Opinion: Why Google should've folded Android in

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal openly questioned the future of Google’s Chrome OS. For the uninitiated, Chrome OS isn’t the search engine’s iconic browser; it’s an open source operating system that powers a litany of Chromebooks; a quickly growing market segment comprised of lightweight, internet-empowered laptops.
The Wall Street Journal posited that Google was readying a great transition – a merger of Android and Chrome OS – to centralize its device efforts. We’ve already seen Google’s first real take on a semi-desktop offering with the introduction of the Pixel C, and, thus, this news shouldn’t come as too great a shock and rather a welcome surprise.
Instead, Google quickly went on the defensive and tarnished those claims, with one product head citing that ‘Chrome OS is here to stay‘. To my mind, Google missed an immense opportunity here; one to let Android take its first steps into a larger world.
The idea of a mobile operating system transitioning into desktop space isn’t unheard of, and one particular firm you should be watching has done it already: Microsoft. With the introduction of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, the Redmond firm has incorporated its Continuum feature in such a way that now, once connected to a display dock, either smartphone can act as a miniature desktop system. I believe that’s an incredibly novel use of the near 2.1Ghz of computing power many of us now carry around in our pockets.
Android, then, is the balm that Chrome OS would need in order to gain a key element the operating system lacks; grounding. Chrome OS relies on the principle that its user requires a lightweight system that is based in the cloud and will enjoy Google’s online suites. While there’s plenty of online office and productivity suites to keep the modern user happy, nearly all of them lack the grunt one would find on a traditional desktop or laptop.
Let’s not forget, as well, that Chrome OS has an unhealthy presumption that its users are connected to the internet and, at that, have a competitive connection. In South Africa, that’s hardly the case, where most of us are reliant on 3G networks, and, if we are fortunate, a fixed line.
Android, however, while designed to be used with web services, can survive in a disconnected space. Games, productivity suites, and anything developers dare to dream have the potential to act in the offline world, and act well. Further than that, Android carries with it one of the best app stores around – the Play Store –  within which lies a treasure trove of talent to be found. Arguably, the same can’t be said for the burgeoning Chrome Web Store.
Should Google have chosen to incorporate Android and Chrome OS, the firm could very quickly arrive at a bold frontier without much precedent – and, largely, the company could have beaten the only real precedent – Microsoft – to the party.
Android, initially, was designed for high-end smartphones, and, over the years, as come down to the low end of the market. The mobile operating system is used by nearly 80% of the world’s smartphone population; and while that kind of statistic hardly offers any indication of user enjoyment, update penetration or service reach, it offers an incredible amount of brand resonance.

“Android, then, is the balm that Chrome OS would need in order to gain a key element the operating system lacks; grounding.”

Google, then, would be in a key position to go one of two routes; incorporate a ‘Continuum’ like feature where Android phones are able to act as full-on desktop devices through attaching an external display, or through offering newer Chromebooks backed by the maturity of Android with the best parts of Chrome OS arriving with it. Let’s presume for a moment that Android apps would be able to run on Chrome; fairly instantly, developers would be able to build and release cross-platform apps that could sit on a very affordable and suddenly very desirable desktop machine.
Either route would enable Google to cover a wide berth of devices using one central operating system. Arguably, a consumer using an Acer 720P Chromebook would be able to tap directly into the same Google services and experience as the user of a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. For Google services such as Docs, Maps, Now or even Search, that’s an enormously powerful proposition that could unseat Microsoft’s Office suite and other services overnight.
Unfortunately, Google made the peculiar choice of clarifying that Android and Chrome OS are set to develop their own ways, which calls into question what the direct future of these operating systems will be like. Google has already made a subtle move into laptablet territory with the Pixel C, while Chromebooks saturate a lower end of the market that’s bizarrely almost out of place with the demographic such machines are set to reach.
Ultimately, it would seem that we are left to wonder where exactly Android and Chrome OS will go. While there is still some expectation that Google will allow Chrome OS and Android to cross-pollinate, it would seem that both are set on rails and are not destined to meet or share the same ecosystem in any particular way. Between Apple’s device centric strategy and Microsoft’s cross-platform play with Windows 10, it would seem that Google, for now, are keeping themselves to a strange twilight zone in the middle of both roads.
What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Should Google have merged Chrome OS and Android from the start? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!