By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. April 27, 2016
Part of my work as an IT industry analyst involves talking with reporters, a process I enjoy that also helps keep me aware about breaking news stories. So when a reporter called me on Monday to discuss rumors that Google is readying a broad integration that would allow Android apps to run on Chrome-based devices, like Chromebooks, I took a close look.
The rumors actually began last October after a Wall Street Journal story claimed Google would fold Chrome into its Android OS. Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s SVP of of Android, Chrome and Chromecast, refuted that but also noted affinities between the two platforms. Then last weekend, some Chromebook users posted screenshots of what appeared to be a Google prompt promoting access to all Play Store apps: “”Choose from over a million apps and games on Google Play to install and use.”
Android and Chromebooks for business
Why did I find this intriguing? For a couple of reasons. First and foremost, as a longtime user of Google’s Android-based phones (including the original G1 and G2, and the newer Nexus lines), I’m always interested in developments for the platform. As a result, I’ve had a front row seat to the company’s efforts to make Android more workplace-friendly.
But a few months ago, I used/reviewed Dell’s new Chromebook 13, a Chrome-based solution designed specifically for business-class requirements. So I’ve been ruminating on the impact that Chrome-based solutions could have in office environments.
Higher-end Chromebooks aren’t especially new—other vendors, including ASUS, HP and Toshiba have developed solutions that are a few steps above the utilitarian Chromebooks that are common in school classrooms. Google itself sells its own Pixel and Pixel C Chromebooks, but the $999 base price make them a rarified choice by any measure.
In contrast, Dell’s Chromebook 13 costs starts at $429, and can scale uo to $899 depending on processor, memory, SSD and display options. The Chromebook 13 also leverages high end features, including the carbon fiber composite that Dell also uses in its Latitude business laptops. But the business-class Chromebook market is becoming increasingly interesting, with Acer recently announcing a premium Chromebook 14 with personalization options (including corporate logos) starting at $299.
Why Android + Chrome?
Would integrating the Chrome and Android platforms change this? Absolutely. First and most obviously, it could open up Chromebooks and other Chrome-based devices to the 1 million+ apps on the Google Play Store, a large portion of which are suitable for business. Google already supports some apps for Chromebooks via an experimental Chrome runtime for Android apps so fuller integration would be a logical next step.
But there are also larger ramifications. Consider how users can already utilize apps and related functions (including email, contacts, calendars and document creation), and access data stored in the Google cloud across Android-based phones and tablets. Now, seamlessly add PC-style Chromebook laptop and Chromebox desktop solutions to the mix and you begin to see the benefits that a unified, integrated family of platforms would have for businesses.
Dell and Acer are obviously prepared to take advantage of a potential Chrome/Android integration. If the rumors turn out to be true and Google moves ahead, I expect other PC vendors to begin developing business-class Chromebook and Chromebox solutions asap. The possibility of bolstering lagging sales with what amounts to an entirely new class of PCs and laptops would be too good to pass up.
Where Microsoft and Apple fit in
If this all sounds oddly familiar, it should since it’s central to the cross-function/cross-device strategic vision that Microsoft has pursued for years. It’s also a key part of the design of Windows 10, and underscores the continuing growth of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services and the company cloud-enabling its traditional software solutions, such as Office 365.
Only problem is that Microsoft’s phone efforts have come up dreadfully short, with estimates of around 2 million handsets being sold annually. Compare that to the 1.4 billion (according to Google) smart phones currently running Android. In short, the likelihood of Microsoft-leading a Windows-based cross-endpoint revolution looks vanishingly bleak.
What about Apple? The hugely popular iPhone and the 1+ million apps in the Apple Store mean the company could certainly be in the game. Plus, the recently released iPad Pro and partnership with IBM for supporting Apple products in enterprises shows that the company has ambitions to press further into the workplace. But Apple has resolutely kept its iOS and Mac OS environments and devices separated practically and strategically.
It could certainly change course and follow a path analogous to Google’s Chrome/Android efforts but then it would be seen as an obvious follow-on to Google. That would be difficult for Apple to stomach. Plus, the premium pricing of Mac desktops and laptops would place the company at a singular disadvantage against far more aggressively priced Chromebooks.
As positive as the effects of a Chrome/Android integration could be for vendors and their business customers, it will not be simple or easy. In particular, it will require many developers to retool apps designed for phone and tablet touch displays for the far larger displays and the touchpad, mouse and keyboard input devices used with Chromebook and Chromebox devices. That will change over time, as larger touchscreens become cheaper, but it won’t happen overnight.
Those points aside, the rumored integration of Android and Chrome offers significant potential benefits to numerous organizations, workplace end users and the vendors that serve them. It also opens up the world of business computing to a unified platform that provides easy, seamless access to a wide range of applications, processes and information. That utopian vision isn’t especially new but I doubt that many people thought Google would become the vendor most likely to bring it to fruition.
© 2016 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.