Mobility

Google's bold Android play to dominate the mobile and laptop markets

Andy Wolber thinks that Android apps on Chrome OS may make a Chromebook the second computing device most people buy, after an Android mobile device.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Perspective matters. Do you call a vehicle with four wheels and an engine a "horseless carriage" or a "car?" Do you refer to the device in your pocket as a "smartphone" or "mobile device?" Do you see every new device as a toy or a tool? The words we choose frame our view. And, as with the car, our view may change over time.

Desktop-first: Android to Chrome

Take Google's recent announcement at Google I/O 2016 that a future version of Chrome OS will allow people to run Android apps. Conner Forrest covered the news for TechRepublic in the article: Android apps are finally coming to Chromebooks, for real this time. The headline says it all: Chromebook users will soon be able to install and run Android apps.

SEE: How fragmentation affects the Android ecosystem (TechRepublic)

Android apps on a Chromebook can only be a good thing—for users, for developers, and for Google. Chromebook users may be able to run Skype and other apps that haven't historically worked well, or at all, on the web. Developers gain access to more potential customers, including educators and students at schools that have purchased Chromebooks.

Of course, limitations apply. Not every Chrome OS device will run Android apps, although many will. (Google promised to update the list of Chromebooks that support Android apps over time.) Android apps that rely on hardware not found on most Chromebooks, such as GPS or NFC, may not work. And, apps built for touchscreen devices may need some tweaks to work smoothly with touchpads.

But, that's the desktop-centric way to view things. Let's look at another perspective...

Mobile-first: Chrome extends Android

There are more people today who use Android than Chromebooks. Globally, smartphone ownership stands at a median of 43% in surveyed countries (according to Pew Research Center) and about 80% of smartphones run Android (according to IDC). Smartphone ownership is common in South Korea, Canada, Australia, the US, and Europe.

But, most people have yet to buy their first smartphone. When they do, it will likely be an Android device.

Android apps on Chrome may make a Chromebook the laptop of choice for Android users. If your first—or only—device runs Android, why wouldn't you consider a Chromebook when you can afford to purchase a second device?

With a Chromebook, you gain a larger screen, a keyboard, and a full web browser with Chrome extensions. And, you'll be able to run your Android apps, too. I don't think that bringing Android apps to Chrome is intended to help Chromebook owners run Android apps—although that's a nice side benefit. Instead, I think it is Google's effort to make the Chromebook a compelling device when an Android-only owner begins shopping for a laptop.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

From a mobile-first perspective, the Chromebook becomes a product extension to your Android mobile device. Given than most of the world's population will use Android devices in the near future, I think that's a smart approach.

Same perspective, difference pieces

Google's desktop competitor with the most marketshare—Microsoft—appears to agree with the unified platform strategy. Microsoft promoted a "Universal Windows Platform" at their Build Developer conference in early 2016. As Mark Kaelin wrote, "The idea, in a nutshell, is that developers can create apps for Windows 10, XBox One, or both and make those apps available for either platform via one single deploy on a cross-platform Unified Windows Store."

While Google and Microsoft share a similar strategic perspective, their strengths differ. Microsoft's strength derives from decades of desktop dominance. And Google, thanks to Android, maintains operating system leadership on mobile devices.

By bringing Android apps to Chrome, I think Google is making a bold play to meet the needs of mobile and laptop customers around the globe—at all price points. Chromebook users will be happy to run Android apps. But, I think Google really wants to appeal to Android mobile users ready to add another device. The strategy starts with Android and extends to Chrome.

What do you think?

Do you see this from a desktop or mobile perspective? In other words, do you see Google's strategy as an addition to Chrome OS, or a market expansion strategy for Android devices? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Also see

About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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