How Chrome OS Management Will Improve Android

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As you surely have heard by now, Android is under new management at Google ( GOOG). The leadership of Chrome OS is now in charge of Android. This is a positive development, but not for the reason you have heard to date.

Let's get this out of the way first: What you may have heard speculated about in the tech press is that Chrome OS and Android OS will merge. They will not. Let me explain why, after which we can get into the interesting part, the part that's actually going to happen.

Merging two operating systems is essentially impossible, in the sense of picking half the code base from OS A and half from OS B, and then slapping them together. It's genetically impossible, sort of like mating a donkey with a parrot.

What they really mean is that one operating system -- Android -- will essentially take over Chrome OS -- or vice versa. That could happen, although for reasons I will explain, the hurdle for that to happen is extremely high, and would require a tremendous amount of time and effort. Perhaps in 2015 or 2016.

For starters, Android and Chrome OS are focused on different use cases. Chrome OS is a traditional PC, where you type all day long. If you type all day long, you cannot make a compromise in the typing experience. There is a reason the traditional laptop format has not changed in over 20 years: It's basic human physics.

Chrome OS is for people who actually have to work. Yes, despite a record low labor participation rate in modern times, a few Americans still have a job to do.

Android is optimized for touchscreens, and they are, in turn, dominant in the smartphone form factor as well as tablets. The objects on the screen need to be different and be spaced apart differently if you are using your fingers instead of a touchpad or mouse pointer on a PC.

Once you are in the tablet category, you can start talking about tablet-PC convertibles. A tablet screen can be used both as a large smartphone and as screen for a laptop. Combining a touch interface with a "traditional PC" interface has been proven difficult, however. For evidence, I offer Windows 8, which most people thus far view an interface failure.

There is no urgency for Google to combine Chrome OS with Android. Apple ( AAPL) has two operating systems -- Mac and iOS. Microsoft ( MSFT) has three of them -- Windows 8, Windows 8 RT, and Windows Phone 8. Tell me again why Google somehow can't have two? Spread the risk, optimize for two different use cases.

Chrome OS and Android both share the same cloud infrastructure -- Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and so forth. It's one unified login. So there are already synergies. The dilemma was actually described the best by Apple CEO Tim Cook a year ago: You can try to merge a refrigerator with a toaster, but why? Yes, they both plug into the same wall outlet, but at some point when you merge two different products they don't perform two specialized functions as well.

Android's Product Management Problem

If you want to understand how the management from Chrome OS will improve Android, you have to understand one of Android's key weaknesses to date: Software upgrades.

No, I am not talking about any difficulty in performing upgrades. They are as easy to perform on Android as they are on any Microsoft and Apple product -- although not as elegant as on Chrome OS. I am talking about the fact that if you bought an Android smartphone or tablet in the last few years, you did not get software upgrades for very long.

Let's say you bought a Samsung Nexus S in the second quarter of 2011. That was the state of the art Android phone at the time. Are you running the latest version of Android today? No, you aren't. When Android got 4.2 in November 2012, you were left behind at 4.1 and you will never get 4.2 or above.

There are numerous examples of this in the Android world. How many Android smartphones or tablets that you bought in the last one to three years were running version 2.3, 3.0, 3.2 or 4.0 when you bought it, but will never get 4.0, 4.1 or 4.2 -- let alone the soon-to-arrive 5.0? The answer is: most of them.

In fact, in most cases Android smartphones have failed to stay "fresh" in terms of software for more than 18 months, plus or minus. There has been a tremendous short-sightedness in the Android food chain for keeping the customer happy over time.

One couldn't be faulted for believing the worst from Google, Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola and all the rest: They just want to sell you a device that might get one software update, and then it's forgotten. Want the latest software? Buy a new device 18 months later. Or sometimes less.

This is a painful comparison, especially with Apple. If you bought the iPhone 4 at its debut in June 2010, you are now running the latest software -- iOS 6.1.3 -- just as if you picked up the iPhone 5 today.

This is a key reason Apple leads in customer service surveys, often way ahead of Android smartphones and tablets. With Apple, you know you will be getting software updates for as long as at all reasonably possible. With Android, you can't be blamed for suspecting that you will be kicked to the curb very soon after you buy your device, leaving you with a very sour taste in your mouth for the remainder of your 2-year contract.

So is this Google's fault? Is it Samsung's, HTC's, LG's or some other vendor's fault? Is it the fault of AT&T ( T), Verizon ( VZ) or some other operator? Frankly, who cares. Ultimately, it is up to Google to fix it.

Guess what? Google has been offering a product for two years now that has been exemplary in supporting old devices with the latest software, right away. And that product is Chrome OS, offered in so-called "Chromebooks" (laptops) and "Chromeboxes" (desktop PCs) by Samsung, Acer, HP ( HP), Lenovo and, yes Virginia, Google itself.

If you bought the very first commercially available Chromebook, made by Samsung, two years ago, you are still getting the very latest software updates, and you get them right away. To date, Chromebooks have been made with single-core Intel ( INTC)Intel Atom chips, dual-core Atom chips, dual-core Intel Celeron chips, quad-core Samsung ARM chips and Intel Core i5 chips.

Despite all of these dramatically different chips, all Chrome OS devices to date run the same version of the latest Chrome OS. This is an amazing feat. Whether you spend $199 or $1,449 on a Chrome OS PC, you can feel confident that you are not being abandoned by Google.

This is one key reason people love Chrome OS, just like they love Apple products -- a lot more than Android. It is also a reason for hope, now that Chrome OS management is now in charge of Android.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you knew that every Android device you bought today would still be running the latest version of Android 3-4 years down the road, just like Apple? If Google could do this, it would greatly reduce the instances of people leaving Android in favor of iOS, Windows Phone and even BlackBerry's ( BBRY) BlackBerry 10.

Bottom Line: The Real Meaning of Chrome OS Management

Forget merging Chrome OS with Android. This is neither necessary nor possible in the short-to-medium run. The real meaning of Chrome OS management taking over Android is that we can expect a more rational product management of Android, where software updates will last 3-4 years instead of 18 months or sometimes less.

Android fans should celebrate Chrome OS management taking over Android. Future Android products will be better supported as a result. Expect to hear more about this on May 15-16.

At the time of publication the author was long GOOG, AAPL and INTC, and short MSFT..

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.