Google is rumored to be bringing its Android Studio developer environment to Chrome OS. If true, it means that developers will be able to create and test Android apps on the same device for the first time.
This is perhaps a bigger deal than is immediately obvious. That is, it’s not just a developer story: This change would mark an important evolutionary step in the hybrid devices that are now challenging PC and Mac.
As you probably know, I’ve written a lot about the decline of the PC and the rise of simpler and more personal devices like smartphones and tablets. About two years ago, for example, I wondered whether a then-rumored iPad Pro would disrupt the PC market. And more recently, I started pondering the impact if iPad Pro and other hybrid devices—Android-based 2-in-1s, for example—ever got sophisticated enough to take on the key productivity tasks for which we still use PCs. Could these devices plug the plug on the PC market?
But it’s not enough for those devices to have Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, or an Apple Pencil, for that matter. They need to become a lot more sophisticated, to offer the same efficiency and multitasking muscle that PC and Mac users enjoy. And those changes are going to require serious platform work.
I believe that work is happening. It’s more obvious at Google, where the firm has announced and then begun releasing new versions of Chrome OS that can also run Android apps. But even Apple, which moves more slowly and less transparently, has given us some hints: After releasing a poorly-regarded and belated new lineup of MacBook Pro laptops last Fall, the company’s next big release could include three new iPad Pro models. To both of these platform makers, traditional PCs and Macs are the past, not the future.
So I think it’s important to view this week’s rumors about Android Studio running on Chrome OS in this light. Today, you need a powerful PC or Mac to run Android Studio, the developer environment used to create Android apps. But even on such devices, this suite runs slowly, in part because it’s made with Java, and in part because Google doesn’t control the underlying platforms on which it runs.
That last bit is interesting, isn’t it? Here’s the maker of the dominant personal computing platform on earth, and it doesn’t even have a way to let developers target its own platform using that same platform. If you want to write Android apps, you need a Windows PC or a Mac. Imagine if you needed an iPad (or whatever) to write Windows apps. The very notion is ludicrous.
So getting Android development in-house is likely a big deal for Google regardless of the veracity of this week’s rumors. It’s possible that Google greenlighted Android apps on Chrome OS in part to make this happen too. (Android is also based on Java.)
Today, creators—whether they’re writers, artists, architects, software developers, or whatever—use PCs and Macs because the rival mobile platforms just aren’t mature enough to handle those tasks. But you can already do light writing and drawing/painting on some mobile devices, and that evolution will only continue. Getting a full-blown development environment on Chrome OS (which also includes Android) is a huge step. A huge step.
I’m curious to see whether Apple responds at its WWDC developer show this summer. It’s certainly well-poised to do so: Last year, it introduced Swift Playgrounds for iPad, a simple and even child/education-friendly way to get people up to speed on its new software development language. Is an XCode for iOS next? With the ability to build iOS apps … on iOS?
I think it’s inevitable, and that only the timing is in question. So I’ll be following the news from this year’s Google IO and WWDC with great interest, as always, and an eye towards these types of changes.