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Windows 8 & Ice Cream Sandwich: signs of what could be omnipresent technology [Opinion]

June 26, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka

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Since Android debuted on phones in 2008, people have wondered what else it could power. We’ve since seen obvious uses in tablets and PMP’s, but Android has even trickled into everything from cameras to televisions. We must be heading towards seeing Android on all personal computing products, right?

Google decided long ago to make Android the mobile OS and Chrome the cloud computing OS. Regardless of what analysts and media think of the schism, that seems to be the immovable path Google is currently taking. Meanwhile, its rival Microsoft has decided to make the next version of its main software, Windows 8, the unifying method of getting things done. The desktop and the tablet will run the same OS and most of the same programs, allowing users to continue their computing habits regardless of which device they use at the time. Believe it or not, Microsoft’s strategy is the riskier choice, and it may pay off for the company in ways that I hope Google follows.

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s attempt to make computers as equally touch friendly as they are click friendly. The Metro UI takes the best of previous versions of Microsoft software and “reimagines” Windows under one system, with some close connections to the phone. It’s too early in its implementation to label good or bad, but Win 8 comes pretty darn close to introducing a high powered computing experience that is device neutral.

When I look at the Microsoft Surface tablet recently announced, I see a device that provides a continuous experience that makes trade offs for form factor but not usability. That’s what many hoped Android would become, and it still could. Ice Cream Sandwich has been pitched to consumers as the version of Android that will unify all phones, tablets, and television. It’s the “one OS for them all” as Andy Rubin said at Google IO. Google hasn’t signaled that it will put Android on laptops or desktops, that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be done by other manufacturers. Compaq released an Android netbook a few years ago, and ASUS has shown this off on tablets and an all-in-one device. Google believes that  Chromebooks support a different use case and audience, but in the future, a proper laptop could be more feasible than any Android device we’ve currently seen.

The first crop of Chromebooks were underwhelming, but it has since made strides on both the hardware and software fronts. Meanwhile, people with an ASUS Transformer could argue that they are more mobile and just as capable, if not more, of accomplishing most tasks. If Android tablets can rival chromebooks with some customization, what if we could one day standardize Android to be good enough for laptops?

When I look at Windows 8, I see something that will have a very slow start because it might be too much of a jarring change for long-time Windows users to embrace. However, it has the potential to completely change the way those people use computers. I see the same potential in Android. It already is the foundation for our phones, tablets, and televisions. What if we could expand it to power our laptops? There would no longer be the awkward transition from creating a document in a “desktop” version and then continuing in a “mobile” version that has a different UI and capabilities. There would be a unified app that was effective and consistent regardless of device mode.

Mobile technology has advanced to the point where phones today are more powerful than the computer you used a few years ago. With continued advancement and a bold change of course from Google, that progress could really shake things up. It would take a lot to happen for Android, like Windows 8, to be optimized for both desktop and mobile computing; however, it’s not farfetched to think it could happen considering how far Android has come between the G1 and Ice Cream Sandwich.

I strongly doubt Google will pursue this course any time soon, but in a generation or two, I’d love to be surprised and finally get my one OS to rule them all.