Today Bloomberg is reporting that Google’s new Project Fuchsia operating system might actually be a successor to Android. Since this will likely fuel speculation, we thought we’d weigh in with our completely uninformed educated guesses as well.
For those who haven’t read our previous explainer on Project Fuchsia (recommended reading), it’s a completely new operating system in the very early stages of development. It’s meant to be a universal operating system, capable of running on everything from smart speakers and smartphones to desktop computers. The idea would be an operating system that can literally run the same code on every single smart device—the holy grail of operating systems.
According to Bloomberg, this is the plan for Fuchsia, which they say will potentially replace Android in the long term:
According to one of the people, engineers have said they want to embed Fuchsia on connected home devices, such as voice-controlled speakers, within three years, then move on to larger machines such as laptops. Ultimately the team aspires to swap in their system for Android, the software that powers more than three quarters of the world’s smartphones, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. The aim is for this to happen in the next half decade, one person said.
The first thing to know is that we’re a long ways off from anything happening—the entire world of technology could change entirely in the next 5 years, and the plan for replacing Android hasn’t been officially signed off by Google executives. But Google has 100 people working on this new operating system, so it’s not just a project by a random engineer, and the reporter who wrote the story, Mark Gurman, is known for getting scoops on upcoming technology.
Both Android and Chrome OS are built on a modified version of the Linux kernel, but Fuchsia is built on a totally new micro-kernel named Zircon, which drops all of the extra baggage in favor of an efficient and flexible kernel that can run on smaller and more portable hardware. And since they’ve created the kernel themselves, they have complete control over everything.
Fuchsia is also built around Google’s design principles, Material Design, and will allow porting of apps to Fuchsia using the Flutter SDK—although it’s also possible they enable a full Android-compatible runtime at some point. Not only is the new OS built to handle any size of screen, from watches to TVs, they are working to enable voice as a standard input, as Fuchsia may be used to power smart speakers in the future.
Why Wouldn’t Google Work on a New Operating System?
Here’s our take: Google would be crazy to not be working on a replacement for Android and Chrome OS. They have two completely separate operating systems for different devices—of course they are working on a project to consolidate and replace them with a single operating system.
Building a replacement operating system isn’t surprising, and it’s happened many times in the past: Apple replaced the original MacOS with OS X, used the core of OS X to build iOS, and now there’s rampant speculation that they are going to eventually use iOS to replace macOS. Microsoft went from DOS to Windows 9x, and then built Windows NT on a completely different kernel to replace the mess they got themselves into.
Were there pains during those transitions? Sure. But these days our devices only last a few years before we throw them out and replace them with something new, so as long as the new operating system supports the same apps, there’s no reason it couldn’t work. You wouldn’t even need to upgrade any devices with a new OS, just only offer it on a new phone instead, exactly the same thing they do with Android today.
And Google has every reason to want a do-over. They built out Android to be open, but the manufacturers screwed that up with crapware and failure to update, leading to crazy fragmentation. So then they tried to solve the update problem by moving everything into Google Play Services, but that causes other issues, especially with older devices that slow down over time. They’ve finally rebuilt the underlying framework with Project Treble to allow operating system updates to happen separately from vendor updates, but that’s only available on new phones. And all this doesn’t even factor in the new EU ruling that’s going to force them to allow other search engines to be set as default, which removes the entire point of Google giving away Android for free.
And then there’s ChromeOS, which is a completely separate operating system that we’re definitely fans of—Chromebooks are more than just a browser, because Chrome has become our OS. They’ve got huge benefits over Macs and PCs, from amazing security to synced settings and instantly turning on. But despite Chromebooks being able to run Android apps, the operating system is just not built for touchscreen-only devices, and as much as we love Chrome OS, it wouldn’t work on a phone, much less a watch or smart speaker.
So What’s Going to Happen?
Any company that sells a product is, or should be, working on the replacement to that product at the same time that they are pitching their new product to people as the best thing ever. When Apple’s announcing the new iPhone in September, what you don’t know is that they’ve already got the general roadmap planned for the iPhone coming next year.
But this doesn’t mean it will actually happen—most of the time, these kind of projects spring to life and then die inside a lab at Google or Apple without anybody ever knowing that they existed. The main difference here is that much of the work is being done in the open, but the planning hasn’t been disclosed, so we’re forced to speculate.
There’s absolutely no way to know at this point what’s going to happen. If the Fuchsia team is able to pull it off, and build an amazing operating system that can run anywhere, it would be an amazing feat of engineering. And if anybody can pull that off, it’s the geniuses that work at Google.