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Chrome OS is fragmented (this time it's Google's mistake)

Cameron Summerson

Android fragmentation has long been a topic of conversation about the operating system. As I said before, the manufacturers are responsible. But now I'm afraid that Chrome OS has gone the same way ̵

1; and this time it's Google's fault.

How Chrome OS updates are different from Android

I'll make some connections here between Android and Chrome OS early on, because it only makes sense as a starting point. The biggest difference between the two is that Android is open and available to all manufacturers to modify and redistribute it. Chrome OS, however, is completely managed by Google.

Under Android, device manufacturers are responsible for slowing down updates. For example, when a new version of Android is released, the manufacturer must customize the source code before publishing it. For example, Samsung had to add all the One-UI features before the Android Pie update for compatible Galaxy devices could be released.

On the other hand, Google manages all updates for its pixel devices. In other words, once an important Android version is up and running, Google can push it out the door. That's why every Android journalist (including me) will tell you to choose a Pixel device if you're interested in timely updates.

What does this have to do with Chrome OS? You can think of Chrome OS in the same way you can with Android phones from Pixel phones. The main difference is that although the pixel consists of a single phone line that is designed and managed by Google, Chrome OS is available on a staggering number of devices from dozens of manufacturers. But in the simplest sense that does not matter. All you know is that Chrome OS updates are handled by Google, regardless of the device or vendor to which they are applied.

That does not mean that all Chrome OS devices receive updates at the same time. Each build still needs customization to work with the specific hardware of each Chrome device. As a result, a Chromebook can receive an update as soon as it's done, while another one has to wait a few weeks. The point, however, is that they all still receive what should be the same update.

However, as more features are introduced – especially newer ones requiring virtualization, such as support for Linux and Android apps – a feature gap is starting to grow between Chrome OS devices, and that's worrying.

The Gap Conundrum Chrome OS feature

Chrome OS users were thrilled when Google announced for the first time that Android apps were available for Chrome OS. With this step, Google has been able to integrate a variety of useful features, apps, games, tools, and more into an operating system that has long been called "just a web browser."

It took much longer than expected for Android apps to hit devices. No big deal; We just wanted them to do it right. Then came the bad news: Not every device would get support for Android apps. The list started to go down, along with an expected timeline of when the feature would arrive, and every Chromebook owner wanted to know if his device had made the cut. There were many disappointed users. The worst part is that it's not clear why some devices have Android apps and others do not – we can only speculate that this has something to do with the support of chipsets, but it's hard to say with certainty (especially since the reason may vary depending on performance) -device basis).

The same thing happened later when supporting the Linux app, but even fewer devices would get this feature first. Linux support requires a specific kernel version, and most Chromebooks did not make the cut back then – and Google could not easily update them, most likely due to closed-source drivers.

There were only two great features available. Choose a few Chromebooks from the gate. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: on a sufficiently long timeline, all Chrome OS devices should support both. In general, all new Chromebooks support Android apps, and I feel that this also applies to Linux apps.

But there is still a problem and it's all about Android apps.

Chrome OS has a problem with fragmentation of Android

While all Chrome OS devices support Android apps (or should at least ), the recent release of Chrome OS 73 shows that the fragmentation of Chrome OS still a problem. Why? Because different Chrome OS devices run different versions of Android. This means that they also have other functions.

For example, Chrome OS 73 brings the audio focus of the Android app. This means that when an Android app plays audio, all other audio sources are muted (such as Chrome). So if you hear music in Chrome and an Android app sends a notification, the notification has priority. However, this feature is only available on Chrome OS devices running Android Pie. Nougat or lower will not work.

This is a problem because nougat is still running on most Chrome OS devices. Chrome OS 72 has used Pie for some devices, but not for everyone – not even most. This is frustrating for current users and new users. It's not clear why some devices were updated on Pie and others were not. It is also unclear how these updates will work in the future. And Google is pretty close.

If you're looking for a specific Android feature on Chrome OS, this is a real hit because of the discrepancy between versions. To make matters worse, pie does not have a clear timeline to hit other Chrome OS devices, so you can not even see when your device can see the update.

Right now it's a Crapshoot. At some point, this could easily be dropped as part of the broader adoption of Android app support on Chrome OS. But we're approaching the two-year mark when Android apps first started using Chrome OS, which is long enough to figure out these kinds of knickers.

At this time, support for Android on Chrome OS is comparable to a fragmented mess. The fact that it started slowly was worrying, but the functional gap between the devices is now a real problem. Are current devices ever supported for Android Pie? Will future devices have the same problems? Will devices currently supporting Pie get support for Android O?

The harsh reality is that there are no answers to these questions. Chrome OS has been fragmented since the launch of Android app support, and this does not seem to change in the foreseeable future.

This time it's up to Google to solve this problem. I hope for the future of Chrome OS that this actually happens. Feature parity is important especially when an operating system is handled by a single vendor.

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