Google is set to hold an event on October 4th, and it’s a foregone conclusion that the company will unveil the new Pixel flagship phones, Google Home, and a few other hardware goodies. There may also be a surprise software announcement in the cards. There are a number of rumors pointing to an early peek at Andromeda, a version of Android with some Chrome OS bits that make it better for tablet and laptop devices.
Rumors of a Chrome OS and Android merger began popping up some months ago, and the arrival of the Play Store on Chromebooks only added fuel to the fire. However, Andromeda is something else. This is Google’s attempt to modify Android using elements from Chrome OS, not a full merging of the projects.
Android has long struggled to make a dent in the tablet space, as developers prefer to focus most of their efforts on phone apps. Many consumers are happier to buy a phone with a nearly 6-inch screen rather than have a small phone and a tablet. Android on a tablet isn’t really a different or more useful experience. The few tablets that have keyboard docks (like the Pixel C) don’t really take advantage of them because that’s not the kind of computing Android is designed to do.
Google is testing Andromeda with the HTC-built Nexus 9, according to some notes left in the Android Open Source Project. It’s not clear why Google would be using that hardware in particular. The Nexus 9 ran a very unusual dual-core variant of the Nvidia K1 with 64-bit Denver cores. That chip never really lived up to expectations, and indeed, Googlers testing Andromeda on the N9 found it to be at the lower end of acceptable. Perhaps the goal is to see how Andromeda will run on slower devices? At any rate, there probably won’t be a consumer release of Andromeda for the Nexus 9.
Google’s head of Android, Hiroshi Lockheimer, recently tweeted that the October 4th event will be talked about in eight years time. He said this on the 8th anniversary of Android’s release, implying that what Google announces at the event will continue to have a significant impact in eight years time. Is that Andromeda? It’s certainly possible.
As for Andromeda’s actual release, that’s likely still in the future. The rumors point to a Q3 2017 release, possible with new laptop-like Pixel hardware. This device is supposedly already in development and codenamed Bison. It will be an ultra-thin laptop with a 12.3-inch display and stylus functionality. There may also be a smaller 7-inch Huawei-built tablet running Andromeda before that, but the smaller form factor doesn’t make as much sense, given what we know about Andromeda. This might be a developer-oriented device.
Andromeda could finally be Google’s way into the premium laptop and tablet market. Chromebooks have proven extremely popular as low-end devices, but almost no one is going to buy a Chromebook that costs more than $500. With the application base of Android and interface tweaks from Chrome OS, Google might have something worthy of a premium price tag.