up with both OS's because they each came into play before Larry found his groove as a super-focused CEO. Before that second coming of Larry, projects were springing up all over the place in Google. These were just two.

2. However Chrome OS began, is it more or less important to Google's future than Android?

Android is crucial to Google, but only the Chrome OS architecture offers Google freedom from a pernicious OEM, legal hassles, low device profitability, lack of control, and the bad end of the web traffic/data (real value) stick. Also, only Chrome OS is different. And difference matters.

3. How is Chrome OS different?

Android and iOS are not that different. Windows and OS X are not that different. These OS's are based on the assumption that we're offline most of the time. That is their primary case in the way they manage apps, operate, and update: big app and OS downloads. Lots of binary flying around and stopping everything else. It's like someone eating everything on the table because they think they may never get to eat again.

Chrome OS operates under the correct assumption that we ARE online most of the time. Updates to its OS are fast, invisible, and always make the devices they run on better. That's because of their primary case: we're online all the time. Chrome OS doesn't try to eat everything on the table.
(I'm not the only one who feels this way: My Thoughts on Chrome OS.)

4. But can Chrome OS being 'different' make a business difference?

The economics of Chrome OS device builds are excellent. These devices require less power, processing, storage, and memory. This means cheaper, more powerful devices that run longer on a charge. They're built around the online use case and operate accordingly. All other OS's are legacy in comparison.

This is not to say that Chrome OS doesn't still have a way to go before it can deliver on its promise, though. But I do think what it stands for represents the future for Google.

5. What are the intellectual property issues Google has with Android? Are they serious enough to force Google to accelerate their investment in the development of Chrome OS?

Some of the Android legal issues revolve around their use of Java. Some folks think this problem has gone away, but it has not. Larry Ellison (of Oracle) was just on television to state how unhappy he is with Larry Page's behavior toward what Ellison regards as the “theft” of Jave for the Android OS. I don't believe Mr. Ellison is going to let go of this issue, even if a court finds in favor of Google in this matter.

Then there's Apple's relentless pursuit of Android devices that they feel violate their patents. As users, it's easy to ignore these issues, but they are real. They tarnish the brand and eat up resources. Chrome OS has none of these encumbrances. It's new and original. It's going in a completely different direction — toward the Google bottom line, too.

6. What will it take for Chrome OS to get to the point that Google is willing to ditch Android entirely? Is that even reasonable?

The metamorphosis of Android and Chrome OS will not be what we expect. The name Android will likely stick around, but the reality of Android will change a lot. It will become Chrome OS-ized just as Chromecast is an Android device that was Chrome OS-ized. The Chrome browser and the services it can access have now permeated every OS and every device. It is starting to permeate Android as well. “Ditching Android” is not really the right question, here.

7. Further, what will Google have to do to attract developers to Chrome OS? We both know that apps are what drives adoption rate for most users.

Chrome OS (and the Chrome browser) will have to offer access to device services in order to attract developers who create great apps. HTML was not really intended to let a web page or app access your device because it might open the door to malicious exploits. Google has to figure out a way to offer access but with security of some sort. Also, developers will have to make real money to create great apps and maintain them. A great development environment with a single, mainstream syntax wouldn't hurt anything either.

Not only apps, but services and great devices attract users — along with over-all user experience. Chrome OS users are delighted with their get-out-of-the-way OS that magically updates over night and reboots instantly. Apps and services? Not so much. There's a long way to go, there. Free apps are not helping Chrome OS in the long run. There need to be some killer apps for business. Apple did a smart thing with iWork. Google drive with docs, slides and sheets is great for the tech-prone of us; but it needs a pro version that's more polished and will attract pro-sumers, CTOs, and the like.

8. If Google asked you what was the single greatest opportunity and the single greatest challenge ahead for Chrome OS, what would you say?

Opportunity: It's new, fast, and different than all the others. Reach out to developers. Evangelize!

Challenge: Chicken and the egg. Where are the apps? Packaged apps, not just websites. Killer apps.

9. For the folks who want to know more about you, could you offer a bio?

“Jerry is a veteran software developer who makes a living interpreting dreams.” says my wife, Mary Jane Mara. I'm currently interim CIO and serve as head of application development for Synergy Patient-centric Healthcare of McKinney, Texas. My wife and I are also starting up a health-oriented company for technical leaders, managers and directors called Rezzzolve (http://rezzzolve.com). It's still in the t-shirt, prototype, and landing page stages. (Biographical link: http://jerrydaniels.com)