It was inevitable as soon as Android apps were made available on Chrome OS devices. Like an immortal highlander, there could really be only one dominant Google OS in the tablet and laptop space. And with the news that Google has killed the Pixel C Android tablet and Samsung’s next Chromebook is a detachable 2-in-1, it’s clear who is coming out on top. Sorry Android fanboys, Chrome OS is likely the future of cheap tablets and laptops.
The change started last year, when Google first introduced Android apps on Chrome OS, but it might have been difficult to foresee how rapidly Chrome OS would come to dominate. The Android apps were initially buggy, unattractive, and felt positively piecemeal. But over the last year and a half incremental improvements rapidly united the two disparate OSes.
In fact, one of the most pleasant surprises of the Google Pixelbook is that the thing makes for an absolutely wonderful Android tablet—one that is often as nimble and responsive as smaller devices like the iPad. Google seems to agree, because yesterday the Pixel C, Google’s tablet that was always far nicer hardware than Android deserved, was, as Android Police noted, quietly pulled from the Google store.
If customers want a Google-supported, tablet-like device to run Android apps, they’ll need to use the Pixelbook. And thanks to a new feature introduced in the Chrome OS beta on Wednesday, Android apps will run even more smoothly on Chromebooks. As Chrome Unboxed noted, the Chrome OS beta 64 allows apps to run in parallel, meaning they won’t go to sleep if you click out of one app to go into another.
This kind of true multitasking isn’t typically available on tablet devices—both Android and iOS have apps that go to sleep when you switch out of them. But running parallel tasks is standard operating procedure for Linux, Windows, and macOS, and it gives Chrome OS an additional oomph of power that lets it compete with those more powerful operating systems.
Another indication that Android is in its twilight years for tablets and two-in-ones is the news last month, also from Chrome Unboxed, that Samsung’s next flashy Chromebook could be a detachable two-in-one. Until last year the idea of a two-in-one Chromebook would have been nightmare fuel; the operating system has always been a mouse-first OS—not a touch-based one. Google’s strides in improving it, and pulling the absolute best pieces of Android to create a rich new fusion, is apparently encouraging enough for Samsung to attempt the uncommon Chromebook form, and as Samsung’s last sleek Chromebook was just $500 (£370), this could mean a true inexpensive Google rival for the likes of the iPad.
But we can’t count Android out just yet as an tablet operating system. It's still at the heart of every Amazon Fire tablet, and just last year Amazon boasted that the $50 (£37) variant of its budget device was the top selling tablet in the US. But overall tablet sales have seen a decline in the last year and Android has been hit harder than Apple. Changing tactics and pushing the best of Android (its apps) onto an operating system that’s more capable of productivity could be just the ticket to giving tablets a second life, not as content consumption machines, but as content creation ones.