Since the introduction of iOS in early 2007, the mobile world has never been the same. Google, Apple, Microsoft and a select few others have entered themselves in a race for the best mobile operating system around. In light of bigger, faster, more powerful handsets, the capabilities of mobile software has increased tenfold, along with the idea of how said software should operate.
Back at the WWDC in June, Apple gave us a peek into their endgame: merging their desktop software (OS X) with their mobile platform (iOS). Likewise, Microsoft has been working around the clock to make Windows 8 ride the line between mobile and desktop software. The approaching Windows 8 update will support x86, x64 and ARM architectures and schizophrenically share the very familiar Windows desktop with a Windows Phone-like Metro UI.
The obvious cause here is to bring together two markets that are inevitably merging with one another instead of killing one off entirely. The two technologies come with serious faults of their own, but could be vastly improved by bringing the two together and creating one super platform. Full desktop software has extreme functionality with more apt Internet browser options and programs, but it doesn't play well with more lightweight hardware and components. On the other hand, mobile platforms run happily on lighter, less powerful hardware – which translates to extreme portability – but only offers a fraction of the functionality. If the two can be integrated appropriately, this could take tablets, PCs and mobile computing to an entirely different level.
For the most part, we know how Microsoft and Apple have this planned out. The path is already paved for Windows and OS X, and with such a large, existing footprint in the computer business, the marketing options are endless. They can tweak their in-house software to work just as they want – no need to start from scratch. But where does Android fit into this whole tablet-computer merger? If you recall, Google only owns Android. They currently have no desktop equivalent. They do have Chrome OS, but it is neither a full desktop OS or really any more functional than current mobile platforms.
Then there is Linux, which is the sole foundation of Android. Being open source and so closely related, I feel if Google were to follow the lead of companies such as Apple or Microsoft, they would be forced to take the Linux path. But even Linux may not be enough to edge out its competition. Linux has been around for 20 years and despite being a fully functional operating system, it never went mainstream. The personal computers that you can buy preloaded with Linux are few and far between. Linux has mostly remained behind the scenes and running the gadgets and gizmos that you would least expect.
Although Linux is fully capable and my operating system of choice, the third-party software support is a hit or miss. I spend a lot of my time searching for alternatives to Windows or Mac programs, so I don't have to reboot my computer to Windows. It's only for the junkies. Not everyone is going to want to load their Linux/Android tablet up with Wine just run Windows programs on the go. (Just the thought makes my head hurt.) No, they're probably going to buy a Windows 8 tablet instead.
Lest we forget that Intel support is coming to Android in the not too distant future, which could definitely expand options quite a bit. But don't set your hopes too high for a Windows-Android dual-booting tablet. Although I doubt Microsoft would complain if Google (and their partners) came crawling to them for a licensing deal, El Goog is on their own here.
So what will Google do? My best guess is they will try to keep Android operating a solo operation until they absolutely have to come up with something else. Linux seems to be their only viable option at this point, and even that route may leave them stranded, choking on the dust from Microsoft and Apple. For the die-hards, Linux will be great. But basic consumers will stick to the more mainstream platforms when push comes to shove.
Who knows, Android may finally be what brings Linux into the limelight. A guy can dream, right?
It's tough trying to predict how this inevitable merger will pan out. But it appears as if Google may quickly find themselves in a pinch. What say you, tablet lovers? Would you prefer a full (yet optimized) operating system on your tablet? When the time comes, will you drop Android for other, more functional and mainstream platforms if Google can't keep up? Is there anything in particular that you would like to see Google do with Android to make it more functional?
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