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Google's mobile quest may lead to Android, Chrome merger

The tech giant has plans to meld its software for personal computers with its popular Android software for smartphones and tablets, according to a new report. The bottom line: Mobile has taken over.

Google's new CEO, Sundar Pichai, used to lead both Android and Chrome OS.
Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Corbis

For Google, smartphones, tablets, laptops and more may all soon answer to Android.

The Mountain View, California, company is looking to bring its Android mobile software to laptop computers, according to a report Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. As part of that push, Google may annex some parts of its Chrome OS software, which mainly powers its Chromebook laptops, with Android, its operating system for smartphones and tablets, according to the report.

The search giant plans to release this newly unified software in 2017, the report says, with Google showing it off for the first time next year. Chrome OS will continue to be available to other companies, but Google will focus on extending Android to laptops, according to the report.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

While this would be a monumental development in the tech industry, it wouldn't make much difference to consumers. Of all the laptops shipped globally last year, Google's Chromebooks accounted for around 3 percent, according to research firm IDC. Chrome OS is different from Google's Chrome Web browser, which is widely used on Macs and PCs.

Android, which Google acquired in 2005, has become the centerpiece of the company's mobile efforts far beyond smartphones and tablets. The software now powers television-guide menus, car dashboards and smartwatches. For Google, the change would be profound given its roots as an Internet search engine born on desktop computers.

The shift also highlights the importance of mobile devices and the software that powers them. You can now buy groceries, listen to music and hail a ride all from your phone. Most people around the world are doing these things from Google-powered phones. Android runs on four out of every five smartphones globally.

Assuming the Journal's report is accurate, the next iteration of Android will run on personal computers as well as mobile devices. It will also give PC users access to the Google Play marketplace for third-party apps. Chromebooks will get a new name, according to the Journal, though it hasn't been decided yet.

Google has been telegraphing the move for some time. New Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who led development of Chrome OS in 2009, was also put in charge of Android in 2013. Last year, Google put Hiroshi Lockheimer, Android's top engineer, at the helm of Chrome OS.

The approach is similar to Microsoft's strategy with its Windows 10 operating system, which runs across computers, tablets, smartphones and the Xbox game console. Apple, however, has maintained that it wants to keep iOS, the software that powers its iPhones and iPads, separate from its Mac OS software for PCs.

Update, October 30 at 9:57 a.m. PT: Android and Chrome OS chief Hiroshi Lockheimer tweeted that Google is still "committed" to Chrome OS as an option for Chromebooks: