Android runs on smartphones and tablets, while Chrome OS runs on notebooks and desktops. At least, that used to be the distinction between Google’s two operating systems. But these days there are touchscreen Chromebooks that convert into tablets, and versions of Android run on everything from smartwatches to TVs.

Oh yeah, and Chromebooks can run some Android apps.

So why does Google still need two separate operating systems for consumer devices?

If a report in the Wall Street Journal is accurate, Google may think it doesn’t need two different platforms anymore. The publication says Google plans to fold Chrome OS into Android in 2017.

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Rumors that Google would do this have been floating around for a few years, and the WSJ says the company has been working to combine the operating systems for two years. The goal is to launch a new OS that has features of both in 2017, with an early preview coming in 2016.

While Android has a huge share of the smartphone market, Chromebooks make up a pretty tiny (but growing) portion of the PC market.

By folding features of Chrome OS into Android, Google will let users have most of the features they currently get with a Chromebook or Chromebox, but they’ll also be able to install apps from the Google Play Store, which opens the door to thousands of native apps that aren’t currently available for Chrome OS.

Right now there’s nothing stopping you from running Android on a notebook, but the operating system isn’t really optimized for keyboard and mouse input or notebook/desktop-style multitasking. It can be frustrating when you try to compose an email or blog post in a browser tab, switch to another app for a moment and come back to find the page has refreshed and your text has been deleted. Hopefully the new combined Android + Chrome OS software will handle things differently.

Of course, we’ll need a new name for the things we currently call Chromebooks. I have a suggestion: laptops?

Update: Hiroshi Lockheimer is the person in charge of both Chrome and Android, and he’s responded to the report by saying Google is “very committed to Chrome OS.”

Update 2: No really, he means it!

That’s not exactly a denial, but it does suggest that there are no plans to transform your existing Chromebook into a useless lump of plastic in a year and a half.

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24 replies on “WSJ: Chrome OS to merge with Android in 2017 (updated)”

  1. Everybody seems to be interpreting this as meaning one or the other has to go. I think they mean the opposite. There’s been a feature request on the Chrome bug tracker for years, asking for Chrome on Android to gain support for extensions and Chrome apps. It languished there forever, but was recently assigned to an engineer. So, Chrome for Android is going to get extensions and Chrome apps, bringing it a great deal closer to the ChromeOS experience. On the other side, we have ARChon and ARC Welder already. Google has a great deal of testing info now on apps that people have used on ChromeOS, and they probably have a good idea of what works and what needs work. This suggests to me that we’ll see a Play Store Chrome app or else an expansion of the Chrome Web Store to include Android apps. Thus bringing the Android tablet experience to ChromeOS.

    1. Waiting on my mini from Remix. I ordered 2 so I can play with one on See what if anything can be done with it. The other one I plan to leave alone to see what and how far Jide does with it!

  2. Unless they’re planning on keeping two different interfaces (one for touch and one for keyboard/mouse) in the new OS, this is a bad idea. What works well for touch, doesn’t work well for keyboard mouse. I don’t always agree with Apple’s choices, but I think they’ve got the right idea by keeping OS X and iOS as separate OS’s.
    ChromeOS is a good OS and fills an important niche in the marketplace. Allowing Android apps in Chrome is a good move, but I think merging the two OS’s is a bad move.

    1. They’re likely already investing many millions of dollars in ensuring the smooth convergence of the two input methods into the one operating system. User interface design has always been a moving target and all the big players are working on stuff that won’t be seen in products for several years yet.

      But Google is in a very different place to Apple. OS X is a mature, very well established product, while the long term future of Chrome OS is still far from certain. OS X is a desktop OS, Chrome is a “cloudtop” OS — which means it has a lot more in common with Android than OS X has with iOS in that regard.

      It makes a lot of sense to leverage the ubiquity of Android in the laptop and desktop space, especially given the inevitable blurring of the lines between handheld devices and other small computing form factors.

      So it’s hard to write off their efforts at this stage, especially since none of us has a clue what their converged OS will look it.

  3. They should kill Android and merge Android into Chrome OS. I tried to like tablets. They look so cool. But I can’t get anything done on them and they’re frustrating to use. Yes, you need that dinky touch interface on a pocket device like a smart phone. But why use that as the platform for your real and useful general computing devices?

    1. What’s in a name? Convergence is just that — two items converging into a single product. Their converged OS will have to work well on a wide range of screen sizes and a wide variety of computing devices. It’s going to be about a lot more than tablets, that’s for sure.

    2. I just depends on what your intentions are! My 75yld mother got her first smartphone 5 years ago, sadly an Apple. Then someone gifted her their ipad. It took her a while but she was eventually able and eager to put them both to good use. She even attended a senior citizen’s class on how-to. Then my cousin gave her a mini pc she got with a phone years ago (winXP). Well that one she picked up and also ran with it. She prefers her mini to the ipad now because she found she coud comfortable do more with the mini than the Ipad. She uses the ipad for reading her books only.
      I have both android and windows Surface RT Tablets. I made an effort to incorporate them both into my job and fun time. I have found them both useful and productive. My android tablets are less heavy so if I am in the field I use them more. My RT with it’s full use of the free MS Office I use when I finally sit down at my desk or during lunch to copy over the notes I sent it from my android tablet! If SyFy channel ever does their android app I would use it more! Darn them. So I am forced to see the channel on my Surface rt instead. So I use both systems, including chrome on my desktop pc! It just depends on what you want to do and when you want to do it. I think it’s fun for me because I like the challenge and I have always like to experiment!

  4. Sounds like they’re killing ChromeOS but pretending they’re not.
    Major shame, since ChromeOS is the one with good security.
    I suspect I’ve bought my last Chromebook.

    1. You got all that from one leaked announcement? You might want to wait and see what they come up with first. I find it very hard to believe they’re just going to abandon the strengths of the ChromeOS platforms. Those requirements aren’t going away.

      1. Depends on what one thinks the strengths of the platform are. To Google, what matters is making money. They want to sell these things to more people. They want to harvest more people’s data. People have embraced the seemingly idiotproof highly insecure blingy walled garden app model; this is pandering to and exploiting people’s seeming endless techno illiteracy. When TechNudge signed off the web, the author made a comment that he despised everything Apple had done to turn computers, powerful tools for the advancement of human knowledge, into mood rings. I concur, with the addition that these are mood rings that pervasively violate privacy, across distance and time. Have you heard about the new Barbie, that will have a microphone and is connected to the net? Just imagine your childhood babblings popping up twenty years later during a job interview.

        1. Nice story, but ChromeOS and Chromebooks are going to be fine. You’ll see.

      2. Indeed. I wanted to mention I just ordered my wife a Chromebook 14 because she burned my laptop by leaving it on a pillow with no way for the fan to cool it. She already used chrome on my dearly departed laptop so she is excited to get onto a lighter and less worrisome laptop!

  5. I thought the original point of Chrome OS was that the only app was the browser. With Android, you have more than just a browser. So it seems those are two separate paradigms and not sure how those concepts could be merged.

    1. I get your point. Maybe it means that the full-fledged Chrome browser will be in Android and have the ability to have extensions and web apps in the Chrome browser on Android. In addition, though, you’ll be able to run native Android apps that may function offline.

  6. Looking forward to a real desktop class ChromeOS browser on my phone (with extensions!) rather than the watered down mobile Chrome.

    1. That part would be good. But I doubt completely that ChromeOS will be subsumed into Android as in the general Android model Google doesn’t control the hardware stack. In ChromeOS, Android Wear, and Android Auto Google does control the hardware stack and it brings a lot of benefits.
      I don’t see them taking complete control of the hardware stack in General Android. And I don’t see them giving it up in ChromeOS.
      So I would guess this new thing will be based in ChromeOS and give Android capability. While Android will continue forward in parallel for companies to use on their own hardware choices.

  7. I would bet this amounts to ChromeOS gaining the ability to run Android apps natively. As such it will replace ChromeOS. Basically just be a newer version.
    I’d bet against it replacing Android completely.

  8. I don’t understand why they didn’t do this in the first place… android has been IMHO PC ready for years now all they really need is a window manager for desktop use and i bet people could use it on computers..why’d they even waste time coding a new crippled OS when they could have just put a skin over android..

      1. Could have been better should the focus had been there from the get go. Better late than never. Though post merge, it’d be preferable if it gets more proper Linux-ish than the current forked rigidity.

      2. That is why I am thinking a proper KDE/Gnomish interface would work well plus we could have real windowed apps. I like that voice dictation is built into the OS it allows me to commit ideas to documents then pick up on my computer when I want to write something

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