We saw it coming, but Chrome for Android is the biggest news for Google’s mobile platform this year. It signals that Android will be around for a long time, but we might also look back on today as the day that native operating systems began to die and web operating systems started to take over.
The future of connected devices, the Internet of everything, is when our smartphones and tablets will boot to the web. Google has their own project for this called Chromium OS that targets the desktop, while others like Mozilla are already targeting mobile devices with their Boot to Gecko (B2G) project, the standalone operating system for the open web on mobile.
Their shared mission is rather simple. They believe the open web can displace proprietary, single-vendor stacks (Android, iOS, WP7, etc) for application development. There are still gaps that prevent web developers from being able to build apps that are the equals of native apps, but that is slowly changing. Mozilla plans to announce significant updates to their Boot to Gecko project during Mobile World Congress, so prepare to be surprised.
“You should have your Chrome experience wherever you are,” says Arnaud Weber, Engineering Manager at Google.
Chrome for Android is based on Google Chrome version 16.0.915.75, one that is newer than the latest stable release for personal computers. Because Chrome for Android is pretty much the same browser that we see on desktops, we should expect updates from Google every six to eight weeks.
For example since Google released Android 4.0, they have also shipped Chrome 15 and Chrome 16 to desktops. Chrome 17 should be available in the coming weeks.
When the news broke this morning we were uncertain what this meant for the default Android Browser, but now its fate might be written on the wall. A Google spokeswoman told Computer World that “Right now, our focus is on making Chrome for Android Beta available to Android 4.0 phone/tablet users to gather initial feedback…. [But] our long-term plan is for Chrome to become the standard browser on Android 4.0 and above.”
Mobile devices running Android 3.x and lower might never see Chrome. Right now users with Android 4.0 can install Chrome without replacing the stock Android Browser, but Google hinted that this might change in the coming months. A Google spokeswoman said, “It currently does not replace your Android Browser.”
Thinking along those same lines, we can also say that Chrome OS does not currently replace the Android OS, but it sure feels like that is where Google is going. Android is the glue that fills the gap until Chromium OS is ready for mobile devices. I believe Google has had this vision for quite some time, but the technology was not advanced enough to achieve that goal. Back in 2009, we thought that Google would abandon native Android apps in favor of web apps, but that obviously didn’t happen.
Now that companies like Google and Mozilla are filling in the gaps of the open web, we could see a true web operating system sooner than we think. Heck we could see a mobile device that boots to the web this month, but I think the actual transition of consumer devices will be much slower since the wireless carriers own everything and they hate changes that make them lose control.
But yeah, Chrome for Android is pretty awesome right now. I’m excited to see where this goes.