Chrome OS tablets: the end of Android?
Google's Android OS feels like it's been around forever, starting out on smartphones like the HTC Dream and eventually evolving to work on tablets and even watches! With over 24,000 different Android gadgets available, it feels like Android will be around forever – but the rise of ChromeOS could point to a different conclusion.
Right now, Google’s ChromeOS is only really found on their Chromebook line of low-cost, ultra-portable laptops. But with ChromeOS having increasing synergy with Android, rumours are emerging that it might be less of an alternative, and more of a replacement in waiting!
Today, with the first wave of ChromeOS-powered tablets about to hit the streets, we take a look at the history of Google’s lesser-known but more powerful operating system – and ask whether it could spell the end of Android altogether in future.
The beginnings: Google OS
Originally a side project by former Google engineer Jeff Nelson, ChromeOS began life as ‘Google OS’ in 2006, as a super-fast operating system designed for code development.
This was an entirely new type of operating system that’s stored in your computer's RAM, or ‘random-access memory’, rather than ROM, or ‘read-only memory’. RAM is much faster than ROM – but is wiped when the system shuts down.
Like Android, Google OS used a ‘kernel’ from the open-source operating system Linux, which means it's not a completely 'new' system.
The benefits to using an established and open-source operating system as its core is that there's already a lot of support for Linux – and its open-source nature means you can develop and modify it without worry!
Unfortunately, Google didn't originally see the merits of having an OS that depends heavily on having an internet connection to access cloud services – especially as this was all happening before their own Chrome browser had made its appearance. Still, the seeds had been planted for what would later become ChromeOS.
The rise of the Chromebook
ChromeOS then, is the child of Jeff Nelson's Google OS – and surfaced in 2009 to much applause.
Still based on a Linux kernel, ChromeOS adopted a new visual style and restricted access to 'normal' Linux programs, opting for a more ‘closed’ system for users to work in. This does restrict what you can and can't install in ChromeOS compared to traditional Linux – but also means you're never at risk of installing something which could mess up your computer.
The reason for this restriction lies in the fact that ChromeOS runs from RAM and not ROM. A computer’s RAM is usually much more limited in size, and installing a 3GB program just wouldn't be possible! Fortunately for us, ChromeOS uses something called ‘Web Apps’ - programs that run directly from an internet browser, and don't need to be installed locally.
Due to the specific hardware needs of ChromeOS, until recently it was only available pre-installed on netbooks – or Chromebooks, to give them their new name!
Slightly larger in size than a normal netbook, a Chromebook packs a little more power under the hood and comes with a full-sized keyboard for much more efficient typing – perfect for coders and writers. At this stage in its life, ChromeOS complemented Android nicely: offering a Google-centric platform for web browsing and office-style tasks.
But as technology has developed, so has ChromeOS – and right now, it’s starting to appear on devices traditionally more at home with Android.
the first Chrome OS tablets
Up until December 2016, it was generally expected that ChromeOS would serve laptop computers and Android would continue to serve mobiles and tablets – especially as Android already has a library of millions of mobile-focused apps and games available for it.
For that reason, when Lenovo announced their newest Yoga Book tablet, it came as quite a surprise to find out it would run ChromeOS – which normally prevents apps being installed at all!
This development is all down to one big change: the appearance of the Google Play Store on certain Chromebooks. All Chromebooks made in 2017 and beyond will run Android apps – and if Android apps work on a laptop OS, why can't a laptop OS work on a tablet?
As it turns out, ChromeOS can work on a tablet. 2017 marks the year of the Chrome tablet, with manufacturers like Samsung and Lenovo both ready to release their own versions of what they feel a Chrome-based tablet should be.
Lenovo have already mentioned that they will continue to release Android tablets at least until 2018 – but from that point onwards it's heavily hinted that future devices will run ChromeOS and not Android OS. Whether we'll see this change rolling down to smartphones as well as still up in the air, but at this stage anything is possible!
As such, with the rise of the more versatile ChromeOS, we could be witnessing the beginning of the end for Android. Any such changes are, of course, a long way off – but based on the rapid development of the ChromeOS tablet, it may not be quite as far away as you think.