Chrome OS and Android: Questions, Questions, Questions

Would Google do it all over again?

When the company announced Chrome OS in July of 2009, it was a different era-one in which netbooks were very nearly sexy and the tablet market didn't yet exist. And Google thought it would have Chrome OS systems on the market in time for the 2010 holiday season. I'm not saying that Chrome OS is a mistake, or that anyone at Google is anything but enthusiastic about the project. (CEO Eric Schmidt seemed downright giddy at yesterday's event.) But a lot has happened since Google decided to go ahead with this effort. One bit of evidence: When it started talking about Chrome, it said it would run on netbooks-but I don't think the word "netbook" was used once yesterday. Everyone on stage called the Cr-48 and other machines in the works "notebooks."

All Things Digital's Kara Swisher checks out a prototype Motorola Android tablet.

Four Android Questions

At Dive Into Mobile, Rubin briefly used a prototype Motorola Android tablet (running the upcoming "Honeycomb" version of the OS) to show a cool new verion of Google Maps with a 3D view. It was a tease, not an announcement. But was the clearest sneak peek we've gotten of Google's Android tablet strategy so far. And Rubin-who isn't nearly as omnipresent as some Silicon Valley tech execs-had plenty of other things to say about Android.

Can no buttons beat four buttons?

I've become convinced that the fact that Android phones have four physical buttons-home, menu, back, and search-isn't a benefit that makes using the handset quicker and easier. It's a wrongheaded, outdated design decision that makes Android phones harder to use than the iPhone (or, for that matter, the Palm Pre or Windows Phone 7 handsets). Rubin said that the Motorola tablet he was demoing has no physical buttons. Sounds good to me. Will Google bring this approach to phones as well as tablets? We don't know yet, and it might be a while before we do: Rubin said that Android's major interface changes will show up on tablets before they make their way to phones. (I don't think that Google could simply dump the idea of the four buttons in one fell swoop: existing Android apps are too dependent on them.)

What's this about Android being for early adopters?

In answer to one question, Rubin said that Android in its current form is for early adopters, and people married to early adopters. This startled me. I mean, Google says that 200,000 Android handsets are being activated a day; are there really that many hardcore tech enthusiasts out there? Or are some of those 200,000 people getting an operating system that isn't yet the best possible fit for their needs? I suspect that many Android fans would disagree with Rubin's assessment-at least one did when I Tweeted it-but it's comforting to hear the man in charge of Android acknowledge that it requires further denerdification.

What's this about Android fragmentation being a hallucination on the part of tech reviewers?

Someone asked whether Android, which ships in different versions on different devices, often with interface modifications imposed by manufacturers or carriers, is fragmented. (I sure think it is.) Rubin said it isn't-or at least that the only people who are bugged by it are people who review tech products, and therefore experience multiple Android phones in a short period of time. Okay. But for the record, I just bought a Verizon Fascinate-a nice phone that's on numerous lists of the best Android-powered devices right now-and it still can't run Flash, because it still runs Android 2.1. (Which, with this week's release of the first Android 2.3 device, is now two versions out of date.) The Fascinate has plenty of company. You can argue that this is something other than fragmentation-call it outdateditis if you prefer-but I'd still love to hear Rubin or another Google exec acknowledge that it's not a great situation, and say that the company is working on ways to bring the newest versions of Android to more devices more quickly.

How many Android tablets? How quickly?

Two years ago, there was one Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. Now, Rubin said, there are 172 of them. Pretty amazing. It seems unlikely that we'll see 172 different Android tablets by 2013, but I wonder whether Honeycomb's release will lead to dozens of models hitting the market in relatively short order.

Whew. If you have any answers or educated guesses on anything above-or additional questions of your own, I'd love to hear them. Meanwhile, I should be able to form a more definitive opinion of Chrome OS soon: I'm getting a Cr-48 from Google to try out for myself.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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