I’m an early adopter. Despite my minimalist leanings lately and desires to simplify my lifestyle, gadgets tend to multiply like rabbits around me. I have three phones (a Droid RAZR Android phone, an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Windows Phone), two tablets (ASUS Transformer Prime and a new iPad) and two laptops (a MacBook Pro and a Samsung Chromebook).
I don’t use them all for the same things but I have them all so that I can test new apps, play with new ideas and make sure I see the user experience across all kinds of devices. Sometimes it’s testing a friend’s new app on Android but the majority is really just my own curiosity.
One of the things I’ve been curious about is why Google has both Chrome OS and Android. From the outside it seems that as Android adds more features and more apps are created for the platform, the web-only Chrome OS and the Chromebooks that run it will go by the wayside. With Google’s Chrome browser now on Android, why keep the Chrome OS around at all? Chromebooks are light, but limited, though they are really just Linux netbooks running a full version of the Chrome browser. On a Chromebook web sites work as they would on any version of Chrome for Mac or PC.
Yesterday I had a couple of things I wanted to do, and while I knew I could do it using a Chromebook, it was a chance to try out the Android tablet as a simple laptop/netbook replacement. My goals were simple: edit a blog post with an infographic link and ordering something online. I wanted to use web sites for both tasks instead of trying some third party tablet apps.
Sounds simple enough. In addition to the standard browser I’d installed Google Chrome beta and Firefox beta apps for Android. As it turns out no browser would let me accurately handle the Blogger post. Some of that was bad UI design on the web site, but otherwise it was just poor redraw and crashes when I tried to navigate around the post once the infographic was in place. Copying an URL from browser windows sometimes worked but it was almost impossible to get it to paste into any web dialog. This was true even when I put the browser in “desktop mode” to try and fool Blogger. (I’m repeating the experiment with this post on the same tablet and even without an embedded image it’s still frustrating).
The same was true for the online ordering, though I finally got it done. Where Firefox and the Android browser got hung up, Chrome at least allowed me to navigate completely through the transaction.
I get the appeal of mobile apps. You can customize the interface, have easy access to hardware features like the camera or GPS. People have been saying for a while that “the web is dead” or that startups should think “mobile first”. It makes sense. However there are still a lot of applications out there for the web, including Google’s own Blogger and Google Docs. If they really want Android to be even their own best mobile platform they have to solve the problem of browser compatibility and performance for Android 4.0 and beyond. To hope that Firefox (or Opera, Dolphin, Puffin or other apps) will do a better job as Android browsers than Google’s own browser team is just ridiculous.
The web isn’t dead yet on mobile devices. Google will be better served getting people onto Android faster and replacing laptops with tablets. Unless Google can sync up not only their Android and Chrome teams, but the web application teams as well to really make their web apps fully Android compatible then why go Android at all? Chrome OS will still have a place as the better web solution, and for tablets users will just go to the iPad where the web still sucks but the variety and quality of apps is far better than Android.