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5/13/2013
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Google I/O: Android, Chrome Not Merging

Clarifying some speculation before the Google I/O conference, Google says it has no immediate plans to combine Android and Chrome into one platform.

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Hoping to see some exciting new hardware at this year's Google I/O developer conference? Don't get your hopes up. In a lengthy interview with Wired, Android head Sundar Pichai says this year's conference is going to be different.

"It's not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system," said Pichai. "Both on Android and Chrome, we're going to focus this I/O on all of the kinds of things we're doing for developers, so that they can write better things. We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms."

Pichai took over as head of Google's Android division earlier this year after longtime Android chief Andy Rubin decided to step aside. Before joining the Android team, Pichai led development for Google's Chrome browser and platform. His comments about new products fall in line with recent reports about what Google might show off at the conference.

For example, six months ago most people would have told you Android 5.0 would make its debut during I/O. In recent weeks, however, that expectation has been softened. At this point, only a modest update to Android, version 4.3, is expected to appear. That meshes with Pichai's "no new operating system" comment. There aren't any details about what new features might be included in Android 4.3. Further, rather than reveal the long-rumored Motorola X Phone, device watchers think at best the Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet will see some spec updates, but not much more than that. Again, this falls in line with Pichai's comments above.

[ Learn more about Google's developer conference. Read Google I/O 2013 Preview. ]

Pichai during his interview offered a few other nuggets of wisdom concerning the thinking inside Google with respect to Android, Chrome and the Web.

For one, the company is looking into ways to smooth out the Android updating process, which is horribly broken at the moment. "We are thinking about how to make Android handle updates better," said Pichai. "We see ways we can do this. It's early days. We're talking with our partners and working our way through it. We need time to figure out the mechanics, but it's definitely an area of focus for me and for the team."

As it stands, Google pushes out new versions of Android about once every six months. That software then goes to the hardware makers, who need to figure out how to update each of their devices with the new code while still maintaining functionality. If it were only up to the OEMs, the process might not be so terrible. Unfortunately, the wireless network operators play a key role in updating device software. The approval process takes anywhere from three to six months. Hopefully Pichai's team can figure out something quickly.

Pichai said that Google was not surprised to see competitor Mozilla reveal Firefox OS, its own Web-based operating system for smartphones. The number of new smartphone platforms currently in development numbers at least a half-dozen, with many of them, such as Jolla and Tizen, relying on web-based standards for wide-ranging compatibility with hardware and applications.

Importantly, Pichai said quite clearly that the company has no immediate plans to combine Android and Chrome into one platform.

"We embrace both and we are continuing to invest in both. So in the short run, nothing changes," said Pichai. "The picture may look different a year or two from now, but in the short term, we have Android and we have Chrome, and we are not changing course."

During the run-up to I/O, there were suggestions that Google would merge its two platforms, though it wasn't clear which platform (and which features) might assert itself. Google is still developing Android and Chrome separately, but we've seen Android-first products, such as Google Now, head to the desktop, and desktop-first products, such as Google+ and Google Maps, head to the smartphone/tablet.

If Google chooses to combine these two platforms at a later date, it will be interesting to see how a blend of Android and Chrome comes together. Until that day, developers will have plenty to keep themselves busy.

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