How Chrome OS Management Will Improve Android

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

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

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

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

For starters, Android and Chrome OS are focused on different usecases. 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 typingexperience. There is a reason the traditional laptop format has notchanged in over 20 years: It's basic human physics.

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

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

Once you are in the tablet category, you can start talking abouttablet-PC convertibles. A tablet screen can be used both as a largesmartphone and as screen for a laptop. Combining a touch interfacewith a "traditional PC" interface has been proven difficult, however.For evidence, I offer Windows 8, which most people thus far view aninterface 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 threeof them -- Windows 8, Windows 8 RT, and Windows Phone 8. Tell meagain why Google somehow can't have two? Spread the risk, optimizefor 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. Sothere are already synergies. The dilemma was actually described thebest by Apple CEO Tim Cook a year ago: You can try to merge arefrigerator with a toaster, but why? Yes, they both plug into thesame wall outlet, but at some point when you merge two differentproducts 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 willimprove Android, you have to understand one of Android's keyweaknesses 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 Microsoftand Apple product -- although not as elegant as on Chrome OS. I amtalking about the fact that if you bought an Android smartphone ortablet in the last few years, you did not get software upgrades forvery 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 yourunning the latest version of Android today? No, you aren't. WhenAndroid got 4.2 in November 2012, you were left behind at 4.1 and youwill never get 4.2 or above.

There are numerous examples of this in the Android world. How manyAndroid smartphones or tablets that you bought in the last one to three yearswere running version 2.3, 3.0, 3.2 or 4.0 when you bought it, but willnever get 4.0, 4.1 or 4.2 -- let alone the soon-to-arrive 5.0? Theanswer 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. Therehas been a tremendous short-sightedness in the Android food chain forkeeping the customer happy over time.

One couldn't be faulted forbelieving the worst from Google, Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola and allthe rest: They just want to sell you a device that might get onesoftware 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 boughtthe iPhone 4 at its debut in June 2010, you are now running the latestsoftware -- 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, oftenway ahead of Android smartphones and tablets. With Apple, you knowyou will be getting software updates for as long as at all reasonablypossible. With Android, you can't be blamed for suspecting that youwill 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 ofyour 2-year contract.

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

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

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

Despite all of these dramatically different chips, all Chrome OSdevices to date run the same version of the latest Chrome OS. This isan 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 loveApple products -- a lot more than Android. It is also a reason forhope, now that Chrome OS management is now in charge of Android.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you knew that every Android device youbought today would still be running the latest version of Android 3-4years down the road, just like Apple? If Google could do this, itwould greatly reduce the instances of people leaving Android in favorof 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 norpossible in the short-to-medium run. The real meaning of Chrome OSmanagement taking over Android is that we can expect a more rationalproduct management of Android, where software updates will last 3-4years instead of 18 months or sometimes less.

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

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

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

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