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Google all set to run Android on its Chromebooks this year

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  • Chrome OS to support Android
  • Play Store to pop up on Chrome OS this summer
  • Why did Google take so long to merge them in this way?

Google is effectively fully merging Android with its Chrome OS this summer it has announced at its big I/O developer bash in California. Chrome users will see the Android Play Store option appear in on their desktop at some point this year and they’ll be able to download and use any of the one million plus Android apps now available. We knew it was heading in this direction but now Google's pushed the pedal to the floor.

Google says that this isn’t being achieved with some sort of emulation software - the machines will be running an actual Android environment and all the functions present on the phone will be there with data (videos, music etc) stored locally as if the Chromebook was an Android phone.  That means applications like Microsoft’s Office Suite (no more Scroogle talk from MS) and Spotify (which as a Chrome app was a bit, well, spotty) will be available.

This is a big change and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

You’ll remember that the major criticism, right from the start against Chrome OS, Google’s browser-only, Web operating system laptop was that it was  err.. well, browser-based. It couldn’t run ‘conventional’ applications locally and Microsoft even spent a bucket-load of money pointing this out in its aggressive ‘scroogled’ ad campaign a couple of years back.

In fact there are thousands of Chrome Web apps and personally (as a biased Chrome OS user) I don’t find that there’s any impediment to my doing exactly what I want to on the platform. There’s always a Web service or Chrome OS app to meet my needs.  I just use my - admittedly high spec - Chromebook to do everything, even to manipulate graphics which is one of the things it’s not supposed to be very good at.  As long as you’re not a particularly ‘power user’ and have a fast, reliable Internet connection you’re good to go.

But there’s the nub. I admit that if you lose your Internet connection life can be difficult (although, now that just about everthing happens on the Internet anyway, it's difficult no matter what platform you’re perched on). Soon, with some Android apps tucked away on the Chromebook, you'll have extra options, connection or no connection.

You can also run your phone apps (assuming you’re an Android user, and today most are), big size, on your Chromebook.

One questions is: whither the Android tablet? Does it morph into a touchscreen chromebook, or perhaps a Chromebook with a detachable screen?  Probably, yes and yes. Which leads us neatly onward to the big question. Why did Google not surrender to the inevitable and merge the two environments sooner?

There may be several reasons. First, Google had established two teams with different approaches tasked to target allied, but only just overlapping, application areas. Best to keep them forging ahead in friendly rivalry.

From the user marketing point of view a big part of the Chromebook push was its ‘out-of-the-box’ simplicity and ease of use. With Android tacked on the side the whole marketing story starts to sound messy and the support story (and the support effort involved) gets harder as well - as does the chance of selling any Android tablets.

Then there was the developer pitch. At the early stage when Google was fighting to get the Chromebook supported, promising to attach Android then would have killed the third party Web app effort.  Why bother going to the expense of reworking your app for Chromebook OS when users could just download it as a (probably not quite as seamless) Android app.

In all probability the internal Google argument over this has up to now been as evenly divided as an Austrian presidential election - now the ‘let’s merge’ camp has won the day. It will be interesting to see how Chromebook users integrate those million Android apps.

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