The Coming Merger of Google Chrome and Android

In August 2011, I outlined why I believed that Chrome was more important to Google than Android. At first blush, this sounds kind of crazy, but when you look at the bigger strategic picture it makes sense.

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Mark Blinch / Reuters

In August 2011, I outlined why I believed that Chrome was more important to Google than Android. At first blush, this sounds kind of crazy, but when you look at the bigger strategic picture it makes sense. With former Android head Andy Rubin relocating to work on other projects at Google, and Chrome head Sundar Pichai taking over Android, it means that the Android and Chrome teams are now under unified leadership. This, I believe, is the signal that Android and Chrome are on a path to merge.

To understand the business side of things, it is important to remember that Google makes the vast majority of its revenue from search. Google’s web properties generated advertising revenues of $8.8 billion in Q4 2012 alone. Google doesn’t release exactly how much it makes from Android, but I don’t believe they make even close to $8 billion from it annually, let alone in one single quarter (as they do from web-based advertising).

Android has been a relevant strategy to give hardware makers a chance to compete with Apple. But as we can see from various market developments, it appears the hardware vendors now either want to forego Android and minimize their dependence on Google, or create their own solutions entirely. I’m thus convinced that Android as we know it today will look very different — if it exists at all — five years from now.

This is where Chrome and Chome based hardware comes in.

Chrome Hardware
Right now Chromebooks are still in their infancy. They’re rapidly developing and getting better with each generation, but I don’t believe they’re even close to Google’s bigger vision. The Chrome web app solution is getting more apps but not at a level or pace necessary to gain a critical mass relevant for the mass market. This is where Android and future Android app development will play a role.

Google has a large global developer base for Android but not yet for Chrome web apps. Chrome is designed to run only apps developed for the web, where Android is designed to run apps that are installed. Once these two development environments merge, developers will be able to design both Android and Chrome web apps with the same set of tools, consistency and unified application stores. Google, with its expertise in cloud services, could bring a cloud-based virtual Android environment to Chrome, perhaps giving us the ability to run Android in the browser, seamlessly, on all Chrome hardware.

The other benefit Android brings to Chrome is an environment built for touch-friendly applications. Google just released its Chromebook Pixel, which is a touch based Chromebook. The only problem is there aren’t really any touch-based Chrome web apps. Android is built for touch, and those assets will bring value to touch-based Chrome systems down the road.

The Future of Chrome Hardware
What this ultimately leads to is new Chrome-based hardware. Right now, Chrome OS is stuck in a clamshell, PC-like form factor. The merging of Android into the Chrome OS solution could open the door to Chrome OS-based phones and tablets as well. As we know, the Chrome OS solution allows for extremely low-cost hardware because of how light a client it is, which means that a Chrome-based solution for phones and tablets could conceivably lower cost barriers.

This seems hard to imagine now, especially given that in China you can purchase an Android tablet for $45. Regardless, Chrome and Android merging would do more for hardware solutions than if the two remained separate.

The Browser
This merging of Android and Chrome has traditional browser-based value as well. The Chrome browser runs on all Windows PCs (with the exception of Windows RT), Macs and even iOS devices. What if Android — and more, importantly Android apps — could be used from within any Chrome browser on any device? This would drastically increase the potential reach of Google’s services across the computing spectrum.

Since Google makes so much of its revenue from search, they need to make sure their search and web based assets remain front and center on all key hardware platforms. As companies like Samsung, HTC, Sony and even Amazon or Facebook look to take Android further for their own benefits, they take them further from any benefit to Google. Google knows its search being front and center runs the risk of being usurped by those looking to use Android for their own benefit and not necessarily Google’s.

Google must be aware of this, and the merging of Google and Chrome OS will give them more opportunities to keep their services front and center. Google first bought Andy Rubin’s Android, Inc. and used it to drive new growth for themselves and others. I view this merger as if the Chrome team just bought Android and will now use it for further growth.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

49 comments
BigShea
BigShea

I'm so happy to see so many of these articles coming about Chrome and Android merging! 

http://blog.migrationking.com/ How Google Chrome will make Microsoft Windows irrelevant if they keep their momentum going!

This is excellent! And if you believe Schmidt that they will be independent and this is nothing more than keeping vendor's and partners calm. I have a boat to sell you. It's a yacht and it's only $5.00.

Denis299
Denis299

Nice article, here is also some other information for those who are a little further down the line in Android development: try to build your app on ibuildapp.com and get quick feedback from your potential users.

cmerritt1351
cmerritt1351

If Android apps were able to be used through Google Chrome on Apple iOS, Google Chrome would cease to work on iOS, guaranteed.

justdu
justdu

@jcanistrum Interessante o artigo mas acho que o Chromebook tem todo este futuro...O Chromebook Pixel é extremamente caro e limitado no uso.

dbaker1
dbaker1

"Chrome is designed to run only apps developed for the web, where Android is designed to run apps that are installed. "

Why do people keep saying this.  Google released NaCl for chrome a while back... this allows full native language applications to run within the browser, and these same applications will also run on Chrome OS.  These are not "web apps" but actual applications.  And from a developer standpoint you have the ability to code an app once and make it available on Mac, Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS.

Though I think your article is on the right track you are missing a huge piece - the Chrome browser is a trojan horse for ChromeOS, and in reality you can think of the chrome browser as a VM for ChromeOS.  The really cool thing that we will see in the near future with these devices/software is to be able to take your entire environment applications and all to any platform, and not just "web apps" but full native applications.  That being said when this happens you now have an OS "environment" (browser/chromeOS), that reaches over 350 million users.  An OS is simply a platform to run applications, and chrome broweser/OS will allow this to happen across platform.

kelvinparam
kelvinparam

@TIME @Techland Chrome + Android merger: Will we see 32GB machines than run Android apps? Adobe Photoshop for Android?

kichu
kichu

Very clever move by Google, especially when Tizen is around the corner ready to take on Android. @labnol

aldrin.paraso
aldrin.paraso

This is GREAT! Hope to see much from this upcoming development. Hope to be a part of it too! Keep Moving Forward!

jaybowles
jaybowles

The Chrome enveloping Android direction makes a lot of sense to me. Browser eats the world etc. Thanks for this article!

TechinplainEnglish
TechinplainEnglish

cool analysis but in the final sentence you should say merger scenario so that anyone who jumps the end will not have a coronary.

lizsayz
lizsayz

Brilliant, actually. RT %s: The coming merger of Google Chrome and Android | %sK%se%sile

samirshah
samirshah

Chrome operating system is a dead end, Google should abandon Chrome operating system.


ESUNintel
ESUNintel

@BigSheaIt's not possible to develop apps for the Play Store through Chrome yet - at least not that I know of.  ...so in the mean time, the success of Android/Chrome apps is still heavily dependent on Windows and OS X power - sure, there's Linux, but most prefer Windows and OS X.  

With that said, I just got a Samsung Chromebook 2 days ago, and am really loving it.  I can see most people being ok with it if they give it  chance; but being in IT, I still go back to my Vaio and MB Pro for development.  

benbajarin
benbajarin

@dbaker1 I completely agree. And I am very interested to see more of what NaCL does.  I've tracked it from the beginning but have not seen any real apps based on it yet.   

The internet is the platform of the future.   That is my bigger point.    Thanks for the comment. 

olivehues
olivehues

@felsull I am here to make your dreams come true. chrome IS available for the iPhone.

DougSimmons
DougSimmons

@aldrin.paraso Note that this article, in spite of the fact-like tone in its title, is fairly baseless speculation on the author's part based on his read of Google shuffling a couple men around. Sundar Pichai, when asked about this recently, said no: "We're comfortable at Google with two viewpoints, and we are doing both."

"Merging" these two very different platform, or getting rid of one entirely, when they both ain't broke, when moving ChromeOS in the direction of Android would defeat its selling points (simplicity, no maintenance, the evolving web in the evolving browser, basically it's Chrome slapped onto some hardware, period). And what for, to be able to dump a bunch of Android apps onto the Chrome Web Store? Developers are doing that themselves.

Making your hybrid tablet laptops look like your phones and then making your PC operating system look like the tablets, that's Microsoft, partly perhaps because they feel like it would be easier to use the stale Windows brand than to create a new brand for these new things. Google has no compelling incentive to do that, and it sure isn't working out so great for Microsoft, trying to blend everything together, or at least trying to appear to do that.

It doesn't make that much sense, the author is reading way too deeply into this "signal," Google denied intending to do it (can you think of any incentive for them to lie about this?), ChromeOS started off as a pet project which is now a slow burner that's gaining some real traction, the one thing I agree with the author about is that Chrome may be more important to them than Android, so why would they flip ChromeOS upside down to make it appealing to Android users for their phones? One less thing to manage? Apps? Already working on their Native Client. Chrome on Android? Working on that too, and it's quite nice, but it sure won't displace everything on my phone and keep me happy, and vice versa.

Hey Ben Bajarin, you're successfully misleading guys like Aldrin Paraso here. Look how excited he is over a hunch you have. I stumbled onto this article, not a Time reader, wasn't impressed here, but because "I believe" you can do better than this (even if your intent was linkbaiting) I'm actually going to make an effort to read /more/ of your work down the line to see if I'm right (also for the irony).

Doug Simmons

BigShea
BigShea

@samirshah You must believe that Windows 8 is great also! Stop drinking the Microsoft Kool-Aid. Google Chrome will destroy Microsoft Windows if they keep up the momentum and merge Chrome and Android!

http://blog.migrationking.com/

mattwolfgang
mattwolfgang

@samirshah To the contrary, the Samsung Chromebook has been the number one selling notebook on Amazon since the day it was released.

ChadStevens
ChadStevens

@samirshah I disagree, I think with the coming of faster and more available broadband speeds and HTML5 I think Google's Chrome OS is strategically placed in the correct position.  Our world is quickly growing to be less dependent on things, including unnecessary hardware.

marcushast
marcushast

benbajarin First off, thanks for an interesting article. Second, I think most real examples of what NaCL can do so far is in games. I was really impressed by Bastion (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/bastion/oohphhdkahjlioohbalmicpokoefkgid) which is game you can also play on the Xbox 360 or on Steam. Basically it's "a real game" which is also completely playable in the browser.

Personally what I think is keeping things back right now is the lack of a good application framework in the browser environment. Currently you mostly see games in NaCL and that's probably because they do their own UI framework in any case. But if you wanted to make something like a normal application (say a movie editor) you would probably want to use standard UI components so you don't have to do all of that by yourself.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@DougSimmons @aldrin.paraso Other point I will add.  In the future, not sure how long but its out there, the Internet is the platform of the future and I believe we will "access" application not install them..  

Hence my earlier column from 2011 which I referenced at the beginning.  Why the browser as the platform becomes a key long term strategic imperative. 

benbajarin
benbajarin

 @DougSimmons @aldrin.paraso Thanks Doug.  You can find more of my regular writing as well at my firms own site www.techpinions.com. 

Come back to me by the end of the year when you see Android apps running in the Chrome browser :) 

BigShea
BigShea

@Libreman @benbajarin @DougSimmons @aldrin.paraso They had too many developers working on non-core applications. Those small applications don't drive the business and they are not in line with overall business strategy. This is IT Management 101. Can you imagine have 50 highly skilled engineers and developers working on "pet" applications instead of more important things. I would have killed those projects also. Focus on what makes money and generate millions of user's. If their are only a few thousand people using the application kill it. Get rid of the junk and waisted time for highly paid and highly skilled people and put them on projects that matter.

Now...go ahead and buy that Chromebook Pixel (I'm so jealous and happy for you =) ). It was built for the future.

BigShea
BigShea

@benbajarin @DougSimmons @aldrin.paraso That is absolutely correct. When you see powerhouse application software companies like Microsoft breaking their neck to move everything into a cloud based and Internet driven economies of scale. You know you are right. I already wrote a blog posting on how Google Chrome will make Microsoft Windows irrelevant within 5 years if they keep up their momentum. Take a look and tell me what you think! - Shea

http://blog.migrationking.com/2013/02/why-google-chromebooks-will-beat.html

Libreman
Libreman

@benbajarin @DougSimmons @aldrin.paraso

You say "the Internet is the platform of the future" and I agree. You also speak in the article of "Google, with its expertise in cloud services" - yet there is a problem here. For Google have just announced closing two of their online services,  the iGoogle home page and Google Reader. I was going to get a Chromebook (would like at Pixel!) but Google online services seem to lead a fragile life which worries me.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@DougSimmons @benbajarin Agreed.  That's why I generally hope my readers know I am not a journalist but an analyst, and that is also why my column is branded the big picture.   Seems from many of the comments also some are just spam.  

I try to make it clear I'm not breaking news but opining on the industry and looking at it from an industry insider viewpoint.  

I'm always open to intelligent dialogue from comments on my columns here or at Techpinions.   

DougSimmons
DougSimmons

@benbajarin Hey I'm with you on that and I'm rooting for Google's continued success in steering everyone and everything electronic in that direction. I hope engineers will deliver extraordinary advances in spectral efficiency at a rapid pace, otherwise things like two gig monthly caps will stand in the way of this for phones especially which will stay more reliant on cellular data than wifi versus Chromebooks and conventional computers.

I'm on the same page as you, and now with your techopinions.com site I am on the same webpage as you too. Ours is the right page too. But phones catching up to what's unfolding with Chrome and Chromebooks, like Firefox OS's model taking over smartphones,  that's not that much less imminent now than as it was in 2011. But, as you can see from the comments ("this is GREAT!"), it sounds like you got the scoop on a major announcement or an unveiling by Google from which you're liveblogging, rather than just thinking the big picture out loud again. Not that there's anything wrong with doing that, as long as you leave the comments open for guys like me to try to call you out on it.

And thanks for responding. I'm all starstruck now.