Senior exec says Alphabet remains ‘committed’ to Chrome OS

But if a news report about combining Android and Chrome turns out to be true, Alphabet may want to focus developers on a single OS for greater efficiencies

A story posted late Thursday by The Wall Street Journal citing unnamed sources said that Alphabet plans to unveil a single, new operating system combining Android and Chrome in 2017 and that Google engineers have been already working for two years to combine the two.

In an apparent response to that story, Hiroshi Lockmeimer, senior vice president of Android and Chrome OS at Alphabet, tweeted, "There's a ton of momentum for Chromebooks and we are very committed to Chrome OS."

One chief advantage of combining the two operating systems would be to give users of Chromebooks -- laptops that run the Chrome OS -- the ability to access Android apps, which far outnumber the apps for Chromebooks and run on millions of Android smartphones and tablets.

The idea of combining Chrome OS and Android has been around for years, but there is a widespread debate as to whether it is better to keep an operating system for laptops and PCs separate from the one that runs on smartphones and tablets. Apple keeps them separate with Mac and iOS, but Microsoft combines them in Windows 10.

It's possible that the Journal's story was offered up by people close to Alphabet to generate a widespread debate and discussion over how to proceed with the two platforms, analysts said Friday. Lockmeimer's contradiction doesn't emphatically say that Alphabet would never combine the two, and he doesn't deny that there are Google engineers working to combine them.

A spokesperson for Alphabet said, "We don’t comment on rumors or speculation."

"If the story's true, it is really about Alphabet keeping developers focused on one operating system, not two," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Google may hope to get some developer efficiencies. As for the user experience, Google will need to say more about what they are doing."

Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC who has covered Android for years, said, "I like the idea" of combining the two. "Developers can take a 'develop once, deploy on all Google-powered devices' approach, which avoids a lot of reprogramming."

Phil Hochmuth, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, said combining the two operating systems would be a "good move." He said users have been expecting Android laptops for a while, and combining the two would be a final step toward that. From a business perspective, a combination would "benefit corporate IT," as user organizations would have "one less OS to manage and maintain across an end-user base," Hochmuth said.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said, "Long term, it makes no sense for Google to have two diverse OSs, given that the difference between Chrome and Android was not that great to begin with." For enterprises, there are many more management software products for supporting Android devices than there are for Chrome devices, and it helps that Microsoft is now supporting Android, he added.

Some customers are on board as well. Peter Singh, CTO for the Toronto District School Board, supports folding Chrome into Android. "It’s very important to merge those two environments," he said in an interview on Friday.

Not only would it helpful to run Android apps on a Chromebook, it would be helpful to manage Chrome and Android from a single management tool on the back end, he said. His school district is the largest in Canada, with 246,000 students, and is seeing an increasing number of Chromebook users.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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