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May 13, 2013

Sundar Pichai on Android and Chrome (OS)

Wired publishes an interview with Sundar Pichai, Google's Senior Vice President for Chrome, Apps and now Android. Back in March, Larry Page announced that "Andy [Rubin] decided it's time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google". Now Sundar Pichai is in charge of Android and many people wondered if Android and Chrome OS will merge.

"Android and Chrome are both large, open platforms, growing very fast. I think that they will play a strong role, not merely exist. I see this as part of friendly innovation and choice for both users and developers. (...) So in the short run, nothing changes. In the long run, computing itself will dictate the changes. We're living through a pivotal moment. It's a world of multiple screens, smart displays, with tons of low-cost computing, with big sensors built into devices. At Google we ask how to bring together something seamless and beautiful and intuitive across all these screens. The picture may look different a year or two from from now, but in the short term, we have Android and we have Chrome, and we are not changing course," Sundar says.

He compares Android and Chrome OS with iOS and Mac OSX, which are different, but have a lot of things in common. "We want to do the right things at each stage, for users and developers. We are trying to find commonalities. On the browser layer, we share a lot of stuff. We will increasingly do more things like that. And maybe there's a more synergistic answer down the line."

That explains features like Cloud Messaging for Chrome, launched one year after Cloud Messaging for Android. Chrome also experimented with intents, but this feature is no longer supported.

It's interesting to note that Sundar's biggest Android challenge is to "improve the whole world's end-user experience without changing the open nature of Android". That's difficult to do, considering that most Android devices run old Android versions and some are rarely updated, not to mention that the most popular Android devices run custom operating systems based on Android, with custom interfaces, frameworks and different built-in apps.

For now, both Android and Chrome OS will continue to exist. Chrome's new packaged apps will also be available on mobile devices and it will be interesting to see if they look like native apps. Android tries to fight fragmentation by introducing new APIs using Google Play Services. For now, native apps make more sense on a mobile device than on a desktop computer, but this could change. Chrome OS could follow Firefox OS and run on smartphones and tablets.

Whether your laptop runs Windows, Android or Chrome OS, whether your phone or tablet runs Android, iOS, Chrome OS or Firefox OS, Google's goal is to "bring together something seamless and beautiful and intuitive across all these screens". I call it Google Operating System and it's not Android or Chrome OS.

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