Android vs Chrome: The OS Civil War

Android vs Chrome and The OS Civil War

Android versus Chrome is an OS Civil War! Google’s attempt to market two completely different operating systems to the same set of consumers is going to be a disaster, and we tell you why.

After just following the Google Chrome OS event live on Engadget, and watching the Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Honeycomb videos we posted here earlier today, I am seriously confused. What is Google thinking?

Here we have one company, Google, that is developing two completely independent operating systems, both of which look like they’re going to be targeting the same consumers. Granted I don’t see Google releasing any Chrome OS cellphones anytime soon, that’s clearly Android territory, but aside from cell phones specifically, the Chrome and Android teams seem to be in direct competition with each other at this point.

We will get into the hardware in a minute, but let’s just look at their software strategies here. In both their Android and Chrome events, Google spent more time talking about 3rd party software and how developers can utilize their platform than any other single point. But again, these are two separate operating systems!

So yesterday we had the Android team on stage talking about how good the Android Marketplace is, and all the work they’re doing to make developing for Android phones and especially tablets easy and simple and intuitive. Then today, we have a completely different set of people from the same company talking about a completely different platform, Chrome OS and Browser, and the new Chrome App Store! And again they tell us how great it is for developers to have an app store, a centralized place where they can monetize their development and get noticed. This seems like utter lunacy to me.

What is Google thinking? Android is a hit, what are they doing introducing a second OS at all? Let alone one that will be competing *against* the Android platform when it comes to ultra portable computing devices like tablets and netbooks?

Clearly Google doesn’t think there is a problem, they are simply positioning Android as their ‘touchscreen device’ OS for mobile phones and tablets, while Chrome OS is their ‘traditional computer form factor’ OS designed for a keyboard and mouse. But in my opinion they are making a huge blunder. Google doesn’t understand where the market is heading, and they clearly don’t see the way in which they’re going to cannibalize themselves.

When they began working on Chrome OS, there was (and still is) a large market for cheap, inexpensive laptops in the traditional clamshell form factor. Netbooks were taking over, and Google developed Chrome OS to go after that market. And if nothing had changed since late 2009 when this was announced, I think they’d probably be on to something. But something did change – Apple released the iPad. Since that time, it has become abundantly clear to me and many others that netbooks were a fad, a stop-gap. They were being purchased mostly by new computer owners and users who wanted to be able to connect with people and utilize the tools a computer offers without ‘fully investing’ and becoming a truly proficient computer enthusiast. Turns out what these people really wanted all along was actually an iPad. It is the perfect device for people that previously would have bought a netbook, and the decline of netbook sales and massive popularity of the iPad in the last 9 months demonstrate that clearly.

This is Google’s big mistake. With Chrome OS they are going to be chasing after the exact same customers that they are trying to entice into buying an Android tablet. This is the new, wide open market of computer consumer, those who are increasingly realizing that they don’t have to put up with all the headaches of traditional PCs if they just want to be on Facebook with their family and friends.

Now it might not seem like offering customers a choice isn’t a bad thing, but again I totally disagree. By having these two completely separate platforms that are targeting the same emerging market of consumers, you are doing a huge disservice to your developers. They are going to spend all the time building up development on Chrome OS as well as Android, when eventually one of those marketplaces is going to succeed, and the other will fizzle. So instead of Google manning up and taking charge of the situation and rallying behind one of their products, they are instead demanding that their developers take that bet for them and develop software for a platform that may not even exist a year or two down the road.

I can tell you one thing, if I was a developer I’d say the hell with that and stick to iOS. Not only does developing an application for iOS put your hard work in front of more potentially paying customers, but you can develop one version of an application and have it work on all iOS devices. And if you want to deliver that same app to a traditional form-factor computer, porting that app to the Mac App Store is a trivial process – far less involved than porting the same project from Android to Chrome OS.

It will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out, and as Google begins to see that all they’re doing is cannibalizing their own sales it should be very entertaining to watch them attempt to explain these disparate platforms to consumers. One of the main advantages of Chrome OS is how easy it’s supposed to be, but it sure seems like a headache from where I’m sitting.

One last bit, about the hardware. The only Chrome OS device we’ve seen so far is the “CR-48″:

CR48 Running Chrome OS

Right now they’re using this in some pilot programs with different businesses to see if Chrome OS would work as a solution in various roles. Similarly, we’ve recently heard that the iPad continues to be tested in numerous Fortune 500 companies as a business tool. Let me ask you, if you were working for a company that was going to run a pilot program like this, which device would you rather your company bought for you, the matte black, completely featureless “CR-48″, or this:


I know which one I’d pick. And I know which device my company could develop the most exciting, the most custom, the most powerful, and the most effective software for too. Oh and that software would also work on my employee’s iPhones. One cost of development, deployment to two separate classes of device. It’s a powerful thing that apparently the Android team has figured out, but Google as a whole clearly has not.

Sorry Google, the past is that way, towards the CR-48. Don’t get too attached to it, because we sure aren’t.

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