Google has been working on a new operating system called Fuchsia for a few years. That’s not a huge surprise. The company has been posting source code online for a while, and outsiders have been digging into it to see what makes Fuchsia tick.
But it’s never been entirely clear just what Google plans to do with Fuchsia. Is it a replacement for Android? Will it power new types of devices? Will it just run on Google hardware, or is Google designing it for third-party hardware partners?
Now Bloomberg claims to have the answers: yes to all of that. Maybe.
According to Bloomberg, “people familiar” with conversations between Fuchsia team members, the idea is to create
a single operating system capable of running all the company’s in-house gadgets, like Pixel phones and smart speakers, as well as third-party devices that now rely on Android and another operating system called Chrome OS
The developers are allegedly hoping to have Fuchsia ready for the following platforms in the following time frames:
- Voice controlled smart speakers in the next 3 years
- Laptops an other computers in the next 3-5 years
- Smartphones within the next 5 years
In other words, by 2023, Fuchsia could replace Google’s Android software for smartphones.
But… it also might not. While Bloomberg reports there are more than 100 Googlers working on Fuschia, it’s still not a done deal that the operating system will replace Android and Chrome OS. Higher ups including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Android/Chrome OS chief Hiroshi Lockheimer apparently haven’t signed off on those plans yet.
The move seems like it would be risky: Android is a massive success story for Google and currently runs on billions of devices. Switching to a new operating system could provide an opening for competitors to encroach on Google’s market share… although I suspect Google will build backward compatibility into the platform so that user interface isn’t entirely unfamiliar and many of your favorite apps will run on the new platform.
And that’s just talking about consumer adoption. Google will also have to convince hardware makers and software developers to come along for the ride.
On the other hand, the move makes sense when you consider that Google’s operating system efforts have been a bit all over the place for the past decade. Android wasn’t originally designed for tablets, for example, so the company was slow to adapt it for devices with larger screens. Chrome OS was originally designed as a browser-only operating system, but it eventually gained support for running Android apps and is currently in the process of gaining Linux app support.
Starting over gives Google an opportunity to design software for the way people are currently using its products… and for ways the company expects them to be used in the future (by building in better support for artificial intelligence, voice, and other newish features).
The move would also give Google more control over the system kernel than it currently has with the Linux-based Android operating system. And the company could theoretically change the way OS updates are delivered: right now it’s up to carriers and device makers to ship feature and security updates to Android users, while Chromebooks get their updates directly from Google. Fuchsia could give Google the chance to make smartphone updates start to feel more like laptop updates in terms of frequency and longevity.
Google hasn’t commented publicly on the Bloomberg story, so it’s probably best to take everything with a grain of salt for now. But there’s nothing particularly surprising in the report, given what we already know about Fuchsia.