Google and Apple may agree on a few things, but when it comes to merging operating systems, they’re worlds apart.
Speaking at the TechCrunch Beijing summit on Monday, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, said that he can see technology “move forward where it’s possible you can wrap one (operating system) into the other.” Schmidt was responding to lingering questions over whether Google may eventually combine its two operating systems, Android and Chrome OS, into one. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that would happen, but signs seem to point toward that eventuality.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal cited sources who said that Google has been working for nearly two years to combine features built into Chrome OS and Android to eventually offer a single platform that could work across devices. Currently, Google’s Android operating system runs on smartphones and tablets, while the company’s cloud-reliant Chrome OS platform is available on both notebooks and desktops. Both, however, come with full integration of Google applications, and Android apps can even run on Chrome OS devices.
Schmidt’s comments have further stoked flames that Google is planning to combine its operating systems. It’s an idea that Trip Chowdhry, managing director at Global Equities Research, believes is a sound one.
“[Google] operating systems share almost 90% of the (same) code,” Chowdhry says. “Secondly, Chromes OS on desktop market share is less than 10%, so combining the operating systems makes sense.”
If Google were to combine its operating systems, it would follow a similar move by Microsoft (MSFT), which has worked to bring the Windows 10 experience from laptops and desktops to tablets and smartphones. The initiative to get Windows 10 running on all types of devices is part of Microsoft’s “mobile-first” initiative.
Apple, however, is a different story. Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he has no plans whatsoever to combine his desktop operating system OS X with his company’s mobile operating system iOS. While rumors have suggested Apple would—and perhaps should—make such a move, Cook argued that combining one operating system designed for mobile devices and another for computers is a bad idea.
“We don’t believe in having one operating system for PC and mobile,” Cook said at the BoxWorks Conference last month. “We think it subtracts from both, and you don’t get the best experience from either. We’re very much focused on two.”
Interestingly, many industry experts agreed with Cook’s assessment. Chowdhry, for instance, said at the time that iOS and OS X combining “does not make sense.” Ian Fogg, an analyst at IHS, told Fortune that merging Apple’s operating system would create a “lowest-common-denominator experience” for users.
Google, however, is in a different position, the experts say. Android and Chrome OS are staggeringly similar under the hood and both rely heavily on Internet connectivity to deliver their experiences. Apple (AAPL) and iOS may share some similar features, such as multitouch gesture support, but they are still different platforms attempting to provide varied experiences. Google’s operating systems, the experts say, are more easily ported to devices of different sizes.
“It makes sense for Google, but not for Apple,” Chowdhry says.
Assuming Google (GOOG) eventually merges operating systems, questions abound over how it will do it. The Wall Street Journal’s sources say that Google will fold Chrome OS into Android. In a blog post on Monday, though, Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast, attempted to clear the air, saying that his company has no plans to kill Chrome OS.
“Over the last few days, there’s been some confusion about the future of Chrome OS and Chromebooks based on speculation that Chrome OS will be folded into Android,” Lockheimer wrote in a blog post entitled “Chrome OS is here to stay.” “While we’ve been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there’s no plan to phase out Chrome OS.”
A company spokeswoman put a finer point on Lockheimer’s statement, telling Fortune that Chrome OS will not be folded into Android.
Still, Google has not ruled out the possibility of merging the operating systems and Lockheimer, whose team works on both platforms, says the company is working to “redefine the different forms Chrome OS can take.” It’s possible, therefore, that eventually, Android could find its way to Chrome OS, and it’ll be a single platform that runs on mobile devices around the world.
The big question, however, is when such a move could happen. For now, Google isn’t saying what its plans are and it’s unlikely it will until the final move is made. The Wall Street Journal’s sources said that the merger could come down in 2017. Chowdhry was a bit more bullish, saying the combination will happen “within the next 12 months.”
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