This is a wild guess. I am trying to guess and connect dots here and make an assumption. This story picks up pieces up from the past, and reviews them in new light, for the post Google Play on Chrome OS era.
Latest rumor suggests that Google is dropping the Nexus branding from the new Nexus phones. They are going to be called Pixel and Pixel XL, the rumor says.
Plus, Google yesterday sent out an email with Google Store offers for students, and it had a picture of Pixel C running Chrome OS.
What if these new Pixel Phones are running Chrome OS with Android container on top to install Android apps, just like a few Chromebooks are currently doing?
I arrived at this story connecting a few dots from the past and the present. Let us take a look at each one of them.
Google Pixel C
When the Pixel C came out, there were a lot of complaints about how the hardware and the software do not get along well. There were reviews that called out the Pixel C as a device with the wrong operating system.
What if Pixel C was a trojan horse that Google deployed among us without telling us that deep inside that shiny hardware was their secret project, Chrome OS kernel running an Android container and Android apps?
One of the most interesting articles that came out about Pixel C was by Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica. Ron’s theory (with convincing commit logs from the Chromium OS code) was that Pixel C was initially supposed to be a Chrome OS tablet. They dropped the Chrome OS plan, and after considering briefly, a Chrome OS + Android hybrid, decided to ship the Pixel C with Android onboard. He argued that the reason why there are a lot of software issues on Pixel C is because it was a rushed process to ship the device for the shopping season that year.
Back in July 2014, a new “Ryu” board (a “board” is just a reference to “motherboard”—a Chrome OS device under development) popped up in the Chrome OS open source repository.
Open up the Pixel C’s software and take a look at Android’s build.prop file—which lists all sorts of base information about the device—and you’ll see “ro.product.name=ryu” listed in the properties. Based on this commit, it’s safe to say that at one point Google was definitely developing Chrome OS for its new Android tablet.
Now, try to look at these things in the new light. The light being Chrome OS getting Google Play Store with Android container on top of Chrome OS kernel. What if it was not a rushed job at the last minute? What if the story was actually this:
Google decides to ship Chrome OS kernel with Android container. The device of course has to be made by the Pixel team, and not the Nexus team. The device as a “board” named Ryu shows up first in the Chrome OS code as the Chrome OS team prepares it to host Chrome OS kernel.
As the next step in the assembly conveyor belt, the device goes to the Android team who adds the Android piece of the whole package. Hence, you open up the build.prop file, you see the same device name, Ryu.
Limitations of Pixel C
Pixel C had a lot of software issues and bugs. Reviews often called out touchscreen issues. Google, the company that makes Android, the company that makes incredible Android phones and tablets fails to make a tablet’s touchscreen work well? What if this was because Chrome OS that runs deep inside the device was having issues managing the touchscreen?
There was no stylus support. Yes of course, Chrome OS is just getting started with stylus support. In fact, when I think about how Android apps perform on Chromebooks in these early stages, it reminds me of the complaints people had about Pixel C’s operating system.
Also, there were clear WiFi issues reported by Pixel C users. I could find many users complaining about this on Reddit.
The Pixel Phones
Now, read the news about Google dropping Nexus branding from phones, again. What if instead of making Nexus phones, they are making Pixel phones with Chrome OS? Or may be both?
The give and take between Chrome OS and Android is no official. There are many Chrome OS features that Android is getting. These Chrome OS contributions go as deep as the way Android upgrades the operating system on the phone.
Connecting all these dots, to me, a Pixel phone that runs Chrome OS and Android apps on top of them sounds very convincing. I will not be surprised if we see a device at least as a beta platform coming out this year.
With Chrome OS, Google will finally have control over Android fragmentation. Google directly handles Chrome OS updates to all Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. It does not allow much room for OEMs to tweak and customize the operating system the way they want.
Chrome OS will also allow them to speed up the update process, have Developer and Beta Channels to crowd source testing effectively. And they have all of this in place already.
Of course, these are all just assumptions and theories. I am hoping that people who dig through operating systems and code commits will find more details about these connections and possibilities in coming days. If you do, do not forget to drop me a comment here so that we can continue this discussion.
PS: Now, I know that these are wild speculations and some of them might not be even possible technically, like, people would have already figured it out if Pixel C actually had Chrome OS inside it. I am awaiting your comments and additional thoughts on this topic!