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No Chrome-Android merger, at least in the next year or two

New Android chief expected to clarify role of the two OSes at Google I/O this week; Analysts say keeping them apart is confusing, wasteful

Android's new boss hinted of an eventual merger of Chrome and Android but said the two will remain separate "for the short term," in an interview posted prior to Google I/O's opening keynote on Wednesday.

The comments by Google's Sundar Pichai with Wired marked his first interview since taking over as head of Android from Andy Rubin. Pichai was previously head of the Chrome division and moved to assume control of both Chrome and Android in March.

This year's Google I/O developer conference includes more than 80 breakout sessions on Android and Chrome (and Apps) over three days, but presentations are also scheduled on Google Glass, Google Wallet, YouTube, Google Cloud, Google Maps and other topics.

Analysts have assumed Pichai's dual responsibilities would lead to some kind of merger of the functions of the Android OS and Chrome OS, and Pichai attempted to clarify those expectations in the interview: "We embrace both [Android and Chrome], and we are continuing to invest in both. So in the short run, nothing changes...The picture may look different a year or two from now, but in the short term, we have Android and we have Chrome and we are not changing course."

Still, in answer to a follow-up question, Pichai indicated more synergism between Android and Chrome may be coming. "We want to do the right things at each stage, for users and developers. We are trying to find commonalities. On the browser layer, we share a lot of stuff. We will increasingly do more things like that. And maybe there's a more synergistic answer down the line."

Pichai's comments seem on the same track as those made by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in March albeit with a different timeline: "There will be more commonality [between Chrome OS and Android] for sure, but they are certainly going to remain separate for a very, very long time because they solve different problems," Schmidt said.

Several analysts said they are awaiting more clarity on a possible merger of Chrome and Android at the upcoming Google I/O. At least two analysts say the two must come together to avoid confusion amid developers and manufacturers and duplication in their efforts.

"Mid term, between three to five years, Chrome and Android need to converge," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, in an email on Monday. "Over the last few years, Chrome has become more like Android and Android has adopted Chrome features. If it keeps moving in this direction, it will just result in confusion. Having two different experiences that are similar is a waste of time, energy and resources to the ecosystem of OEMs, developers and sales channels."

Moorhead said developer tools for both, Chromium and the Android SDK, should merge as well.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Groups, added: "Two different OSes with overlapping missions seems to be an unnecessary complication. The Chrome OS needs sales volume, while Android needs to be fixed. Android is very insecure and has too much intellectual property that doesn't belong to Google."

Enderle said regardless of what Pichai told Wired, Android and Chrome will merge. "I don't see much choice, as they aren't sustaining two platforms successfully at the moment," he said.

The different versions of Android used by smartphone makers and wireless carriers have caused user frustration due to update delays and led to security worries for some IT shops. Despite these issues, Android has grown to become the largest smartphone platform globally, with about 70% of total shipments in the past year, according to Gartner and IDC.

Some analysts said there's a possibility that Google could roll out new developer tools during or after Google I/O that bring Android and Chrome closer.

Today, there's a version of the Chrome browser that can run on the Android OS, but there are no Android apps that can run on Chrome laptops. Some rumors have suggested Google might finally announce the ability to edit Office documents in Chrome.

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner, urged more commonality between the two platforms. She noted that Android devices running with a Chrome browser give users the option of conducting tasks while browsing the Internet or running apps, while the Chrome OS today does not offer such flexibility.

"Furthermore, if you have a smartphone and you invest in an Android app for a tablet, I would like to share that same experience on a Chromebook," she said. "Having the commonality across platforms fits with usage patterns, where users have more than one mobile device or households have multiple devices."

Other news at Google I/O

Last fall, Google users predicted this week's I/O would bring the appearance of Android 5.0, also called Key Lime Pie. But several analysts said there's widespread agreement that 5.0 has been delayed in favor of a more incremental upgrade of Jelly Bean, or Android version 4.2, to version 4.3, with support for a Bluetooth low energy spec and OpenGL for Embedded Systems 3.0, which provides tools for graphics on devices like smartphones.

It's also possible that Google is waiting to launch Android 5.0 until after Apple announces its iOS 7 possibly at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

Rumors have also pointed to an upgrade to the Nexus 7 tablet, giving it a faster processor and a high-resolution screen. Such improvements could be seen as providing competition for an expected upcoming iPad Mini with Retina display.

Google was also expected to demonstrate a physical Google Wallet card with a magnetic strip, perhaps this week. But All Things D last week, citing unnamed sources, said CEO Larry Page physical card has scuttled the physical card for now. Google couldn't be reached to comment.

The purpose of a physical card was to attract consumers with a familiar payment method, partly because NFC on phones and Google Wallet have been slow in coming. Last week, Google confirmed its vice president of wallet and payments, Osama Bedier, had resigned. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9239087/Google_Wallet_chief_s_resignation_another_bad_sign_for_NFC_

This article, No Chrome-Android merger, at least in the next year or two, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about android in Computerworld's Android Topic Center.


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