Google has struck gold with Android. It’s the most popular mobile operating system, and, thanks to its open source nature and the growth of smartphones and tablets, one day it might even be the most popular operating system, period.
This is something Google has been craving for a long time. For the biggest part of the last decade, Microsoft was Google’s main competitor, much like Facebook considers Google their main competitor today, or at least a company they would very much like to “beat”. So the Mountain View-based giant has been trying for quite a while now to develop its own universal OS, hoping that, one day, it will weaken Microsoft’s dominance.
Google has tried to conquer the desktop space with ChromeOS, but, so far, it hasn’t had much luck. In part, that is because people are still not completely sold on the “all you need is the web” vision. Among the reasons for this reluctance we can count the facts that we’re barely just getting LTE now, unlimited data plans are becoming a rarity, and, very importantly, the price for ChromeOS devices just isn’t right.
To some, a Chromebook seems even less useful than a netbook, so the $400 price tag for one doesn’t make much sense. Google repeated the mistake they did with Google TV, when instead of going with much cheaper ARM chips, they chose the more expensive Intel ones. The second time in a row they failed mostly because of the pricing. Hopefully, they won’t make the same mistake again this summer — there are rumors that we’ll see a Chromebook made by Samsung, based on an Exynos 5250 chip. But it remains to be seen if Samsung will price it right. They are not very well known for pricing something as cheaply as possible.
Android is already a very popular OS, but it’s primarily a smartphone OS, and then a tablet one. It will take quite a leap to make it a desktop OS, as well, but I think that’s where Google is heading with Android 5.0 (not necessarily Jelly Bean, just whatever they will be launching this fall).
But I wonder how they will tackle the issue of having a “similar” UI across form factors. In general, you don’t want the UI to be exactly the same across the board, because, at least on some form factors, the UI will come out as un-optimized. Take Windows 8 for example. Because Microsoft wanted to have the same UI everywhere, and they first focused on the tablet form factor, the UI is very poor for the desktop now.
To extent, the same can be said about Ubuntu, too, but the problem is much smaller there. Pretty much the most annoying thing about cross-platform Ubuntu is the fact that you have a sidebar instead of a bottom bar, but that’s about it.
The bottom line is Google can’t just use the exact same UI on phones, tablets, and desktops. ICS works well on phones, works on on tablets, and it’s not too bad in desktop mode either, but the experience could be much improved there.
So how will they do this? Will Larry Page and co. be the ones to find the “perfect” middle ground between all these devices? Is such a thing even possible?
Personally, I’d prefer if they made the multiple versions look as close as possible in styling and theme, but actually have a “phone mode”, a “tablet mode” and a “desktop mode”. I’d like the UI to be very well optimized for each form factor, to squeeze the most utility out of it. So for phones you’d have something like you do now, for tablets something like Chameleon, and for desktop, something like everyone is used to using on a desktop.
They could do this by making “UI add-ons” on top of the core of Android, that have resemble each other at a high level, but also take full advantage of the form factor they run on. So, if you’d have an Android phone, you could dock it to a tablet or PC monitor and be able to choose between the Phone, Tablet and PC modes.
This is just something that I would prefer. What’s the most likely thing to happen? They will probably just improve the ICS UI on a tablet to be more useful in desktop mode and look more “at home” on a PC, without compromising too much of the tablet UI. The other alternative is that they will merge ChromeOS with Android, and the user will be able to switch between them. This would be a lot easier to do with Samsung’s Exynos 5250, which thanks to the Cortex A15 architecture, will feature hardware virtualization, making it easy to run two operating systems at the same time.
What do you think Google will bring to Android 5.0 to make it more desktop-friendly, or what else should they be doing to make that possible?