Google brings its two OSs closer together

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
10 Dec 2013

A full merger of Google's two operating systems, Chrome OS and Android, may be a distant prospect, but the company is making steps towards convergence, a trend also seen at Apple and Microsoft.

It is preparing Chrome applications to run on iOS and Android early next year, as developers look for the ability to run their apps across multiple platforms and screens. The Mobile Chrome Apps project aims to get web-based Chrome services to run on smartphones, and a beta version should be ready as soon as January.

The Chrome Apps system gives an HTML5 app the same level of hardware access as a mobile app, and allows developers to code in simple HTML5 but still access the bigger target spaces of Android and iOS. Google benefits from opening up Android to the world's 8 million web developers, and so boosts usage of its services still further.

Mobile Chrome Apps use polyfills, which replicate an API when it's unavailable, and the Apache app building tool Cordova, to port apps written in HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3 to native code for Android and iOS. In November, Google announced Spark, a tool to ease the creation of Chrome Apps.

The next step might be a Chrome OS device within Google's own-branded Nexus range. So far, Chromebooks have been quite separate from this program, though the company has steadily increased the functionality (and price) of its own designs to match those of tablets – the Chromebook Pixel has a full touchscreen and gave rise to the rumors that the two operating systems would merge, an opinion strengthened by the appointment of a single EVP to run both platforms.

Sources are suggesting that Google will add a new tablet, similar to the ageing Nexus 10, to its portfolio in the new year, but with Chrome OS rather than Android. This would address some issues with Android, notably the poor way many of its apps translate to larger screens. Clues to a Chrome tablet plan include the development of an on-screen software keyboard for Chrome OS, and improvements to the mobile version of the Chrome browser.

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