Rumored Google tablet raises Chrome vs. Android question

Google's dual-OS strategy for the mobile market is a mess--although I'm sure it once looked great on a flowchart at Google HQ

Well, there's little doubt that tablets running Google's Chrome operating system are coming soon--the only question is when. A new rumor courtesy of tech news site Download Squad suggests that Google is teaming up with Verizon Wireless and HTC to launch a Chrome OS tablet on November 26, which not coincidentally happens to be Black Friday.

Google will supply the OS (Chrome), HTC will build the device, and Verizon Wireless will provide the data network, the rumor goes. What's interesting here is that several Android-based tablets will allegedly arrive around the same time, including devices from Samsung, Motorola, and possibly even Sony. (Then again, we've been hearing about iPad-killing Android tablets for months now, but only a few are actually shipping.)

Assuming all of these tablets do ship, what will consumers make of the Chrome vs. Android issue? Both are Google-branded mobile operating systems. Your tablet of choice may run one or the other. The potential for end-user befuddlement is quite high. Which OS should you choose?

Sadly, Google's dual-OS strategy for the mobile market is a mess--although I'm sure it once looked great on a flowchart at Google HQ. Last summer, Google's vice president of mobile engineering platforms Andy Rubin stated that Chrome and Android will have distinct jobs, and that the two OSes won't overlap in the consumer market. Here's an excerpt from July 2009 news report by IDG News' Stephen Lawson:

"Google's emerging Chrome operating system won't squeeze out Android, according to [Rubin]...Mobile device OSes have specialized jobs that other platforms don't, such as running network protocol stacks, carefully managing battery life and handling handoffs among cell towers, Rubin said. 'There's different problems to be solved in different categories of consumer products...But that doesn't mean that ... one wins and one doesn't win. You need different technologies for different solutions.'"

From a design standpoint, Google's distinction between the two mobile OSes may make perfect sense--well, to engineers, anyway. But the finer points will be lost on consumers who simply see two types of Google tablets--Chrome and Android--running on similar devices. A store's sales staff may not provide a lot of enlightenment either. May the head-scratching begin!

If Google persists with its dual-OS strategy in the mobile market, it would be wise to undertake a massive media blitz to educate the masses on the differences between Chrome and Android. Compare Google's mess with the beautiful simplicity of the iPad: No OS overlap there. Apple gets it: Keep it simple, stupid.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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