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Throughout the past year, Google has teased the release of Andromeda, the highly anticipated hybrid of its Android and Chrome operating systems (OS), capable of running across mobile devices and larger PC form factors alike. Although Andromeda will not be released until 2017, the impending arrival of Google’s own cross-platform OS and the vendor’s continuing investments in its Android for Work initiative already offer insights into how mobile hardware vendors, enterprise users, and incumbents, like Microsoft and Apple, will move to remain competitive once this new OS enters the market.
Existing Universal OS Solutions
The benefit of a modern OS like Andromeda has already been recognized by others in enterprise markets, particularly Microsoft. Following the release of its Windows anniversary update, Microsoft published a September 2016 “Intro to the Universal Windows Platform” (UWP): an integrated family of products that highlights a single, centralized OS (in this case Windows 10, analogous to Google’s vision for Andromeda) that can run across a range of home, entertainment, and work devices of many different form factors, from desktops and notebooks to smartphones, tablets, and specialized mobile enterprise hardware. This model offers familiarity and ease of transition between different devices while running the same OS, an invaluable resource for Microsoft, third party app developers, and business users who need to efficiently design, deploy, and ultimately use specialized software programs across their different devices. However, beyond this cross-functionality, the major advantage of the UWP model is that it also allows Microsoft to continue offering device-specific user interfaces (UI) over specialized enterprise form factors.
Microsoft’s reign as the dominant desktop OS has spanned for decades, but the vendor’s repeated failures in the mobile domain has made its UWP strategy critical going forward. Google’s release of its Andromeda OS is timely and gives the vendor an opportunity to build upon Android’s growing popularity—in fact, Google has already found success in synthesizing certain capabilities across its mobile and desktop software, after Android features including access to third-party app downloads were well received on the Chrome OS. Given Android’s significant market share among mobile OS solutions and the general macro trend toward increased adoption of mobile form factors, Andromeda will be core to Google’s campaign to invert the previous process and this time fold features of the Chrome OS into the successful Android platform.
While there are still many unknowns surrounding Google’s plans for Andromeda, it is fun to speculate. Ultimately, Google is positioning itself to offer an expanded ecosystem of consumer-grade software and branded hardware solutions, all running a truly universal home and office OS. Considering that the company is now producing hardware such as Google Home (Google’s answer to Amazon’s Echo), an app-connected router, and its own Pixel smartphones and tablets, a single OS to control everything from laptops to tablets and mobile phones is a logical path to pursue. The move would also set Google up for a stronger launch of its new Pixel laptop, rumored to launch with Andromeda in 2017, where a universal OS and established product family could offer better adoption rates than those found by Google’s existing Chromebook laptops.
The company’s enterprise aspirations, however, are less clear. Andromeda benefits could include a single set of productivity applications, access to consistent data, and file organization across all devices. However, in terms of the applications themselves, Google would need to seriously boost the strength of its productivity suite, where traction for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides is simply not on the same level of measurement as Microsoft Office’s penetration into the enterprise space. This need would be especially great if Andromeda is meant to foreshadow an entry into end user computing whereby a Google branded mobile device could become a workstation with the help of a computer screen, mouse, and keyboard.
As cloud technology, extended device life-cycles, and increased security support continue to blur the lines between personal and cost-cutting enterprise solutions, it isn’t clear whether Google wants to compete in the enterprise space against similar existing setups from Microsoft and Apple. We have also yet to learn the concrete ways in which Andromeda would differ from Google’s efforts to support Android apps on desktop Chrome, and what Andromeda’s launch would mean for Android (and existing Android apps) long term. For a deeper look into these and other Andromeda and UWP impacts in the enterprise space, as well as insights into the competitive landscape between Google, Apple, and Microsoft, be sure to read our upcoming VDC View, set to be released later this month.
Co-authored by David Weber, Research Assistant