Android helped make Google a force in the mobile space. Is the search-engine giant now attempting to shove the operating system aside in favor of something different? New documentation suggests that Google wants developers to embrace Fuchsia, an open-source operating system it’s been developing behind the scenes for years.
In theory, Fuchsia is Google’s version of a universal OS capable of operating on a variety of devices and screen sizes. Rumors of its development have trickled through the tech industry for a long time, boosted in 2016 by the presence of a Github repository. It wasn’t until the most recent Google I/O conference, though, that Google outright acknowledged something was in the works, and even then, it did so in the most obtuse way: by including it in a list of platforms supported by Flutter, Google’s cross-platform app-development framework.
Now Google’s Fuchsia.dev site (which launched after I/O) is populated with documentation. One page discusses Zircon, the microkernel at the heart of Fuchsia, although right now the link to the code repository is nonfunctional.
Fuchsia might give Google the opportunity to “reset the clock” on mobile. Its strategy of open-sourcing Android, and encouraging mobile device manufacturers to adopt it, paid off with immense market-share. But with that uncontrolled spread came some intractable issues: fragmentation, malware, and terrible UX. At this point, much of the Android ecosystem is only tenuously under Google’s influence—if it wants a greater degree of control, it might have to start anew.
But if Google truly intends Fuchsia to swallow Android, it’s going to face down a Frankenstein monster of its own making. Mobile operating systems have a funny way of dying in the face of the iOS/Android duopoly—just ask Symbian, webOS, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry OS. And as Google has demonstrated with its own line of branded devices, such as the Pixel, “Built by Google” branding is no guarantee of marketplace success: Samsung and other OEMs continue to dominate the Android ecosystem.
Given a relative lack of options, maybe Google sees Fuchsia as its best bet. And in order for that bet to succeed, it will need to convince third-party developers that this new operating system is the way of the future. But in order for that to happen, it will need to reveal far more about the platform and its roadmap. Stay tuned.