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When Google bought Android in 2005, there were no iPhones, tablets, smartwatches or voice assistants. So it kept tweaking the OS to keep up with the changing market. Now, the strain is showing. Tech insiders think something new is coming soon. Is Fuchsia it? Tim Green looked deeper.

Has Google just revealed the future of Android?

Tech circles were buzzing last week when a site called revealed some pics of a new UI, which Google calls Armadillo, for an entirely new Google OS – aka Fuchsia.

Now that’s a lot of names to remember, so let’s dial back a bit.

In summer 2016, rumours surfaced that Google was working on a mysterious new operating system it called Fuchsia. There was little hard evidence of it – just a command line unearthed by some developers.

In fact, some commentators thought Fuchsia could have been one and the same as Andromeda, which (just to confuse things) had also emerged last year as some kind of merger of Android with Google’s other OS, Chrome.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 15.02.10

Any next-gen Google OS will need to work in a post-phone world of wearables and smart assistants like Google Home.

However, the new UI seems to have quashed that idea.

Tech sites revealed that Fuchsia was built using Google’s Flutter SDK, and that the interface appears to feature a vertically scrolling card-based system. Users can drag cards around or tap on them for more detail or to deep link into apps. There’s a walk-through here on YouTube.

And the UI appears to be chronological – a kind of map of your mobile life. You can go back to a specific time to check things rather than look at a set of icons on a desktop. This aligns quite closely with Google’s focus on the cards idea used within Google Now.

If you think about it, the mobile OS probably needs a re-boot. Essentially, its design metaphor is the desktop in the sense that the screen is like a table with various items of stuff on it.

This, of course, is a legacy of the PC/Windows, which tried to make the computer screen reflect a physical desk. That notion is increasingly out of step with real-time, mobile lifestyles.

What’s more, people are spending so much time now in social media and chat apps, where the dominant design idea is not a desk but a timeline.

So in a world of vast cloud storage, streaming media and social networking, perhaps static apps sitting on a grid is not the best interface.

With Fuchsia, Google may be acknowledging this. It also has technical reasons to want an upgrade on Android.

Don’t forget, Google bought Android ready-made from a third party – and it did so before IoS came along. Android was built on ageing Java and Linux technologies, and has been tweaked endlessly as mobile has evolved.

Of course Google has tweaked with great success. In March 2017, StatCounter revealed Android to be the world’s biggest OS: its market share of internet use was 37.93 per cent, while Windows was at 37.91 per cent.

To maintain Android’s dominance Google needs an OS that can propel the post-smartphone future – an OS that runs well on phones, watches, VR, smart assistants and TVs. One that can adapt to tiny screens or no screens, touch interface or voice.

Fuchsia could be it. But then again, Google has a track record of trying multiple things at once. Look at the confusing mess of its messaging strategy.

So we’ll see.

But we can all agree on this: Fuchsia is a truly lovely word.

Tim Green

Features Editor, MEF Minute