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Google will reveal a new operating system at its big event

While Google will unveil new smartphones and a smart home speaker, its computer ambitions are much, much bigger.
An attendee draws on an Android robot during the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Google has something big planned for this week — and it's not the new "Pixel" smartphones, or the new smart home speaker it is expected to unveil to challenge Apple's Siri and Amazon's Echo.

Google's biggest move this fall has nothing to do with hardware. Rather, it's the launch of a new operating system expected to be announced Tuesday that will work across computers and mobile devices. "Andromeda," as the new software is reported to be called, will combine parts of Android and Chrome OS to create a hybrid platform for better performance on a wider variety of devices.


The merger of Chrome OS and Android has been long rumored, but Google has consistently said both those operating systems would continue to be developed separately.

Details of Andromeda emerged last year in a Wall Street Journal article that said parts of Chrome OS would be "folded" into Android. While Google hasn't publicly mentioned its plans, last week Hiroshi Lockheimer gave a strong indication that the company was preparing to make a major announcement on Oct. 4.

We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we'll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.

— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer)September 24, 2016

Given Android's major impact on the world of computing, that's a significant statement coming from Lockheimer, who oversees the development of both Chrome OS and Android at Google. And other recent moves hint at the scale of Tuesday's announcement. The internet behemoth took a prime-time TV spot to play an enigmatic teaser video for the event, and it has taken over several giant billboards in New York to promote the event.

Unlike Apple's widely anticipated press conferences, Google's events generally draw a geek audience that's interested in the minutia of smartphone development and Android updates.

But with Andromeda, Google clearly wants to play to a crowd.

However we define computing in an age when we have computers in our pockets, on our wrists, in our backpacks, and on our desks, Google is a huge part of it.


With Android it created the world's most popular smartphone operating system, which is now the world's most popular computing platform, overtaking Windows in terms of sheer volume. Android runs on a huge range of devices from smartwatches to tablets, but it is designed for and works best on smartphones.

Launched eight years ago, Android has become a phenomenon, but in recent years Google has seen control of its software slip away as companies like Samsung and Huawei take it, add their own services on top, making it much different to the experience Google initially created.

To address the desktop computing side of things, Google created Chrome OS, a lightweight alternative to Windows or macOS which only really works if you have an internet connection. It is getting increasingly popular, particularly with the education market, mainly due to low costs and its collaboration capabilities.

Now Google appears to want to become a player in the one area of the computer market which is growing. While sales of laptops and desktops has been in decline for years, the one area which is showing signs of growth is the 2-in-1 or convertible computing market.

This encompasses everything from Microsoft Surface tablet to Apple's iPad Pro, and while Google does have its own Pixel tablets, it's not a major player in this area, something which Andromeda is set to fix.

On Tuesday Google is likely to give us only a glimpse of what Andromeda will be, with a full launch not expected until 2017. And it's important for Google to set expectations so that Andromeda doesn't suffer the same fate as Google Glass.

Google had a similar issue eight years ago when Android launched, as it was a buggy and clunky operating system. It needs to avoid a repeat performance.

"The concern is that whatever Google announces next week will be received – at least initially – in the same way [as Android in 2008]," Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research, said. "Perhaps some will see in it the promise of amazing things to come, but I suspect the initial impact will be marginal, and it will take years to see the true impact. And it's entirely possible that the impact won't be nearly as impressive as Google clearly thinks it will be."