Google has officially given a first proper look at Android O, the next version of the Android operating system. But while the world focuses on newly revealed features and whether that O really does stand for Oreo, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for the decreasingly-likely launch of its rumored 'Andromeda' project and the simplicity it would bring for the average user.
Right now, if you want to get anywhere near using a single OS across all your devices, your options are pretty much Windows or Ubuntu, and neither of those are particularly appealing in their current state on mobile. The advantages of familiarity, seamless access to all your files and apps regardless of devices all seem pretty obvious.
Continuum on Windows lets you plug your phone into a dock and accessories for a 'PC-like experience'. As part of this, Windows is gravitating towards offering single apps regardless of device, with the intention being that they adapt to the form-factor of the device, ensuring that they're always displayed optimally.
Ubuntu, to give it credit, is slowly building towards a similar future, but one that's destined to never go mainstream - it's not even the aim for Canonical, as the focus has always been on its dedicated fans and early adopters. Its partnership programs with device makers like BQ and Meizu confirm this.
Google, on the other hand, has largely let rumors about a merger of Chrome and Android run rife without confirming them. In September of last year, rumors of a reworked version of a Pixel laptop running 'Andromeda' circulated online; some sites pegged that for release in Q3 this year, stating that it'd been in development for up to two years. That timeframe fits with earlier rumors about Andromeda too, from 2015.
We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we'll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) September 24, 2016
In October, Android head Hiroshi Lockheimer teased an upcoming event as the biggest launch for Android since it first came on the scene. What that turned out to be was altogether less exciting - Pixel phones, Google Home, Daydream VR, that sort of thing. Good stuff, but less exciting than the launch of a new OS that brings its two existing platforms together.
By December, Lockheimer was giving interviews (in this instance, to the All About Android podcast) denying that Google would bring Android and Chrome together at all, saying that it, essentially, doesn't make any sense.
"They’re both successful. We just want to make sure that both sides benefit from each other," he said.
Right road, wrong speed
What that means is that there's not going to be the aim for a single codebase shared between different form factors, but that there will be a shared commonality brought about by common features. Android apps already run on Chrome OS devices, for example, and Android Nougat adopted the background updating process from Chromebooks. It's an experiential meeting of platforms tied together with Google Assistant.
This decision to keep the platforms separate is one shared by Apple, too, and in some ways it is understandable.
One reason Google might want to keep them apart is because the way in which they operate is fundamentally different. Android is focused on touch operation, while Chrome OS supports both touch and traditional mouse and keyboard controls. That, however, was much more of a reason back in 2013, rather than 2017; laptops or convertible devices with a touchscreen (Chromebooks or Windows-based) now cost from just a couple of hundred dollars, so they're by no means a rarity.
But why bother going the whole way and making a single code base across devices? Because convenience and simplicity wins for the average user in the long run.
If you're reading this site, you already know (and care) more than the average person about their phone. A lot of people still refer to iPhones and iPads as generic words for phones and tablets, rather than specifically referring to Apple's devices.
Thinking that the average person will know and care about the differences between a Chrome OS app, Chrome browser apps, Chrome extensions and Android apps is pretty optimistic on Google's part. That's before even starting on the fact that both the browser and the OS are called Chrome too. Sure, they can install Android apps on a Chrome OS device, but not vice versa, which might be a fair assumption to make if you didn't know better.
The other part to this convenience is for developers - having a single codebase that you know will work across any mobile, tablet or desktop device means that your app is going to reach a potentially wider audience, and thus potentially earn you more money. That, in turn, means a bigger pool of single platform apps for users to choose from. It might even tempt more iOS-only developers to build for multiple platforms.
Unfortunately, for now, we have to take Lockheimer at his word and assume that there's no Single Platform to Rule Them All on the horizon and that will have to make do with the upcoming Android 8.0 changes and hope some more exciting tweaks arrive by Google I/O in May.
Do you think Google should keep Android and Chrome OS separate? Let us know why in the comments below.