Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Google Chrome OS and Android conundrum

If you went to the Google I/O conference - or just listened to the live webcast - you probably left with the impression that Google has a pretty good idea on how to conquer the world. From desktop, to mobile, to TV. Even despite the horrible Google TV demo (see, it happens to everyone, not just me ;-)

One thing though was not clear: the future of Chrome OS and Android. How they will co-exist, how they will work together, how they will eventually merge (if they will).

The Google people had no convincing answers. None.

You hear about how Android is going to dominate mobile, then they show you an Android tablet and you think "iPad killer", then it comes an Android Google TV and you think "my TV does not move, Android is not just an OS for mobile!". Quick leap of faith to a world where mobile takes over the desktop (e.g. the desktop becomes a non-mobile mobile device, like your TV) and you could easily conclude: Android is the OS that could dominate our future, the OS for our new world of connected devices.

If you go back to the history of Android - as far as I know - the original idea was exactly that: to build an OS for connected devices. Smartphones came later, as an implementation of the idea. Android is just fulfilling its original destiny. It is open as in open source, it has a commercial entity behind (a rather big one...) and an ecosystem of developers (very excited ones, since they get a phone at every Google conference). It seems a done deal.

Then they start talking about Chrome OS. The OS for the web. The OS in a browser. BTW, the same browser we have in Android. But now it has a separate marketplace, called Web Store for Apps. Not the Android apps, the other ones, the web apps, the one that also run on Android. Because it has a browser.

And it is just for netbooks (a dead category) and tablets (where we also have an Android version).

Wait? Am I confused? Yes. And I am not the only one...

Their answer: "Android and Chrome OS will likely converge one day". The better one will win, it is a Darwinian process...

The conundrum is clear: Chrome OS brings the web to your device. It is the ultimate platform to expand the current Google business model. If everything becomes a browser, including your TV, Google has 90% of the advertising in the world. Chrome OS is the chosen one.

Unfortunately, Android is taking off like a rocket... It is a platform where their current advertising model does not work very well. It does in Google Maps. And maybe in Search (maybe). But the apps have a completely different ad model. The in-app advertising is a new science, one that nobody has mastered yet. Maybe AdMob, if they ever manage to close the acquisition (I am starting to have serious doubts it will happen, sadly for Omar and his team It closed today!). In any case, it is a new market altogether, one that Apple is attacking full-force with iAds. One where transactional advertising is likely to be less important than branding (and Google has zero branding advertising business).

See the conundrum?

Chrome OS fits perfectly with the Google business model. Android does not. But it is winning, and you can't stop something that is winning. At the same time, you can't easily make a choice of killing the chosen one.

So you keep them both and wait until one dies (hoping it is Android).

When Android wins, you scramble to adapt your business model and kill the other one in a graceful way: "Chrome OS merges in Android, the Web Store for Apps becomes part of the Android Marketplace" and so on. I take bets on this one.