Google ponders Android vs. Chrome for future tablets

Analysts disagree on what might happen over the software choice

Google is being somewhat circumspect about whether Android or Chrome will run on future tablet computers, with two top executives hinting recently at different possible directions. Analysts also disagree in their predictions.

In recent days, Google's director of mobile products, Hugo Barra, said Android 2.2, the latest version that is also known as Froyo, has not been optimized for tablets.

In an interview with TechRadar, he said the Android Market for applications would not run on Android 2.2-based tablets because it is "just not designed for that form factor."

Still, Barra indicated that Android is an open OS, and has already been used in some tablets, as seen at the IFA show in Berlin last week. Samsung's Galaxy Tab, a tablet computer announced on Sept. 2 that runs Android 2.2, should ship in Europe in October.

Barra seemed to hint that future Android versions could support tablets when he said, "We want to make sure that we're going to create a application distribution mechanism for the Android market, to ensure our users have the right experience."

However, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said this week in a keynote speech at the IFA show that Google's Chrome OS is also open source, which means developers will use it to run tablets.

Schmidt indicated that Chrome's availability is now at an early stage and is targeted mainly at netbooks. "But I think it's too early to say exactly how it will play out," he said. "We're looking forward to the partnership announcements later this year." (Video of his keynote is available on the IFA Web site. )

Conceivably, Schmidt could have been referring to a partnership announcement with HTC and Verizon, who both are rumored to be working on a Chrome-based tablet for release on Nov. 26, although nothing official has been announced by any of the companies.

Google officials did not respond to inquiries to clarify comments by Schmidt and Barra on Friday.

When two well-informed analysts were asked if Google would offer future tablets with Chrome or a version of Android, they diverged.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said it was his "educated guess" that Android will be upgraded in the next release, called Gingerbread, to support more screen sizes such as tablets. He added: "I think Chrome will not be that relevant in tablets."

However, Rob Enderle, an analyst and Enderle Group, said the near opposite. "Google hasn't wanted Android on tablets," Enderle said, noting that most tablets running Android use earlier versions, Android 1.5 or 1.6, because it has taken a lot of tweaking to adapt the OS from a smartphone to a tablet.

Enderle said he believes that Chrome will run on a tablet to first appear in November. He didn't specifically refer to that first Chrome tablet as one coming from HTC to run over Verizon's network, as rumored.

"The first one will be more of a beta, like the G1 smartphone, and the second half of 2011 is when a Chrome tablet will have its coming-out party," Enderle said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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