Google’s Fuchsia OS: Everything you need to know

Google's next-gen operating system, Fuchsia, will have Android app support

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Android and Chrome OS may be Google’s best-known software ventures, but the company is actually working on a third operating system. It’s called Fuchsia, and when it was first discovered in 2017, it only popped up as a single command line. Now, however, we know a lot more about the operating system.

Fuchsia looks totally different than any other mobile operating system we’ve seen, including Android, but that could be the point. The fact is that there’s currently a ton of mystery surrounding the operating system. We don’t know what it’s for, if it’s aimed at eventually replacing Android, if it’s just an experiment by Google, or when we should expect to see the new OS at Google I/O.

Updates

Here you’ll find the latest news on Fuschia OS. If you’re after a more general overview of Google’s developing OS, then skip down.

Fuschia confirmed to support Android apps

“What will happen to Android?” is one of the major questions asked of Google’s Fuschia. It’s entirely possible Google intends for Fuschia to replace Android — and that seems even more likely now, as it’s seemingly been confirmed Fuschia will support Android apps.

The news comes courtesy of news sites that noticed a new file had been added to the Android Open Source Project. The file concerns the addition of a special version of ART to Fuschia. ART — or Android Runtime — would essentially allow Fuschia to run Android apps, making a theoretical swap over to Fuschia from Android rather more painless.

What exactly is Fuchsia?

Fuchsia is a little different from Android and Chrome OS in that it’s not based on Linux. Instead, it’s based on a new Google-developed kernel called Magenta. According to Google, Magenta is aimed at “modern phones and modern personal computers,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to one day see Fuchsia appear on our smartphones. Not only that, but Google has even added Apple’s programming language, Swift, to the operating system — though we don’t know why just yet.

Because Fuchsia is written using the Flutter SDK, which runs on Android, chunks of Fuchsia can be run on an Android device. This version of Fuchsia appears to be called Armadillo, and it completely reimagines the home screen. The screen, according to testing by Ars Technica, is basically presented as a big scrolling list, with a profile picture, the date, your city, and a battery icon all placed at the center. Above that, you’ll find “Story” cards, or a list of recent apps. Below, you’ll see a list of suggestions for you, which acts kind of like Google Now.

You can also drag recent apps around and drop them where you choose to organize and personalize the home screen. If you drop one app on top of another, you’ll enter a split-screen mode with up to three apps.

According to Hacker News, Travis Geiselbrech, who worked on NewOS, BeOS, Danger, Palm’s WebOS, and iOS, and Brian Swetland, who also worked on BeOS and Android, are involved in this project.

What is Fuchsia for?

The fact is that we just don’t know what Fuchsia is being built for just yet. The latest report from Bloomberg posits that Fuchsia is a new attempt to unite the entire Google ecosphere under a single operating system, with the goal for Fuchsia being to run smartphones, smart speakers, laptops — anything that could possibly fit under Google’s tech umbrella. According to a certain source, the plan is to have Fuchsia up and running on smart speakers and other smart home devices within the next three years, and then move on to larger devices like laptops, before eventually superseding Android as the world’s largest mobile OS.

The idea that Fuchsia would replace Android is one that’s been around for a while, and Ars Technica has an interesting take on this. As it notes, Android was built long before the iPhone was released, and was originally intended as an operating system for digital cameras. After the launch of the iPhone, Android was re-purposed for phones, but Google is still stuck to commitments it made with Android many years ago. The company faces a lot of challenges with Android — for example, it struggles to get updates rolled out across the entire ecosystem of devices — and it’s possible that Fuchsia would help to solve some of these issues.

However, it’s likely that abandoning Android is a long way off yet — if it happens at all. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and deputy Hiroshi Lockheimer have yet to sign off on any sort of future plan for Fuchsia, and it’s clear that such a change would be an enormous undertaking. Many huge manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, and LG depend on Android for their phones, making this sort of undertaking exceptionally difficult. However, if Google managed to switch to Fuchsia, the move could be huge for the smartphone world. The Flutter SDK used to code Fuchsia has been able to produce code for Android and iOS apps, so developers could build apps in Flutter to work across all smartphone operating systems.

Chances are we won’t find out anything new for a while since Fuchsia OS is early in development. Google has tested the new OS on phones, and we know that it’s now also testing it on the Pixelbook too and other laptops too. We’ll update this article as we hear more.

Rumored Fuchsia features

What advantages could moving to Fuchsia have for Google? Many, as it turns out. As we’ve already mentioned, Android was originally built to power digital cameras, before being adapted into an OS for touchscreen phones. As a result, much of Android doesn’t fit into the future Google sees for smart devices, with voice interaction being particularly important. Fuchsia would solve many of those issues while opening up more opportunities for Google as a result.

Fuchsia would also have a more robust set of security features than Android, with encrypted user keys being built into the software to tighten security. Fuchsia would also be better than Android at adapting to various different sizes of screen, building toward an interlinked smart future in which Fuchsia powers everything from your doorbell to your toaster. By moving towards Fuchsia, Google can also dump Java and the issues it’s had surrounding the legal use of Java. It would also mean that Google could ditch the Linux kernel at the center of Android.

Of course, Fuchsia is still deep in early development, and don’t be surprised if some of these details change over time. According to Bloomberg’s report, there have already been conflicts within Google over Fuchsia’s security measures, as they would make it harder for Google’s advertising.

Try out Fuchsia for yourself

As of early May, you can actually try out Fuchsia for yourself. SlashGear, in partnership with HotFix Computer Repair, has put together a downloadable Android Package Kit (APK) that you can install on your phone to check out the OS. The APK is kind of like a preview version of a launcher of the alpha version of what’s currently dubbed Armadillo. Armadillo is basically the version code name for Fuchsia, which is the operating system — kind of like Nougat, which is the version name, for the OS known as Android.

Head over to HotFixIt to download it for yourself, but before you do keep a few things in mind. Fuchsia is currently in its very early days, and as such don’t expect to be able to use it as your daily OS. While it should be relatively safe to use on most Android phones, you should generally only download the highly experimental software if you know what you’re doing.

Updated January 3, 2019: We’ve added the latest news that Fuchsia will be able to run Android apps.

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