November 3, 2015
A Student’s Perspective on the Implications of Melding Android and Chrome OS
By Carter Yagemann
Google recently announced plans to merge features from Chrome OS into Android to make the operating system suitable for use with laptops. This means that in the future, we can anticipate Android working across phones, tablets, and laptops. This is a very bold vision , but it's one that was bound to happen and one that all Android users should be excited for.
Contrast this with Android, which dominates the smartphone market at over 80 percent market share, and the reasoning behind this merging of the two operating systems becomes clear. If Google can successfully take their winning mobile user experience and port it to laptops, they'll have a formula for a laptop that stands toe-to-toe with Windows and OS X. I think that this is going to be the Google operating system to give Microsoft and Apple a run for their money.
Users should be excited for this move as well. The average user now owns more devices than ever before and they want a consistent experience regardless of if they're using a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. Google does an excellent job of making the interaction between the user and the device clean, efficient, and friendly, and soon we'll get these same benefits for the laptop.
However, there are a handful of design challenges that Google will have to overcome if they want Android for the laptop to be a success and not just another niche product like Chrome OS. For starters, laptops are dominantly used for content creation where mobile devices are mostly for consuming. Laptops are like the working man's pickup truck. Users have different demands for laptops than mobile devices. If Android is to succeed in the laptop environment, a greater emphasis will have to be placed on productivity. This means efficient switching between applications, strong support for keyboards, and plug-and-play functionality for external storage and additional peripherals. These are things only supported to a limited degree in current Android.
Screen size also becomes an issue for Android on laptops. Android's current interfaces are designed for relatively small screens—under 10 inches in size. Now that Google wants Android to run on laptops and desktops, they'll have to redesign the look and feel for screen sizes in excess of 16 inches. It may only be a few extra inches, but this makes a huge difference if you don't want the screen to appear barren.
For the average user who already uses Android on their mobile devices, I think the transition to Android for laptops will be pretty smooth. Android already has the email clients, web browsers, and office applications these users need for their everyday work. For the "power user" however, I think the new operating system will be a harder sell. These users manage corporate infrastructures, develop software, automate systems, deploy virtual machines, and regularly perform computing intensive tasks. For them, unfortunately, the tools they need simply don't exist on Android yet.
I've anticipated Android moving to laptops and desktops for some time now and I hope others share my excitement over this recent announcement. There's a lot of work to be done, but I think that if Google can pull this off, we'll end up with something very special and unique.
Carter Yagemann '15 is a master's student studying computer science in Syracuse University's College of Engineering and Computer Science. A research assistant in Professor Kevin Du
's Android security lab, his interests include mobile security and security education. He explores problems such as how to ensure security and privacy in Android inter-component communication. Yagemann is a student member of ACM and IEEE and competes in cybersecurity competitions with the Information Security Club in Syracuse University's School of Information Studies (iSchool)