Despite Schmidt comments, merger of Chrome OS, Android still possible, analyst says

The appointment of Chrome chief Sundar Pichai to succeed Andy Rubin also seen as a clue to Google's plans

By , Computerworld |  Mobile & Wireless, Android, Chrome OS

Although Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said this week that Chrome OS and Android will remain separate operating systems "for a very, very long time," one analyst still thinks the two will eventually merge.

Despite Schmidt's comments, Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he believes "Google has a long-term integration plan between Chrome and Android."

Moorhead also pointed to Google's decision earlier this month to bring its Android and Chrome divisions together under Sundar Pichai. With that move, a merger of Chrome OS and Android is "something the industry knew had to happen ultimately."

Schmidt's comments at a Google-sponsored event came in answer to a question from the audience about the fate of the two operating systems.

"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.

The comments, made yesterday at the 37-minute-mark in a 46-minute video from Google's Big Tent Summit, might seem to undercut the appointment of Pichai. He replaced Andy Rubin, who had been in charge of Android since 2005.

Schmidt wasn't specific in his remarks about whether the Chrome OS or Android OS would "take the lead" under Pichai's control. "We don't make decisions based on who the leader is. We make decisions at Google based on where the technology takes us."

He said advertisers should be using Chrome and Chromium development tools because Chrome is "faster, safer and more secure than any other browser." By comparison, he called Android "Java-like" and said it "solves a different problem."

Today, Moorhead said Google has been focused in recent years on "getting Android right on smartphones, and at least tablets -- Android is close, but not there yet." Once that point is reached, "only then will Google combine the two," Moorhead said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said he expects Google to share code and more commonality between Android and Chrome. "But a merged OS is, in my opinion, not where this will go," Gold said.

If the two don't merge, the question arises whether chrome as an OS can survive longer term. "Is Chrome and the Internet just another thin-client combination that will fade except for some niche areas, like what Wyse, HP and others did?"

Gold said that Schmidt is right when he notes that the Android and Chrome OS solve different problems. "Chrome is basically a browser in hardware meant to be nearly always connected to the cloud/Internet, so it is not a particularly rich OS that includes capabilities, especially for phones and communications," Gold said.

Gold predicted some Android components will become more common with Chrome, but added: "There's no reason to have a thin OS like Chrome get burdened with all the features and overhead of Android."

One prediction is that programming between Chrome and Android will become more common and be built around HTML 5. "But even with common programming, the capabilities for Android in sensors and drivers will be richer than in Chrome for the foreseeable future," Gold added.

Even though Android runs 70% of the smartphones being released globally, according to Gartner and IDC, Schmidt said during the recorded event that he actually uses a BlackBerry device, although he didn't specify which one. When he said he uses BlackBerry he added, "although BlackBerry is certainly in trouble."

BlackBerry has been a long-time supplier of smartphones to business executives, many of whom favor the qwerty keyboard over a virtual keyboard. Even so, BlackBerry has fallen to about 5% of the global market in smartphones, according to both IDG and Gartner.

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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