A case to keep Android and Chrome OS separate

The long-running speculation that Google will eventually merge Chrome OS and Android surfaces from time to time. James Kendrick hopes the firm will keep converging them, while leaving them separate at the core.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

There are many Android fans who aren't enamored with Chrome OS. They cite lack of apps for the latter, and the wealth of features that make up the great utility of the former. There has long been speculation that Google will eventually merge the two platforms into one OS. I hope that never happens.

Google executives have stated that Chrome and Android will converge, without committing to an actual merger of them. Google has steadily added Android features to Chrome OS, so perhaps that is what the company means by convergence of them.

I recently reported on Google adding Google Now and material design to the beta version of Chrome OS. This is a sign of Google converging Android with Chrome. Enabling a method to run Android apps on Chrome is another sure step to move toward parity between the two OSes.

These changes to Chrome OS fueled new speculation about merging the two platforms, but there is no need for Google to do so. It wouldn't help for several reasons.

No apparent benefit to Google

Google is unusual in the tech space as for the most part it doesn't derive revenue from devices nor its OSes. Its major source of revenue is ads it serves to the masses, which is fueled by having millions use its services. The business model is to get services such as Gmail in front of as many people as possible.

Android has been lucrative for Google with a billion users per month of devices. They cover smartphones, tablets, and even laptops.

While Chrome OS is just a blip in its business compared to Android, it fits the business model. Chrome OS is on laptops, tablets, and in the living room with the Chromebox. With Google's focus on the largely untapped education segment, Chrome is the company's weapon to breach it. This not only gives Google new customers of its ads and services, it can help train kids to depend on the firm's products. These will be the next generation of Google's customers.

Merging Android and Chrome into one OS would most likely see Chrome go away, and that would not gain Google anything. It would probably lose the position in education which is contrary to Google's business model.

Keep it simple, Google

Chromebook owners will be quick to tell you that a major benefit of Chromebooks over devices on other platforms is the simplicity of operation. Chrome OS is familiar as a web browser, and that's a big draw to many.

The simplicity makes Chrome OS run efficiently on cheap hardware, without distractions as is often the case on other OSes. Chromebooks are capable laptops yet require virtually no maintenance. This is a big benefit to both consumers, enterprises, and especially to schools. These are all groups Google wants to tap with its services.

Android is the opposite. The great functionality of the platform comes at a cost of complexity. Many find that price to be worth the utility, and that's OK. It is an obstacle for some prospective buyers, and to schools in particular. Having a merged OS would probably lose customers due to this.

Making Android go away would be a big hit to Google's revenue so that's not going to happen. That means Chrome OS needs to hang around for the groups who want things simple on the Google ad wagon.

Chrome OS is secure

With Chromebooks going to school in increasing numbers, it's important to remember that Chrome is very secure. That's a major benefit in education with children involved. While no platform is totally safe, you seldom hear of a security breach on Chrome OS.

That's not the case with Android, with accounts of malware regularly being reported. They only affect a small percentage of Android users, but that's too many. Chromebook owners will tell you they feel secure using them due to lack of malware.

That Android is less secure than Chrome may be merely perception, but merging Chrome into the former would negatively impact acceptance of the merged platform. Anything that puts potential users off would result in a reduction of the user base of the two separate platforms.

Converge, not merge

Merging the two platforms wouldn't gain anything for Google. Chrome and Android already cover every device type, and while there is some overlap they complement each other for the most part. Together they keep more faces staring at Google's offerings than either one alone.

Keeping both OSes doesn't mean Google shouldn't converge key features of Android with Chrome OS. Putting material design elements from Android throughout Chrome is a good start. That could bring more customers into the Google fold.

Surface improvements aside, Google should cherry pick key features in Android and bring them to Chrome. Chrome OS is quite capable, but carefully curated functions could attract more users. It must be done without making Chrome difficult to use, and without adding bloatware to a streamlined platform.

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