Chromephones

I saw plenty of commentary around Google’s release of Chrome for Android last week – much of it using the word “finally” – but one thing I *didn’t* see was thoughtful speculation on where this is going. Sure, Chrome for Android will be improved, and it’ll come out of beta at some point, and apparently, it’s slated to replace the stock Android browser down the road. That’s fine, that’s good. I approve, even – I’ve been using it since it was released, and it’s a nice piece of code.

But there’s a much bigger picture here, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been more widely covered.

On the “desktop” – for lack of a better word – Google introduced Chrome (the browser) in 2008, then followed it up with ChromeOS, released in 2010. Another two years on, we have a mobile Chrome browser; is it too much of a stretch to expect a mobile ChromeOS?

I think not. In fact, a determined hacker could – today – take the already-released mobile Chromium, and assemble a custom build of AOSP that boots into Chrome instead of the Launcher (what we think of as Android’s home screen). This build would have no need for the vast majority of apps that are part of the AOSP, and that ship with most Android devices. Rather, the “apps” on this device would be web apps, many of which the mobile Chrome is already capable of running. That’s really the shortcoming of this hypothetical Chromephone: the apps aren’t there yet. But I’d wager that they’re coming. As HTML5 continues to evolve, the capabilities of these web apps will too. They *will* get to a point where they can replace your “native” apps; if you doubt this, go play Angry Birds in your browser.

In some ways, it’s a beautiful vision, if somewhat frightening for an old-school Android dev like myself. It’s what WebOS should have been. And when you start to think about it, it’s difficult to believe that this *isn’t* what Google has planned as the eventual future for Android. It’s in their DNA. It’s the mobile web taken to its logical extreme.

I also appreciate the irony that, in the early days of the iPhone, the only apps you could “install” were web apps.