No, Google will not merge Android and Chrome, for obvious reasons

Even before Google Chairman Eric Schmidt dispelled the rumors that Google would merge Android and Chrome, we should have known it was never going to happen.

Thankfully, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has announced that "Android and Chrome will remain separate." Rumors that the products would be combined emerged last week when leadership of Android and Chrome were consolidated under Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai. Schmidt stated the obvious, but if you are a developer and you took the bait and thought the rumors might be true, you already read enough of Google Chrome or Google Android documentation before Schmidt’s clarification and confirmed that consolidating the two products would be, well, stupid.

Android and Chrome are entirely different from a developer’s perspective. Android is a mobile operating system. Android developers use Eclipse with an Android plugin to develop using Java to write apps that are compiled to run on the Android Dalvik virtual machine. Chome developers use built-in tools to write Javascript that is interpreted at run time by the Chrome V8 JavaScript Engine.

Java, Javascript – what’s the difference? Java, invented by Sun Microsystems, is an object-oriented, general purpose development language that has been adapted to run on almost every type of computing device from Raspberry Pi to large-scale Linux-based cloud and mainframe architectures. Javascript has its roots at Netscape and was developed to make web browsers interactive. An over simplification of Javascript’s purpose (node.js developers please give me license) is to make static HTML web pages interactive without reloading the entire page.

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The reason Chrome is the leading browser with over 30% market share is that it does a few things really well. Based on webkit, Chrome is pixel compatible with Apple’s Safari browser and almost every other modern browser. It runs on many different devices, from the iPhone to Linux PCs. It is fast for running browser-based apps so typical desktop capabilities like spreadsheets and word processing can be moved to the browser and cloud. Chrome includes the capability to build proprietary Javascript apps called "extensions" that allow the developer to reach beyond the limits of sandboxed browser Javascript.

Browsers and browser apps run on Android, but this is only one aspect of Android. Android apps are very different. Apps like photo sharing may be User Experience (UX) intensive like a Chrome app, or may have a limited UX focused more on collecting data in quantified self apps that measure movement, nutrition, and, in conjunction with external sensors, quantify such measures as sleep and heart rate.

There are similarities between the two businesses, though. Android and Chrome are developer-centric. The entire source trees for both Android (written in Java) and Chrome (written in C++, assembly, Python and JavaScript) are available downloaded. Developers are encouraged to read the source to debug and optimize their code and make contributions of bug fixes and new features. Free and paid apps for Android can be downloaded from the Play Store and free and paid apps can be downloaded from the Chrome App Store.

The biggest similarity between these two products is, with Android's 70% market share and Chrome’s 30%, they each lead their respective market segments and need to be managed much differently now, compared to how they were managed when they were still on the rise. While there are operational economies of scale to be gained because of this, it’s very unlikely that Google would merge development teams or code trees between the two projects. It’s not that it can't be done, but it would require a huge retooling of development environments and tool chains.

Special thanks to all the node.js developers who have reached this point without commenting about this narrow definition of Javascript. Node.js is an open source project that has retargeted Chrome’s V8 JavaScript Engine as a platform for building data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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