Android expands reach, consolidates into one platform for all devices

Chrome OS is dead, one developer says

The expansion of Android from smartphones to tablets, TVs and desktop computers impressed developers attending the Google I/O conference, with one attendee predicting that Google's other operating system – Chrome OS – is doomed.

While Google staff could be seen doing their work on prototype Chrome OS laptops this week, it was Android that commanded the keynote stage Tuesday morning, with Google officials discussing future releases of the OS for smartphones, tablets and Google TV. It's rumored that the first Chrome OS commercial device will be unveiled this week by Google and Samsung, but Android already beat Chrome OS to the consumer PC market with the Motorola Atrix, a phone/PC hybrid.

Android soars: 100 million devices activated, 4.5 billion apps downloaded

Google even pitched Android as an operating system for futuristic home automation – controlling the light switches and dishwasher in your house.

"They're turning Android into a multi-platform operating system," said Murat Yener, a developer from Turkey who came to San Francisco for Google I/O. Yener has built a few Android applications, including one that answers the phone when you shake it and another that sends a text message to callers when you're unavailable.

"Android started only as mobile but now it's just going everywhere, tablets, Google TV," Yener said. "I think Chrome OS is just over. Everything will be Android." Yener further likened the rise of Android to "the start of Java. Everything runs on the same platform."

Google Android engineer Mike Cleron talked during the keynote about having "one operating system that runs everywhere," but Google officials declined to say whether that indicates anything about the future of Google's less well-known operating system. Chrome OS runs the Chrome browser on top of Linux, and assumes that users will do nearly all of their computing on the Web. Google has promised to deliver Chrome OS laptops by the middle of 2011.

Chrome and Chrome OS will get more attention on Wednesday at Google I/O, but it was all Android Tuesday. Google helped Samsung hype the upcoming Galaxy Tab 10.1 by giving the device away to all 5,000 or so attendees.

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While Google boasted of 100 million Android device activations, it has a long way to go before it can topple Apple's iPad on the tablet front. Google I/O attendee Kalman Lee, a Web developer for Demand Media in Santa Monica, has faith in Android.

"With the iPhone, it took a few years but Android caught up. I think tablets will go the same way," he said.

The key for Google, he said, is to continue making Android open source and welcoming to developers. "As long as we can do whatever we want on a tablet, I think it's a big step in the right direction," Lee said.

Apple has been criticized for tethering the iPhone and iPad to its own application and media distribution services, preventing users from accessing content not approved by Apple. Google has taken a different approach with Android, allowing installation of third-party applications, and even a second app store built by Amazon. But Google's commitment to openness was questioned when the first version of Android optimized for tablets wasn't released under an open source license.

Google said Tuesday that by the end of this year it will release a single version of Android for both smartphones and tablets and that it will be fully open source.

"I guess I'm a typical nerd in that I fully support open source," Lee said. "Having everything out there definitely helps."

Google said the openness of Android will let developers build things even Google engineers aren't capable of dreaming up. In the future, Android will integrate with home systems. Beyond just turning light switches on and off, a video game could become an immersive experience in which actions in the game trigger lights and sound from the speaker system in a user's home. But Google also seems to want to turn Android into a platform that can automate the various tasks required to run a household, and control appliances remotely.  

Total home automation has "been the dream of many people for who knows how long, ever since the Jetsons," Lee said.

For today, Google is helping developers integrate Android with physical devices with the new Open Accessory Development Kit. On stage, the company demonstrated the ability to connect an Android phone to an exercise bike via USB in order to give the user real-time data on an exercise session.

The ability to connect Android to any device impressed Google I/O attendee A.J. Schrauth, an MIT Ph.D student in mechanical engineering. He's no Web developer – he only attended Google I/O because a friend of his registered and couldn't make it – but he found the potential real-world applications intriguing.

"Having more options to integrate such a ubiquitous technology with some random product you can build is amazing," he said.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin  

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