Google Likely to Replace Android With Chrome

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The biggest smartphone technology event in a decade may be just one year away. Google appears to be working hard to replace Android with its current PC desktop/laptop operating system, Chrome OS -- commonly referred to as "Chromebook" and "Chromebox" products.

These new smartphones and tablets would be called "Chromephones" and "Chromepads." The Chromephones would launch around the middle of 2014.

This replacement of Android in favor of Chrome OS should not be a surprise to readers of this column, as I first predicted it, in this article, two years ago.

Clearly, I was too optimistic about the timing. That said, my fundamental prediction remains, on an amended time schedule.

So, why would Google do this? There are two basic reasons:

1. Architecture / technology:

When you look at Google's product and service portfolio, it's filled with elegant cloud and HTML technologies. Whether Chrome or cloud apps, it's all very seamless and elegant.

The one wart under Google's foot that's bothering the decision-makers in Mountain View is Android. Android is Java and it's old-world. Intellectual property disputes with Oracle ? Hey, even BlackBerry recently abandoned Java.

On the other hand, Chrome OS represents Google's pure vision of what an operating system should be. It's simple, super-quick and secure. Google is 100% in control of it.


2. Business model and industry structure:

Everyone knows Android has become sort of a mess. Google would never admit it, because it's largely its own fault. They would say that Android is 100% open, so of course, there will be massive fragmentation -- Amazon , Samsung, Facebook -- because everyone is free to modify Android any way they want.

That's all true, but behind that happy-face facade, Google also isn't happy with this situation. Just contrast it with Chrome OS, where Google is in 100% control, and every device is 100% consistent from one PC to the next. It doesn't matter whether it's Acer, Samsung, Lenovo or HP -- they are all identical in terms of the software.

Speaking of software, all Chrome OS devices get updates simultaneously, right away. Google pushes these software updates, and there is nothing Samsung, Acer, Lenovo or HP can do about it -- to stop or delay. Even better, there is nothing Verizon can do about it, either. Google is in 100% control.

In contrast, Android is the industry's laughing stock in terms of consistency. Compared to Apple's iOS, Microsoft's Windows Phone, and BlackBerry , the Android experience differs from device to device, and that's ultimately hurting Google, in terms of customer satisfaction. Samsung, HTC, Verizon, AT&T -- they all have their fingers in customizing Android, and it's a jarring experience from a consumer perspective, switching from device to device. That is, if your Android device gets any operating system updates at all.

The obvious solution: Google replaces Android with Chrome OS.

There is no huge technological difficulty for Google to replace Android with Chrome OS. Google already makes Chrome OS devices itself, running on Verizon.

It's 100% obvious to me what Google's next step is in expanding Chrome OS: First, it will add Chrome OS tablets -- Chromepads. These will be both stand-alone, largely similar to the iPad, as well as "laptop-tablet convertibles," similar to so many Windows 8 PCs.

The Google Pixel laptop sets the stage here, as the first Chrome OS touchscreen device, running on Verizon. In addition, it's also Google's first PC that is not made in conjunction with Samsung, Acer, Lenovo or HP. Google simply worked directly with a manufacturer in Taiwan/China.


There is little doubt that Google will release multiple Chrome OS tablet devices already in 2013. This will establish Chrome OS as a credible "touch only" operating system. Seeing as the Web itself is not optimized for finger-touch -- rather, for mouse/touchpad on a PC -- this would also entail optimizing the Web experience for finger-touch, with large touch-targets.

Google, of course, is the one company in the world that can ensure that this happens to the Web.

Once such a finger-touch optimization has taken place inside Chrome OS and on the Web experience, Google would be ready to launch its first Chrome OS smartphone -- "Chromephone." This likely takes us to mid-2014.

In launching a Chromephone, Google can give all of its previous Android partners the finger. Unlike Android, which is provided under an open source license, Google does not risk having the likes of Samsung, HTC and all the others modifying Chrome OS.

For the Chromephone, Google would simply do what it just did with the Pixel Chromebook: Go directly to the manufacturers in Taiwan and China and create its own hardware label. It's not even clear that Google would bother calling its wholly owned subsidiary Motorola for this task.

Stepping back for a second, this in-house hardware is, of course, what Apple and BlackBerry have been doing all along, since their very first days in the business. Google and Microsoft were the ones who worked with hardware OEMs as in the Windows PC days, having the likes of Samsung and Acer do the hardware.

Microsoft has never fully denied that it's working on its own smartphone. Despite its chummy relationship with Nokia, rumors have been abuzz for approximately one year, that Microsoft too will start making its own smartphones.

Remember how much of a surprise Microsoft's Surface tablet was when it was introduced in June last year? Nothing about that product had leaked beforehand. Of course, unless Microsoft outright acquires Nokia, it will soon launch its own Surface phone as well.

This raises at least two questions:

1. If Google makes its own Chrome OS smartphones, would that also mean that Samsung and all the others are excluded?

Of course not! Google would love as many hardware partners as possible, just like Chrome OS laptop and desktop PCs. What Google doesn't want is software fragmentation. Putting Chrome OS on the phone solves this problem.

Samsung can play, but with a lot less power than it has in the Android world. It's like being back making Windows PCs again. Or, for that matter, Chrome OS PCs.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. Perhaps that's the way it should be. It may be the only form of stable equilibrium in the OS business.

2. What about Android?

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Google will abandon Android. Why would it? There is no upside in that. What Google will do is shift the emphasis to a much better operating system -- Chrome OS -- that will also provide 100% consistency from device to device.

Google will continue to develop Android, both for itself in the form of Nexus and other Nexus-equivalent devices. It will work with partners, such as Samsung and Facebook. Yet others, such as Amazon, will completely customize Android beyond recognition. In other words, just like today.

So what? Why should we care?

When Google adds Chrome OS to its tablet and smartphone repertoire, its market power increases materially. Chrome OS is fundamentally a better OS than Android -- more elegant, more secure and faster. Beyond the strict technical merits, it will also enable Google to control a 100% consistent experience across all devices, regardless of Samsung's or Verizon's wishes.


Google's upcoming moves to gradually replace Android with Chrome OS is more than a watershed in the mobile computing market. It's a Tsunami.

At the time of publication the author was longGOOG, AAPL, BBRY, NOK and FB.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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