Google's Internal Collision Course: Chrome vs. Android
from the android's-gonna-win dept
I spent the last couple days at Google’s big developer conference, Google I/O. While officially a developer conference, the event is often a window into Google’s overall thinking on where it’s headed. There are a lot of new products and features shown off — some more ready for prime time than others. The clear takeaway from the overall event is that Google doesn’t just believe that we’re moving to a more connected world, it’s grown sick of waiting for everyone else to develop it, and is laying the groundwork itself. So much of the event was about new offerings that enable more advanced things to happen via the internet and via devices. From a standpoint of pure geekery, it’s pretty cool to see that vision in action.
However, there was one other thing that became abundantly clear at the event, and it’s that Google is on an internal collision course with itself. Day one of the event was all Android, all the time, and day two of the event was Chrome, Chrome and a little more Chrome (for good measure). With Android, the talk was basically about expanding Android everywhere. While Google had rushed out a separate and distinct version of Android for tablets, it is bringing the tablet version and the phone version back together and also looking to put it on other devices (e.g. Google TV will be powered by Android as well). On top of that, Google is looking to expand the overall purview of Android, by making it easier to control all sorts of hardware and devices as well. The vision, effectively, is that Android becomes the remote control for, well, everything. Others have tried similar strategies and failed, but it’s ambitious, and sooner or later someone’s going to figure it out, and Google has as good a chance as anyone.
On the Chrome side, the company continues to make improvements to Chrome itself, increasing performance massively, and continuing to allow people to do more with HTML 5 directly in the browser. On top of that, Google is really ramping up its “Chromebook” strategy of offering very cheap computers with the “ChromeOS” and with built-in cheap or free wireless.
Of course, this raised all sorts of questions about the fact that both strategies are on a clear collision course, and it’s not obvious that Google has any plan on what to do about it. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Two years ago, when Google first announced the Chrome-as-operating system strategy, our very first reaction was that it was going to lead to conflict with Android. And that was clearly on display at the event. Asking folks from either team about this odd split would lead to mumbling and dancing around the question. It seems clear that the two teams don’t have much, if any, collaboration going on, and both are charting their own courses that seem to be starting to encroach on each other’s territory. That’s most obvious with Google TV. While the product has been slow to catch on, the original version was focused on Chrome, but it sounds like Android is now taking over.
Now, there’s something to be said for some internal competition. It helps drive both groups forward, and lets them take different and experimental approaches in a new world where what’s going to work is a huge unknown. Traditionally, though, if most companies allow for such competition, it’s usually an upstart “skunkworks”-type operation against a legacy operation. In this case, it’s two upstarts. And the risk there is what happens when they clash. The fact that there’s no Chrome browser on Android (and the default Android browser is pretty bad) just seems bizarre.
At some point, Google is going to need to merge these two strategies, rather than just let them fight each other. Perhaps the big thinkers at Google think that time is further down the road, but it seems like soon would be a good time to start integrating the strategies. For now, however, it seems happy to let the two just remain on the collision course. And while I have no doubt that they believe both strategies are important, it wasn’t hard to read the tea leaves as to which of these two Google is betting more on: the entire third floor of the Moscone Center was about Android. In contrast, Chrome had a much smaller section at the back of the second floor. Google may claim that it’s treating the two equally, but its actions scream loudly that the big bet is on Android.