The future of Google’s Android-Chrome hybrid OS
Cut to the chase
- What is it? An Android-meets-Chrome, multi-device operating system
- When is it out? An early form is available on the Google Pixelbook now
- What will it cost? Likely nothing, as is with Android and Chrome
A Google Pixelbook running an early version of Fuchsia OS
What is Google Fuchsia?
Right now, there appears to be a divide within Google regarding what Fuchsia actually is. While the team working on it says they want Fuchsia to be the penultimate Google OS, running on all phones, tablets, laptops and smart home devices – Google’s leadership is still referring to it as an experiment. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, and what materializes out of all this experimentation.
Google Fuchsia, then, is a hybrid OS that is still very much in development. The entirety of Fuchsia OS is comprised of two distinct but connected user interfaces (UI): a phone-centric one codenamed ‘Armadillo’ and a traditional desktop UI known as ‘Capybara’ internally, according to 9to5Google.
So far, more is known about the mobile version of Fuchsia than the laptop one, but ArsTechnica was recently able to get Fuchsia running on a Google Pixelbookin an awfully early state. And, it looks like both versions should be able to run Android apps, much like many Chromebooks in 2019. So, backwards compatibility looks to be something that early Fuchsia adopters can look forward to.
‘Fuchsia is going to accomplish much of what Microsoft and Apple already have in Windows 10 and iOS-to-macOS Sierra Continuity, respectively, but in a very Google way.’
Dividing the OS up into two separate UI based on the hardware it’s being used with is a classically Microsoft-inspired move. Windows 10 already scales depending on whether it’s being used with a desktop computer, phone, tablet or game console. In fact, Windows 10’s only unifier is its kernel, the root code that controls the bulk of the operating system.
In the case of Fuchsia, that kernel is known as ‘Zircon’, and it’s designed to be consistently upgradeable in addition to being safe from applications accessing it constantly, adding an extra layer of security and eliminating situations in which apps are rendered incompatible with OS updates.
Whether it’s in the mobile or desktop orientation, Fuchsia is laden with Google’s Material design found all over its Android and Chrome OS products. Shadows are a big focus on the design aesthetic, using a new Vulkan-based graphics renderer known as ‘Escher’ to do the job. The result is an interface with more depth to its look than traditionally flat OS products.
Google Fuchsia as it appears on a smartphone device.
Fuchsia is also heavily focused on a cards-based interface, in which every app you open appears inside one of these cards – plus, you can place multiple apps into a single card. This orients the user around tasks at hand rather than apps. Those apps are expected to look the same across different devices because of a new cross-platform mobile app development framework, developed by Google, known as Flutter.
Beyond that, Google Fuchsia revolves around Google Assistant more deeply accessing and working with your apps and information to provide even more actions and insights. Google has referred to these apps and pieces of information as ‘entities’, according to a GitHub developer page, and they’re all accessible by Google Assistant on Fuchsia. We’ve even seen a recent demo that further illustrates how deeply ingrained Google Assistant is on Fuchsia.
And, it looks like Google will also be changing how it collects analytic data within Fuchsia, according to a report from 9to5 Google. Fuchsia will see the implementation of a new analytic program called ‘Cobalt’ which will collect information on how you use apps within the OS. Cobalt is supposedly a part of Google’s security-minded approach to the OS, but encryption hasn’t been worked in yet – but, we’re sure Google will work better security into Cobalt eventually.
Google Chrome, or at least an early build of Chromium is up and running on early builds of Google Fuchsia, according to a report from 9to5 Google. And, while it’s not ready for the spotlight, this does mean that the fledgling OS is getting closer to being usable without days of preparation.
Finally, Fuchsia wants to be the best cross-device OS to date. To achieve this, Fuchsia uses a new tool known as ‘Ledger’ by the GitHub community. Ledger, once you’re signed into a Google Account on a Fuchsia device, will automatically save your place in all installed apps across all Fuchsia devices.
All in all, Fuchsia is Google’s attempt to get the best of Chrome and Android into a single operating system that’s more efficient both while you’re using it and when you’re away – not to mention in between those states or between devices.
This is likely where Fuchsia will make its debut.
Google Fuchsia release date
Ever since August 2016, we’ve seen a ton of rumors about Google Fuchsia’s release date – and each turned out to be false. These rumors usually come up before Google’s big Google IO developer event in California, or when we know a big hardware release is around the corner.
Back in February, it was revealed that Google’s former head of Android platform security, Nick Kralevich, had left the Android team to ‘define security’ over in the Fuchsia department. Describing it as a “new, experimental operating system,” Kralevich doesn’t hint at any specific launch window, however it does show where Google chooses to put its most crucial resources.
Right now, the speculation points to Fuchsia running within the next three years just on smart home devices, with a full public release coming within the next five years. However, even that seems to be an extremely shaky rumor – we’d be surprised if we saw it release before 2024 (or actual androids), if it ever actually comes out.
However, recent developer messages through the Android Open Source Project suggest some movement. One of the commits mentions two repos, that the folks at 9to5Google take to be the “incorporation of the official Fuchsia SDK”. Another commit mentions the Huawei Honor Play smartphone, so we could see Fuchsia tested on actual devices soon.
What might help point to some movement for the Google Fuchsia release date, though, is a new hire from Apple. Bill Stevenson, a senior macOS engineer for Apple, announced on LinkedIn that he is joining Google to bring Fuchsia to market.
At any rate, keep it locked to this page as we draw closer to a possible release date and therefore might have some new information for you.
Is Fuchsia the end of Android as we know it?
What could Fuchsia mean for Android and Chrome – and Windows and macOS?
Word on the street is that Google Fuchsia is Google’s answer to Microsoft and Apple’s united platforms. In turning Android into one of the two biggest smartphone platforms and later popularizing Chrome OS – not to mention G-Suite, Google’s web-based productivity programs. Google has already kind of become a major player on all platforms.
From the sound of it, Google is setting out to accomplish much of what Microsoft and Apple already have in place with Windows 10, iOS and macOS High Sierra. Continuity, respectively, but in a very Google way. It’s easy to expect access to Google’s inimitable search and data-tracking at your fingertips – Google Assistant and ‘entities’, anyone? – which it could boast as better than Microsoft and Apple’s, and an interface that evolves to meet the needs of the device from which it’s accessed.
Will this eventually mean the end of Android and Chrome? In name, most likely, but their principles will almost certainly live on – there’s too much solid foundation not to build on top of them. Just look at the Material design language found throughout these early builds of either version of Fuchsia.
The end result, likely to be seen in a preview form later this year and in purchasable devices in 2019, will be just one platform for Google to worry about. With Fuchsia, Google will be able to push new updates and features to all versions at once, simplifying support as well as user understanding.
With that, Google will become that much more formidable a foe to Microsoft and Apple, and that much appealing an option to Android and Chromebook users all over. Who knows, perhaps it will be enough to bring people over from the other side of Microsoft and Apple’s fences.