Andromeda Is Full of Stars

In my welcome post, I alluded to a rumor that Google was set to unveil a new operating system on their October 4th event. That did not happen. Supposedly the OS is still coming, but it looks like any preview is likely to happen at the next Google I/O instead.

Still it’s interesting to think about what a brand new operating system might look like, what we might have seen on Tuesdays event. The rumor started way back in October 2015, when WSJ reported that Google was going to fold Chrome OS into Android. Since then the photo of a chrome Android statue has taken on ever new meaning. Was Android bound for form factors larger than phones and tablets?

windows-android.pngPicture from Android Police showing a hidden “free-form” mode in Android N.

The first question to ask is: what are the pain points with current operating systems? What problems should a new singular operating system try to solve? Let’s break it down.

From a purely practical standpoint, Google’s motivation for a single operating system seems fairly obvious. By unifying the application platform, Google can potentially tout a bigger market for app developers, one spanning watches, phones, tablets and desktops — all running the same code that presumably already runs on current Android devices. This means more apps in the store, and more paid apps to get a 30% cut from. Since Google is unlikely to abandon either Chrome OS or Android in the near future, maintenance-wise adding Andromeda to the slate of operating systems actually means more work, however it’s entirely possible some aspects of all three operating systems will converge and maintenance will reduce over time.

All of that is largely irrelevant to users, though. In my experience, the best design is the design that you don’t notice; it doesn’t slow you down, get in your way. Operating systems, especially as they’ve grown better in the past decade, are increasingly transparent as well, letting you get on with your work without getting in your way. With multiplatform and even virtualized apps, as a user you could start your day on Android and continue it on a Mac without even blinking: when the app you’re using is everywhere, what does does it matter which operating system runs it? Well, if a better operating system was able to reduce friction and remove headaches currently present, it could perhaps make a huge difference.

Having used Windows, Macs, Androids and iPhones, personally I’ve noted a number of headaches that operating systems keep giving me.

Security. System updates. Restarts. Having to endlessly micromanage files. Installing apps, updating them. Those are all headaches I’m sure any computer user has encountered at some point in their life, and I can’t help but ask the question — could we not have those headaches please?

And so what I’d like to see in Andromeda, moreso than apps that scale from watches to giant screens, moreso than unified interface designs, are completely practical base features. I’d like to never have to restart my device. I’d like for software updates to be taken care of, without interrupting me and without a carrier being able to interrupt the update itself. I’d like to not have to worry about where my files are stored and whether they’re synced, and instead focus on what I put in them. Most of all, I’d like to stop having to search and scour multiple app stores to install apps and keep them updated, having to be fingerprinted every step of the way. Seems like there should be a better way, right? Is it possible to combine the easy access of a web-app with the speed and flexibility of a native app? — More on that in a future postUpdate, Dec. 1st: Here’s that future post.

The best operating system may just be the one you don’t notice because it handles all the menial tasks. Google got system updates right with Chrome OS, and a lot of interface with Android. If they can combine those two, they might actually have something. Andromeda is likely a portmanteu of “Android” and “Chrome”, but it might also be full of stars.

We’ll likely know more in six months time.

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