The Chromebook question

I’m currently on vacation so I’ll write less often. I’ll keep reading what’s going on thanks to Twitter and my smartphone, and yesterday I found an interesting article titled ‘Why I left my new MacBook for a $250 Chromebook. There are a few good arguments there to defend a platform that previously wasn’t that easy to support.

The first one: we spend more and more time working and entertaining ourselves on the cloud. There’s an inherent problem there in my opinion: being too much dependent on those services and their servers is really nice and convenient, but you could find yourself losing everything you had there -so safe, so secure, right?- if you are not careful enough.

The second one: Chrome OS support for Android apps is coming, so suddenly we’ve got something that gives us a truly convergent platform from Google. It may be not Remix OS, but it’t a really good way to way to solve the problem taking advantage of both the virtues of Chrome OS and Android. Google seemed pretty stubborn when asked if Chrome OS and Android would merge eventually, and this kind of support finally answers this question.

Mobile and desktop computing, together at last.

This makes Google the owner of one of the greatest and more powerful software platforms ever developed. Only the App Store could compete here, because Microsoft has fallen behind in a segment it owned for so long.

chromebook-pixel2

The author from that post gave a few examples of some apps from OS X that had pretty good alternatives in Chrome OS thanks to their web application versions, but this is almost anecdotal when now we’ll have access to a software catalog with more than 2 million apps -there’s certainly a lot of useless ones- to solve our needs and never look back again to a pure desktop OS.

That could take some time, of course, but for me that conquest of the desktop from mobile OS is the future. Why not buying a Chromebook yet? The time hasn’t come for me yet, but I’ve recently crowdfunded the Superbook at Kickstarter, a device I find even more interesting on the short term.

Better and faster Chromebooks will come in the Fall with the announcement of the final version of Android N. These machines will of course support Android apps as one of their selling points, and maybe there we’ll start to see where this kind of merger develops. Chrome OS and Android will make sense on desktop machines too, so we¡ll be living interesting times on this front as well.

Suddenly, Chrome OS makes more sense

Chrome OS wasn’t mentioned once at yesterday’s Google I/O keynote, but there was a big update coming: Android apps will be part of that experience in a move that proves that the ‘merger’ between the two platforms was indeed a reality.

Google waited until day two of its I/O developer conference to announce what might be its biggest and most impactful news. With the Play Store, Chrome OS is suddenly a lot more compelling to users who might have shied away from using a device that could only use the web and web apps.

That’s the real story here: Chrome OS users will be capable of running lots of Android apps on their Chromebooks thanks to the arrival of the Google Play Store to this operating system. In fact the integration of the two OS’s seems pretty natural:

Apps show up as fully independent, separate, resizeable windows, instead of inside some weird Android zone. Their notifications appear inside Chrome OS’s own notifications area

What is more interesting here is that there’s no emulation or virtualization here: Android runs almost natively thanks to containers and has “full access” to resources such as Wi-Fi, processor or RAM -and of course, to the touch screen-. This move won’t make Android a desktop operating system at last by itself -and the approach is different from Remix OS-, but its combination with Chrome OS seems to make sense.  This feature will be available for every certain Chrome OS user in the fall; it will be interesting to see what’s improved in that moment.

Source: Bring Your Android App to Chromebooks | Android Developers Blog

Remix OS is what Chrome OS should be

A little company called Jide is making something extraordinary: they are showing Google how Android should look and run on the desktop.

Remix OS is based on the Android-x86 project, and from there you’ve got all the advantages on Android combined with desktop-like features like multitasking and multiwindow support, shortcuts and complete mouse support (right click included) or a start menu and a system task bar.

Brilliant.

Google should buy Jide, because this is what the Android-Chrome OS merger should look like.

Source: The excellent Remix OS is bringing Android to every old x86 PC (and Mac)

The Pixel C is just and oversized phone

The new convertible tablet from Google is available at last, and reviews came as expected from different big media assets. Ars Technica, Engadget or The Verge (in two ocassions, this one and this one) speak about the device and mostly arrive to the same conclussion, expressed very well by Walt Mossberg on The Verge:

Without a decent selection of true tablet software, especially for productivity, it’s just an oversized phone

That’s why Pixel C is another attractive device no one would really recommend. Google’s proposal follows the ones made by Apple (iPad Pro) and Microsoft (Surface Pro 4, Surface 3) but fails at the software part. Android is not ready for that multitasking features we get on these other platforms. Even iOS 9 has included a dual-window mode, and reviews weren’t that nice on that front either.

We’ll have to wait for that hybrid between Android and Chrome OS, I guess.

Follow-up (12/11/15): This new report from Ars Technica shows that Android was probably a last minute solution to launch a product that was meant to be based on Chrome OS and that will probably was affected by the decission to merge Chrome OS with Android. Interesting.

The $85 Chromebit is another nice, useless product that solves a problem that didn’t exist

The original Chromecast initiated a trend: HDMI dongles with computing capabilities were born. Intel Compute Stick and Splendo are two good examples of this kind of miniPC (in this case, based on Windows). Now we’ve got another alternative, not in format but in its OS.

The Chromebit was announced a few months ago, and it has finally launched with modest specs: a Rockchip SoC comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard (“relatively slow eMMC”) storage.

You’ve got also a USB port and the dedicated charger (USB to MicroUSB) and according to Engadget’s review,

It’s not terribly fast, nor is it always elegant in its execution. Then again, it’s a perfectly serviceable way to access your email, music and nearly everything the web has to offer, mostly using gear you probably already have. It’s not the most capable streamer. And like most other Chrome OS machines, the Chromebit won’t replace a desktop or laptop with heavier-duty hardware and a more fully featured OS

ExtremeTech agrees. I wouldn’t say that makes this device really interesting. What are the user cases here? If you’re traveling, you’re better served by your own smartphone or tablet most of the time. If you want to use it as a mediacenter the Chromecast can deliver, and if you want to get a more ambitious desktop experience you’ve got those sticks based on Windows I mentioned or even devices such as the Surface 3.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Source: Google And ASUS Launch The $85 Chromebit, A Chrome OS Desktop On An HDMI Stick

Google as a hardware company

nexus

Walt Mossberg has published a column in The Verge in which there’s a little mistake just in the headline. When he says ‘It’s time for Google to make its own hardware‘ he forgets Google is already a hardware maker.

It has shown that for example with its Chromecast devices, but above all with the two Chromebook Pixel models it released in February 2013 and March 2015. Those beautiful machines only had -still have- one big problem: they were -still are- based on Chrome OS, which was -still is- no match for a machine so powerful and well designed.

But I agree with him deeply in the rest of the article: Google should really become a mobile maker the same way Apple is since 2007 and Microsoft has started to be since the acquisition of Nokia in late 2013.

In fact, when I wrote about the useless Nexus I critiziced the new models (5X, 6P)  because they were competing with Google’s traditional partners without adding that much differentiation on them. As I wrote back the, “it seems Google makes this smartphones just because it can”.

But they can do better. They should do better. The Nexus family should be a testimony of what Android can offer. The should show the way, be the goal, become the model to follow. And that can only be done if Google designs not only the software but the hardware that runs that software.

The five reasons Mossberg gives to defend that role of Google as a mobile hardware company are relevant, and as he adds, that hardware “should be targetd  specific areas like hero phones and those for people in low-income countries“.

I see Google becoming that kind of mobile maker. And I see them doing that because that’s the only way the future Android-Chrome OS merger will be able to show what it’s capable of. Google can’t rely on its partners to demonstrate that. Apple has not done it. Microsoft has not done it (with Windows 10). Google shouldn’t do it.

Source: Mossberg: It’s time for Google to make its own hardware | The Verge

Chrome OS won’t phase out, but Android merger seems inevitable

chrome

Four days. Google’s answer to WSJ report comes a little late. As if the people at Google themselves needed to meet and focus on the official statement.

Strangely enough that statement doesn’t deny what the Journal discovered, and they confirm that they have “been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems“. That doesn’t mean that they will phase out Chrome OS, though, they point out.

That’s exactly what one would expect from Google: millions of users have bought a Chromebook and are working (and studying) with those computers, so it wouldn’t be wise to abandon Chrome OS all of a sudden.

Which doesn’t mean that the focus will change: if the merge happens -and everything points to it- Chrome OS will have less and less relevance, and although the updates will come for five years as promised on each new Chrome OS device launched, I suspect they will be minor.

In fact, I’m pretty sure those devices will be among the first to support that new unified OS. I would do that if I were Google, and I guess that that will make current users not angry about the path to Chrome OS extinction.

Source: Google Chrome Blog: Chrome OS is here to stay

Google merging Chrome OS and Android: Apple is next

The Post-PC is more of a PC-Reborn era.  And it is so because the PC isn’t that big box under the table anymore. Or even that laptop, Ultrabook or convertible you’ve spent some money on lately.

No. Your PC is your smartphone. And if it’s not yet, it will be that soon enough.

The dream

That’s what Canonical envisioned almost four years ago. On October 31st, 2011 Mark Shuttleworth published this on his personal blog:

This was Canonical's dream. They're still sleeping though.
This was Canonical’s dream. They’re still sleeping though.

By 14.04 LTS Ubuntu will power tablets, phones, TVs and smart screens from the car to the office kitchen, and it will connect those devices cleanly and seamlessly to the desktop, the server and the cloud.

The idea was clear: your smartphone would become your PC, and the experience on that device would adapt to your needs and resources. But Canonical wasn’t able to deliver that promise. It even tried to launch Ubuntu Edge, the “convergent phone” that would provide all the necessary to get a responsive experience. That project had to be cancelled due to insufficient funding on Indiegogo, where nevertheless it was a record project.

Thankfully, Microsoft stole the idea

Microsoft took up the torch, and the company led now by Satya Nadella is finally delivering that idea. We saw the result with the new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, the first phones that thanks to Continuum, the Microsoft Display Dock and that ‘One Windows’ paradigm are able to transform that experience.

Your smartphone is finally yourPC.
Your smartphone is finally your PC.

You can finally use those smartphones as a smartphones or as PCs. It depends on what you need, and on what your resources are. A display, a keyboard and a mouse are enough to provide that desktop experience running from a smartphone.

Convergence is here, and it seems unstoppable.

Google agrees: this is the future

Google has been pretty clear in the past about the relevance of Android and Chrome OS. Both made sense for the company, and both covered different users. That was the official message.

pixelc
Google Pixel C was a surprise: a tablet for productive work. Everyone jump on board!

There was other goals inside the company, of course. As many predicted, maintaining two code bases when one of them is clearly not getting much traction seems not a good idea. Yesterday The Wall Street Journal revealed how Google would ‘fold’ Chrome OS into Android. There has been some updates on that report, and it seems Chrome OS will continue to exist after the release of that combination of both projects.

Chrome OS, tells The Verge, is not being “killed” and Re/code explains how “Starting next year, the company will work with partners to build personal computers that run on Android“. It seems the path to Google’s convergence will be a little slower, with two products coexisting -Android with Chrome OS features, and the traditional Chrome OS-, but the end seems clear: only Android (maybe with a different name) will survive.

Apple: merging iOS with OS X seems mandatory now

The discourse about convergence has also been unequivocal at Apple. Tim Cook recently explained how iOS and OS X had both sense for different scenarios:

ipadpro
And again, productivity shows the way. Your tablet wants to be your laptop. And it wants to be that with iOS. Weird?

We don’t believe in having one operating system for PC and mobile. These operating systems do different things,” said Cook. “We have no intention to blend them.

But again, this is the official discourse. There are to many hints to dismiss a possible merger between iOS and OS X:

  1. OS X has received minimal updates on the last two years, and in most cases there has been an ‘ios-ification of OS X‘. Continuity and Handoff were nice, but not specially ambitious.
  2. Apple’s ARM SoCs are incredibly powerful: they even beat the new MacBook, and that could led to that promising Apple laptop based on on an ARM processor (Apple A10?) and, of course, iOS.
  3. The new iPad Pro proves that Microsoft’s idea with their Surface is the one that can really save tablets. And it’s based in iOS. Not OS X. iOS.
  4. The Mac division is still important, but the iPhone is what makes Apple successful. Compare 63% revenue from iPhones to 13% revenue from Macs. If you add the iPads (another iOS product), you get a whopping 71% of revenue based on that products. That’s what work.

I have no doubts about this. Apple wants your smartphone to be your PC too. I’m absolutely sure they’re working on it, so stay tuned. Google’s decision won’t be the last on this front.