Will Google’s Fuchsia bring a new shade to smartphones?
Monday, August 06, 2018
Though it came to our attention more than two years ago, Google’s "Fuchsia" project recently made news again when Bloomberg dropped a report indicating Fuchsia was intended to replace Android within five years.
Though a Google spokesperson later disputed some details of the report, including the timeframe, it hasn’t stopped speculation about exactly what the company’s ambitions and expectations are for the software at this point.
Android currently powers more than three-quarters of the world’s smartphones and is used by multiple hardware partners as well as thousands of developers. It also generates billions in mobile ad dollars.
In 2016, Google posted Fuchsia’s open-source code online and began allowing developers to play with it. Bloomberg asserts Fuchsia will launch on connected devices in the next three years, with a full replacement of Android to follow.
To call it a massive undertaking is probably putting it lightly, so what would Google really stand to gain from this mammoth endeavor that would justify it? Let’s analyze some of the possibilities.
The logo for Google Fuchsia, which has been rumored to replace the Android OS in the next five years.
The Case for Fuchsia
There’s no doubt security is a vital element in Fuchsia’s DNA. In February, Google announced Nick Kralevich, the head of platform at security was shifting over to the Fuchsia team – suggesting that Google was getting serious about the new operating system.
Sources say Fuchsia is being designed to accommodate more frequent and robust security updates. Google has pushed to close the gap in security vulnerabilities compared to Apple.
Bloomberg noted that most iPhones users update to new iOS versions quickly once they’re released. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent of Android users update quickly.
Furthermore, unlike Android, Fuchsia isn’t based on Linux, but rather another open-source kernel known as Zircon. This would allow the operating system to control small-scale devices like cameras and thermostats with less code — leaving it less prone to security vulnerabilities, as well as making it easier and faster to update more complex devices such as phones and computers.
Fuchsia is also being designed to take full advantage of voice interactions. It’s important to remember that Android came about as touchscreens were evolving as the primary user interface. But with voice increasingly expected to be the future of interfacing, Google is making it core to Fuchsia.
The new OS is allegedly being designed to run all of Google’s gadgets — from phones to smart speakers — and for third-party devices like refrigerators, televisions and automobiles – all places Google is looking to spread its software. Developers are aiming for an operating system that adjusts to varying screen sizes and can be truly universal as an increasing number of gadgets come online through the Internet of Things.
It’s also worth not overlooking that a wholly new OS could help Google steer clear of intellectual property disputes, such as the ongoing one with Oracle, which is seeking $8.8 billion in damages from Google.
…But What About…
Google has plenty to gain from unveiling a new OS, but there are more than small challenges to overcome. As mentioned previously, billions of devices across the planet rely on Android, as do important hardware partners like LG, Samsung and Huawei. Shifting to a new platform would to require accommodation.
Also, moving away from the Linux kernel, while offering aforementioned positives, could leave existing devices incompatible and end-users frustrated.
Another potentially divisive issue could play out internally. Google’s primary revenue comes through its advertising business, and much of that business is based on offering advertisers highly targeted markets.
This data collection could butt up against Fuchsia’s desired privacy and security features. According to several sources, there’s already been internal debate about how much Fuchsia could hamstring this side of the ad business.
Meanwhile, Google can’t ignore regulatory scrutiny. The company is already at odds with governmental bodies around the world.
Just this past month, European regulators slapped Google with a $5 billion antitrust fine, claiming the company used Android to hinder rivals. Thus, any new system will be closely monitored, forcing Google to move cautiously.
What is Flutter?
Less talked about than Fuchsia is Flutter — another open-source Google project. However, careful analysis of Flutter — a mobile app framework — could offer some insight.
A topic of discussion at Google I/O 2018, Flutter is allegedly being used to write Fuchsia’s apps and interface and will be its native development framework. Some suggest Google is floating Flutter to establish a community of developers for the new operating system.
The First Tests?
There are also signs Google is quietly testing out Fuchsia though a new Lenovo smart display unit that is based completely on Google Smart Assistant, which will be at the core of Fuchsia.
The unit’s UI has no home or app menu button, but is navigated by voice command — known to be a key aspect of Fuchsia. It’s also expected that Android P, the next release of the OS, will move toward a similar UI.
While signs continue to percolate that Google has big plans for Fuchsia, company CEO Sundar Pichai insists there’s no official roadmap for the project, and Google publicly maintains it’s an "open-source experiment as an investment in innovation."
But it’s hard to imagine the company would sink such investment into a project without a much grander purpose. The question remains, when will they tell us exactly what that is?
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