Is Chrome an indication of what to expect from Android?

  • Analyst Opinion - Google recently released a new browser set to compete directly with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Firefox Mozilla. Chrome is supposed to provide a more compelling, easier to use and faster browsing experience, with a look and feel that “Googl-ites” should find familiar (and others may not). Google’s goal, or course, is to capture as much of the search and homepage market as it can to increase its revenues (it doesn’t make any money on the browser, which is free). But is providing a new browser the best way to establish more dominance, or an indication of its hubris?

    Google has similarly been working on a new mobile phone operating system, with much fanfare, for the past year. It is getting near launch time (I expect the first Android phone from HTC by the end of 2008). However, do the early issues and holes that are appearing in Chrome give us any indication of what the new Android phone OS might be like? After all, Google has been working on both for some time and assumedly with the same corporate software development and test culture in place.

    Building a feature-rich, robust OS of any kind is difficult, especially one for a phone which must not only manage the data side, but also operate all the phone functions. It took most phone OS players, including Palm, RIM, Symbian and Microsoft, several iterations to get it right (some would argue they still haven’t). Even Apple’s new iPhone OS has some bugs that require fixing. So it is highly likely that the first version of Android will have issues as well.

    Using Chrome as an example of a new and complex Google product trying to provide extensive capabilities may be educational. For instance, Chrome has now been in operations for a few short weeks, but discoveries have already been made that it exhibits some security issues, may be subject to DOD attacks, may not handle memory as cleanly as initially thought, and may not render all pages correctly. This is not to say that Chrome is a bad product. But it does indicate that first versions of complex products tend to be buggy and prone to security and performance challenges.

    Android is being awaited with much anticipation. What should users expect? If they are expecting to see a robust, complete, optimized OS running all the features and functions smoothly and in complete security, they are apt to be disappointed.

    It is highly probable that Google has not tested every single possible scenario for the OS (it’s probably impossible to do so), and that particular vendor implementations and hardware designs will cause some strange problems to occur. This is common and part of any new product cycle. We should expect to see several problems materialize over the first few months of operation of Android.

    The ultimate test will not be whether or not there are issues with Android (there are bound to be), but how well and how rapidly (and how openly) Google admits to the problems and fixes them. This may well mean the difference between success and failure of Android.  

    In the mean time, unless you are willing to put up with a few “gotchas” with Android, you should probably wait until generation two of the devices and OS before jumping in.

    Jack E. Gold is founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.