With Chrome head Sundar Pichai taking the helm of Android, much is being said that Androidand ChromeOS will merge together. There are obvious benefits to that. There are also obvious and not so obvious negatives to that too, as both have contrasting usage (mobile vs. desktop) and structural development (Java/Dalvik VM vs. HTML5) models.
Then there is also the divide between apps vs. the web. That is actually the biggest divide between Android and ChromeOS. The larger the screen, the more web-centric your computing screen becomes, but the smaller the screen, the more app-centric your screen becomes. Google is a web company, that is why ChromeOS is born. But the growth of mobile means a return to the app-centric world, and Google knows this — which is why the Android Market is renamed Google Play, to become Google’s nexus for apps and packaged content. Play is the one of the centerpieces of Google’s new Trinity for a new Google; Play (Content), Google+ (Social), and Drive (Cloud).
If you can’t merge Android and ChromeOS, not for the time being anyway, then there is the other alternative, that the two, even on two disparate markets, will grind and rival each other until only one would stand. Pichai now running Android seems to guarantee that ChromeOS may survive, or even possible, triumph in that rivalry, but the overall macro trends seems to say another thing.
Currently Chromebooks occupy the bottom rank of the notebook world. First the true netbooks, which are powered by an ARM processor, and now, their spiritual and price positional successors, the subnotebooks. The two best selling Chromebooks right now, are indeed subnotebooks. But it is in this segment of the notebook market that is facing the brutal brunt of the tablet invasion. Tablets are not going to replace notebooks completely- notebooks will survive in the end, but a large chunk of their market is going to be taken out, that it will drastically affect the scale economics of the notebook industry. Any notebook under $500 is going to be under the tablets’ ferocious attack- it won’t matter if its Windows 8 or ChromeOS, so long its a notebook.
Once the cheap notebook sales drop, their manufacturing impetus goes with it, and so will the hardware pinnings that make up the bulk of sell-able Chromebooks now. With the sole exception of the Pixel, the vast majority of Chromebooks is in that price segment most vulnerable to the tablet tidal wave. We know, why Windows 8 looks the way it is, is because Microsoft and the PC industry is running scared of the tablet tsunami. Their response is basically to retreat to a higher end, to that ultrabook and Surface Pro price point.
Is it any reason why the Pixel is priced that highly? Google does need to prove that Chromebooks are viable in the upper $500 market. The Pixel may have overshot that price point quite a bit, but Google may want OEMs to fill that gap, rather than compete against them. Pixel is hint, hint and hint.
Chromebooks managed to gain market traction, only after hitting so low a price point. At higher price points, it becomes harder to convince people, when the public perception is “glorified browser”, and second, when you can run Chrome on your Windows and Mac anyway, and get the same thing — extensions, apps and all.
Who is disrupting from the tablet end? There is the ubiquitous iPad, but there is that growing tribe of Android tablets. But even tablets themselves are facing internal disruption, as smaller, lighter, and cheaper tablets begins to eat away at their larger 10″ brethren. Even these small tablets face their own disruption, at the hands of phablets. While phablets themselves are not cheaper than cheap tablets, they are cheaper if you factor combined smartphone + tablet costs. All these, tablets, small tablets, phablets and smartphones, all powered by Android.
This is not to say that ChromeOS will fade away. It won’t. Like Android, it plays a crucial part as one leg of Google’s Trinity, the Cloud, and increasingly to another, Content, if- which I believe will happen; it’s just a matter of time- the Chrome Store gets integrated into Google Play.