Mobility

Why a Chrome OS and Android merger isn't what we really need

If you're a Chromebook user, you might have momentarily longed for an Android app or two for ChromeOS. Here's why this might not be such a good idea.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Lately I've been giving this question quite a bit of thought. I depend on both Chrome OS and Android. I use them throughout every day and would find my process a bit more challenging without them. When it was first announced that Chrome OS would be able to run Android apps, my initial thoughts were positive; I considered this move by Google to be the most logical step forward. It was clearly the best way to compete with the Microsoft Surface and to bring more users into the fold. Although chromebooks continually sell incredibly well, some consider Chrome OS to be less than a legitimate platform. Why? The lack of native apps. And that is why Google gave life to the Android Play Store on Chrome OS (at least for certain devices).

As soon as the Android Play Store became available for the Pixel 2, I enabled it on my device and started looking around for apps to use. During that first period of excitement, I did find a few apps to install and use. But very soon after, that new car smell faded and I stopped using the Android apps. My Pixel returned to doing what it does so well: allow me to be productive.

Since my return to form, I've been curious as to why the Android Play Store holds less interest to me now than it did when it was little more than a carrot dangling before me. Ultimately, the answer always goes back to that singular word.

Productivity.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot find Android apps for Chrome OS that are more productive than the apps Chrome OS already works with. Sure I could install WPS Office, but I already have Google Docs. Yes, I can install K-9 email, but I already have Inbox (as well as web mail for my own domain accounts). Many of the other apps I run on Android (such as Buffer, Facebook, Twitter, Keep, Dropbox, etc.) I already use in web form on Chrome OS (some of which open spectacularly in an app window, so they look and feel like standard apps). If you're an MS Office user, you can use that ecosystem via Chrome, so there's no need for an app. And so, again, I ask myself, "Why?"

What Chrome OS does, no other platform can match with the same level of efficiency and ease. Let me offer you an example.

Errant update

During this past weekend, the Chrome OS Beta channel updated on my Pixel 2. When I rebooted, my trackpad was behaving erratically. I rebooted a couple of times to no avail. So I switched to the Stable channel, powerwashed, rebooted when prompted, and still found the trackpad behaving poorly. Finally I switched to the Unstable Channel, powerwashed, and rebooted. When I logged in, everything was fine. All of my settings and shortcuts were back and I was ready to work. Yes, I was running on the Unstable Channel, but knew that it would only take an update to the Stable channel to solve the problem. I could run with the Unstable channel until said day.

The above took about ten minutes of my time. Ten minutes and I had pretty much reset the device twice. I can't pull off that kind of efficiency on an Android device. That, my friends, is what makes Chrome OS so appealing to many users. It offers an incredibly streamlined experience that rarely, if ever, bogs down and can be reset to zero (should anything go awry) in a few quick minutes.

Adding Android apps to this equation layers on a complexity that will only muddy the efficiency of the platform. And to what end? Will those added Android apps bring extra productivity to the platform? If the answer to that question is "yes", I don't see it. No matter how much I dig around in the Android Play Store on my Chromebook, I have yet to find an app that is a "must have" or makes me truly see the point of installing and keeping Android apps on Chrome OS.

Why do you "Chromebook"?

Naturally, I understand that users purchase devices for different reasons. Not everyone adopts a Chromebook because they are an efficient means to a productive end. I know users who own Chromebooks that never log into Google's productivity tools; instead, their devices serve them as a vehicle to use social media, shop, and browse the web. I know users who work with Chrome OS as a tool for development (mostly working with online tools). I know users whose Chromebooks serve as a mobile media device (movies on Netflix and Youtube, music on Google Play Music or Spotify). Every one of those users, keep their phones nearby. When they need to contact someone, they grab their Android or iOS device. On the rare occasion those users want the distraction of a game, they go for the phone.

In the end, if Google is actually planning to merge Chrome OS and Android, they will come to understand that it will make the platform less efficient and users will still see those devices (the Chromebook and the smartphone) as two distinct tools with two distinct purposes. Combining those devices and purposes will distract from what makes ChromeOS and Chromebooks so special: elegant and efficient simplicity.

ChromeOS may not be the platform for you, but for those who have grown to depend upon the highly productive ecosystem, the idea of muddying those waters with a layer of Android might be cause for concern.

What do you think? Would a ChromeOS/Android merger be a progression or regression?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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