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Does Android need a Continuum feature? Could that be ChromeOS?

By Juan Carlos Bagnell May 10, 2016, 2:12 pm
Does Android need a Continuum feature

Smartphones are mission critical communications devices for many people, and we’re increasingly relying on them to get work done. However there are times where we just need to sit in front of a larger screen and a proper keyboard to accomplish certain tasks. Maybe that more traditional laptop or desktop experience isn’t even necessary, it’s just more comfortable.

What is Continuum?

In an attempt to address this disparity, Microsoft introduced Continuum with the release of Windows 10 for Mobile. Plugging a Lumia 950 or 950XL into a dock doesn’t just share the screen with a larger monitor, it morphs the phone OS into a layout similar to a traditional desktop implementation of Windows. We took a look at this feature early in it’s release in the video below.

It’s an interesting solution to the problem of mobile computing. With more and more of our data and services linking to cloud storage, shouldn’t we be able to split our work duties between “on the run” and “sitting at a desk” without having to employ multiple computers? It’s difficult to gauge whether Continuum on Windows phones is a success as there aren’t nearly as many Lumia 950’s out in the wild as there are competing flagship devices. Also, Continuum depends on developers making Universal Apps for Windows 10, which thankfully is starting to build a little momentum, but currently might leave users in the lurch for specific services on Windows phones.

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We aren’t hurting for apps on Android though, and we’re seeing some interesting developments from Google which might lead us to some form of multi-mode usage in the years to come.

Getting more work done

Look at phones like the Galaxy Note series of phablets. They stand as a clear answer to the problem of productivity as it relates to screen real estate. Increasing the size of the screen might make a device less “phone” like, but it makes the product a more effective computer. We can only push that screen so far though, and for Western audiences, it’s rare to see phones push beyond 6″ displays anymore. After that, consumers need to start looking at a multiple device strategy, like a phone and a tablet, or a phone and a laptop.

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Several manufacturers have played with the concept of docking a phone into a larger screen. Motorola’s Lapdock and the Asus PadFone were two of the more notable attempts at powering a larger canvas from our phone’s hardware. Neither caught the public’s fancy.

Still we see consumer trends pushing mobile hardware into achieving more of our daily work requirements. Apple is tackling this head on with Pro iPads, instead of making multi-mode Macs. Android N introduces native split-screen app support for multi-tasking. Yet the experience of running Android or iOS on a larger display often feels out of place. Simply blowing up a mobile OS doesn’t quite achieve the feel of using a desktop style OS.

Chrome OS + Android?

Google does have a solution for computing on a larger display. Chrome OS is an evolution of the Chrome browser which moves forward on a cloud computing philosophy. Both Android and Chrome can be powered by mobile ARM based processors or X86 laptop grade processors. It’s not outlandish to imagine a possible future where you use Android on your phone when “on the go”, then when you plug that phone into a larger screen you switch over to Chrome OS. The main issue here is that these are two separate environments, different than what Microsoft has with Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum simply changing the layout for a larger screen.

Google has repeatedly denied any rumors of expanding Android to get rid of Chrome OS, but there is still some evidence to support the idea of these platforms merging.

Google Pixel C Review Keyboard 2

For hardware, the first Pixel was a high end laptop built to showcase Chrome OS. The follow up Pixel C tablet however uses Android, causing a bit of confusion where we used to see Nexus tablets fulfill that market niche.Chrome OS has a passionate fan base, but it’s a substantially smaller audience than the number of people using Android.

Also, USB Type C will eventually increase the bandwidth available for phones to utilize external displays, and to move information around quickly. Microsoft is using USB C on the Lumia 950 to power the Continuum dock.

On the software side, we seen some compelling moves from Google providing developers with tools to move Android apps over to Chrome OS. It’s not quite the same situation as Microsoft’s Universal apps, but it could pave the way for more unification between Google’s separate operating systems.

Increasingly we see that services are key. Consumers want to know that they can communicate and get work done. Easily migrating work between screens, instead of between separate computers, might be the next stage for consumer electronics.

As smartphone sales growth levels off, could a Chrome+Android unification excite the buying public? Drop us a comment below with your thoughts.

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