Google always has many projects up its sleeve, but only a few, special ones get the honor of being carried over for commercial development. One such special project is Fuchsia OS, which has been out in the public since 2016 but has only had little to no interest from consumers. It is an operating system which is meant to unify the entire ecosystem of gadgets under a single umbrella. Fuchsia OS is designed to work on not only smartphones or desktops, but also operate any smart device part of an IoT network and Google seemingly wants to offer you a similar unified experience across all platforms just like Apple. And, this will be even more effective with the rise of faster mobile communication through 5G.
At its core, Fuchsia OS will be independent of the hardware specifications, offering a uniform experience across all devices. Using a modular approach, manufacturers will be able to choose Fuchsia elements selectively based on the device while developers could push smaller updates only to implement new features. Besides providing a uniform operating interface, Fuchsia could even assume the role of a single operating system governing over all the machines, eventually.
While this might have given you sufficient hint that Google is planning to replace Android with Fuchsia and even meld Chrome OS along with it, this article will take you through the details about the in-the-works OS and how Google is trying to take the technology world by a storm with it. Let’s start by learning about what role Google has in mind for the operating system, as well as the ideas that gave birth to the idea.
About Fuchsia OS
With Fuchsia OS, Google might be planning to wipe Android from the face of the Earth – or at least the memories of the gen-Z, but the biggest and the most sought after role for the OS is to provide a consistent and unwavering experience on all the devices, irrespective of their specifications, size, or utility.
Apple might be best known for its iPhones and the Mac, but it has many more software tricks up its sleeve than it is revered for. It’s the exclusivity of its software that has not only helped Apple maintain a strong lead in the industry but also aided it to bounce back after the management stand-off that resulted in founder Steve Jobs being fired from his own company. Now, Google is trying to achieve that but it is doing so differently i.e. by swearing by the principles of open source.
The brainchild of Google developers, Fuchsia, is expected to take over a major chunk of all the smart machines and gadgets in the near future. It is this uniformity across imaginably all platforms that will ensure that users don’t feel alienated when they switch to a new smartphone brand or go from browsing the web or using the same app on one device to another. Smart speakers, security cameras, thermostats, air or water purifiers, helper robots, robots helping the helper robots – virtually anything smart you can think of will have the same user experience, irrespective of its shape or form.
Designed for Audio Interactions
While having a greater monopoly over its software be great for Google financially, another major reason for choosing infant Fuchsia over an amended version of Android is that the new OS will be focused on interactions that leverage a voice-based experience, instead of one relying on touch. This means that Fuchsia will even be suitable for devices with displays that may or may not support a touch interface – or even a display.
In this age of virtual aides, voice has taken the center stage and Google Assistant has been among the frontrunners. It has gained amazing functionalities including the ability to take mundane or basic calls on users’ behalf. These capabilities are likely to be the building blocks for Fuchsia. Moreover, this focus on voice – and not touch – gives the tech giant the liberty to implement visual elements without worrying if they are well optimized per screen size and shape.
Starting Fresh Instead of Updating
Android was designed primarily with smartphones with QWERTY keyboards and later evolved to suit touch control. It is now a decade old and supports a host of devices, not just smartphones or tablets, but it’s still largely dependent on touch interactivity. So, if Google desires to prepare for the challenges of the next decade, starting ground-up from scratch appears to be a better way than re-modifying Android to suit new needs.
Apart from this, Google might also be trying to distance itself from the Oracle lawsuit. The two software giants have been in a battle of nerves over the issue of royalty relating to Google’s use of open-source Java application program interfaces or APIs while creating the early version of Android. The two giants have been at loggerheads since 2010 and as per the last court order, Google was asked to pay $8.8 billion to Oracle – an order which it has challenged and is currently preparing for a review petition.
While Google already dropped the vile APIs in 2015 itself, moving to a new ecosystem which is far from the ghost of Java, as well as Oracle, will not only give Google more liberty to explore and flourish but also wipe the slate clean with Oracle – maybe. Besides this, Google is using its own kernel called “Zircon” instead of Linux kernels used in Android to stay away from Linux and remain focussed in a niche created by itself.
Besides this, Fuchsia OS will also allow Google to counter the problem of devices running on outdated software and we’ll learn about its possibility in the next section.
Part of the fresh approach that Fuchsia is a product of is the new kernel used for the operating system. This kernel is called Zircon and is coded in C++, instead of C which is used to write Linux kernels. Essentially, Zircon is a microkernel which, in layman terms, will manage software-hardware interactions better and offer more efficiency in terms of utilization of resources such as processing power and network speeds.
Zircon kernels are not limited to smartphones or PCs, and will support a wider range of hardware like digital cameras, smart speakers, other IoT devices, desktops and laptops of all shapes and sizes. It will also aid Google to push out updates to all devices simultaneously so that all the devices you interact with are always up to date. If this turns out to be true, Zircon kernel could help build a utopia for geeks.
Zircon will also be updated on a regular basis, unlike a Linux kernel, which is only written to meet the requirements of the hardware, so that devices are instantly compatible with the latest updates.
Fuchsia OS: A Modular Approach
Fuchsia uses a modular approach which means that instead of being one big stack of code, it will be segmented into building blocks or “packages”. Everything, including system files, will be made up of these smaller chunks aka packages, which, in turn, can also be made up of even smaller “components”. These components will comprise only the code needed to accomplish a single task. By itself, a component cannot accomplish much but when grouped with other components, the cadre will be able to execute a process. Further, there will two types of components – “agents”, which work in the background, and “modules” which will be visible to the users.
While this modularity will allow system files and update packages to be broken down into smaller morsels, easily acceptable to the system, it will also have other benefits. Another advantage expected out of Fuchsia’s modular framework is that it may allow new features to be added just by installing newer components. Looking at this practically, modularity will not only solve the issue of delayed and sometimes buggy system updates but also lead to faster app updates. If you want to visualize it better, you can look at it like modular hardware such as an assembled PC – or even simpler, a Motorola flagship using Moto Mods which improve its functionality.
All of this, although p`romising, also requires both co-operation and zeal from developers since this modular approach is crucial to the uniform experience Fuchsia vouches for.
Fuchsia OS currently supports a handful of filesystems such as :
- temporary in-memory (for RAM)
- a persistent filesystem for storing files permanently
- an integrity-verifying package storage filesystem (for data encryption), and
- a typical FAT storage system
With modularity at its core, Fuchsia’s architecture is flexible and can receive support for additional filesystems in the future.
Fuchsia OS Will Transform Computing, But How?
Android is the leader when it comes to userbase but despite that, it lags behind in the area of updates. While user experience can be subjective, many still prefer iOS over Android when taking factors such as the long software support and the former’s uniform experience across different devices into consideration. While Google was earlier reported to be mulling splitting update packages at the vendor and the Android framework levels, this would only help slightly faster security updates to Android. Fuchsia, however, adds this functionality to the entire operating system.
On the other hand, Google uses its own Zircon microkernel, instead of a Linux kernel, in Fuchsia OS along with its modular approach to push out updates almost in real-time. This means that irrespective of the brand, your smartphone could receive updates almost at the same speed and frequency as the Google Pixel devices.
For this, Google has designed Amber, an update system embedded in Fuchsia OS which will not just update system packages and installed applications but also the new microkernel as well as the bootloader. The Fuchsia team is currently fiddling with different update frameworks to ensure faster and accurate modular updates as well as interoperability between systems.
In an attempt to make Fuchsia more humanly, the OS will come with a feature called Ledgers which will maintain data related to the usage per device. This will allow users to start working on a new device straight from where they left off on the previous one. The feature will not just sync data from individual app separately but the entire interface as a whole. All this information will be stored on a common network allowing users to have a seamless experience while switching devices.
The name Fuchsia is derived from the color of the same name, which in turn is derived from the flowers of the eponymous fuchsia plant that has more than 110 species. Although the name is not very common, you might identify with this color very easily (HEX: ). Easily confused for pink by many, fuchsia can actually be visualized as a hybrid between pink and purple. But the name goes beyond explaining a combination of color and has an underlying metaphor associated with it.
Almost all of the official repositories maintained by the Fuchsia mark it as a sum total of pink and purple. Beneath the surface, it means that the operating system is designed to fill the gap between smartphones and PCs, between portable and stationary devices, between web-based and native applications, and even between Android and iOS devices.
Flutter, the software development kit (SDK) designed to develop Fuchsia apps specifically can be used to write apps for both Android and iOS besides Fuchsia OS. With minimal code changes, developers will be able to port the front end of the application to other platforms, allowing them to offer a uniform experience across not only systems run by Fuchsia OS but even those outside the platform.
Dependency on Web Apps
The web is slowly being taken over by progressive web apps or interfaces which run directly off the web to offer an app-like experience without any installation. While there is limited information about Fuchsia apps available as of now, by looking at the connected future one can safely speculate that the OS will be designed for a web-first experience, much like the Chrome OS.
In fact, the team of Googlers managing the project is working on something called “Web Runner”, a web assembly engine to be used on run web apps on Fuchsia OS. This, in turn, will help make the internet an integral and essential part of the operating system. But that does not imply that the entire operating system will hinge onto the web for working, and we hope to see some live examples of native applications being ported to the platform soon.
Fuchsia Interface Definition Language (FIDL)
Fuchsia could be an interesting proposition for end-users, but it is equally exciting for developers. Google wants to ensure that irrespective of your strengths in programming languages, you should be able to contribute to the development of Fuchsia. To ensure this, engineers working on the project have developed FIDL, short for Fuchsia Interface Definition Language, designed to merge commonly used programming languages.
FIDL currently supports C/C++, Rust by Mozilla, as well as Go and Dart (the primary language for writing Fuchsia apps) which are developed by Google itself, while more languages will also be supported in the future. With the help of FIDL, for instance, developers can develop an app in Rust and then migrate the application to Go or Dart – or any other supported language – without having to code the GUI again. This is done by treating the new code as an “implementation”.
This presents an exciting opportunity to the developers and if you’re one, you can use this tutorial to learn more about FIDL.
How is Fuchsia OS Different From Android?
While Fuchsia OS is far from being commercially available, thanks to a few good Samaritans, we have some insight about how it looks. From the various leaks and tips related to Fuchsia OS’ appearance, we know that it will be a card-based interface with an uncanny resemblance to Google Now. But there are a score of elements which appear to be inspired by Chrome OS and even iOS, with a heavy dose of Google’s Material Design 2.
Google has recently swapped out the files related to the user interface, which was earlier known by the name Armadillo, by something called Dragonglass. The new user experience is being developed privately by Google, but some public comments in the repository point out that Google is at least working on three different user shells or desktop environments for Fuchsia – namely, Dugonglass, Flamingo, and Dragonglass.
Not much is known about these user shells, but Dragonglass is apparently the same interface as available on smart displays like the Google Home Hub. It has different cards for different actions or apps instead of icons, hinting that Google aims to offer users a better experience than one in which they spend a lot of time finding the right option on a touch screen. Instead, the OS appears to be ready for the fast-paced world of the future and is likely to reduce dependency on touch.
While the Armadillo interface has been canned, you can still try it to see the differences likely to occur between Android and Fuchsia OS. There are applications which emulate the experience of Fuchsia on both – an Android smartphone (find APK here) and the web (check it out), for an easy examination. In this now-discontinued interface, there’s a single button in the navigation bar and that is currently assigned with the duty to take you to the home interface. Furthermore, dragging across this button upwards from the bottom brings up the quick settings pane when you’re inside an app (which might remind you of iOS gestures for the Control Panel on phones older than the iPhone X).
While we cannot comment on the exact user interface yet, there are chances that Google might drop the Homepage altogether and the bring a unified interface which shows quick settings, Recents, and your Google Now (powered by an advanced version of Google Assistant) feed on a single page. We will keep you updated once we learn what the new interface is likely to look like.
Cross-Platform Computing With Fuchsia OS
Fuchsia OS is designed to truly leverage the power of sharing, letting you enjoy a uniform performance of the interface as well as the apps on all devices irrespective of their shape or size. But more importantly, Fuchsia OS will allow Google to use Apple’s rich application ecosystem by allowing easy porting of applications.
Moreover, allowing developers to get their feet wet with Fuchsia development, the official emulator for testing Android apps – Android Studio received support for Fuchsia’s Zircon kernel. While at the time of this announcement, it seemed like Google wants to allow developers to run Fuchsia on Android Studio, a change was recently made the in the AOSP Gerrit repository to highlight that Android apps will run on Fuchsia with the help of a custom version of Android Runtime.
Besides this, a year ago Google also added support for Swift, a programming language created by Apple, to Fuchsia. While this does not imply that Fuchsia OS will run iOS apps directly, but the step will at least inspire and invite developers, currently restricted to the Apple ecosystem, to try their hand at developing apps for the unified operating system.
Fuchsia OS Feels like an Android Successor: Here’s Why
In foresight, Fuchsia OS can be seen replacing Android and there are some reasons that point to it. Fuchsia surely feels like it has been inspired by Android despite not being exactly visually identical. With Fuchsia, Google is cutting its dependency on other software giants but it also seems to have taken due care to make sure that both users and developers feel at home. Here are some of the reasons that ensure it.
UI Elements Similar to Android Pie
- Single Navigation Button: Fuchsia does not necessarily appear similar to Android Pie but it feels that the latest version of Android is meant to prepare users to move to the new ecosystem. The foremost example of this is the single home button and Google’s recent decision to restrict Google Pixel 3 users from opting out of the new navigation bar. It appears to be a step towards conditioning users for Fuchsia’s navigation.
- App Actions & Suggestion: Secondly, Fuchsia’s suggestions which can be seen in the demo interface resemble Android Pie’s “App Actions” which are suggested actions per app based on a user’s preferences and usual choice of actions. Android Pie uses machine learning to curate these options and with the advent of smarter and more intelligent systems, these suggestion are not only likely to get more accurate, but also eliminate the need to touch the screen to perform them – which is one of the core objectives of Fuschia.
- Modularity of Apps: The third and final similarity between Android and Fuchsia is to with modularity. Google recently introduced something called an “App Bundle” which is an alternative file format that developers can use while uploading their apps to the Google Play Store. By now, you might have guessed it but if you haven’t, App Bundles allow developers to break their apps in smaller chunks so that downloading becomes easier (don’t you hate it when you have to download a large app or game again from the beginning when you lose internet connectivity in between?). Furthermore, besides easing the download process for users, App Bundles also allow developers to add extra on-demand features to their apps without forcing users to download additional packages.
Google Already Working on Fuchsia Prototypes
Google has already been working on certain software and hardware products indicating active participation from Google, which is not just exciting for developers but also consumers. Back in July last year, Google was reportedly working on a YouTube app for Fuchsia OS apart from some random developments like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe.
In terms of hardware, Google was recently found to be blowing resources on a device – codenamed “Sherlock” – most likely to be a digital camera, and suspected to be the successor to Google Clips. This device uses a Sony IMX277 sensor and while it has the highest potential of being a digital camera, it could also be a security camera, considering the investigative nature of the name.
Lastly, one Fuchsia device to actually mature into a commercial product is the Google Home Hub which does not actually run Fuchsia but was among the early prototypes it was tested on. The smart display made by Google runs on a different platform called Cast, unlike other smart displays which rely on the Android Things platform. To make it clear, Cast and Fuchsia are different platforms but the latter is expected to have some of the features of the smart speaker including an interface for direct actions and high dependency on voice controls. So, it can be believed to be a device launched to sense the general emotion of users about this experience.
Fuchsia Logo Resembles a ‘Q’
This last point might be too speculative but is still worth noting. The Fuchsia OS logo looks a lot like the letter “Q” and this wouldn’t be very striking unless Android Q was the next version of Android. So, does Google plan to replace Android Q with Fuchsia, or is it too soon?
Since Android Pie has come as a major change over Oreo, throwing Fuchsia at users could backfire, but we could still hope to see some active development along with Android Q. There have already been attempts to run Fuchsia on smartphones and Huawei’s sub-brand Honor was the first brand to have its device be a part of this testing.
Future of Fuchsia OS?
Now that we’ve learned about the past and the present of Fuchsia OS, a valid question to ask concerns the future of Fuchsia OS. Taking the words of Travis Geiselbrecht, a member of the Fuchsia team at Google, the company is not going to dump Fuchsia and seems to be pretty serious about it. With the developments like a separate SDK, special programming languages, a fresh kernel, and strong opposition to Linux, Fuchsia appears poised to take over the entire ecosystem of Google products – be it smartphones, laptops, or merely connected devices like Google Home and Google Home Hub. Fuchsia is an operating system to rule them all.
In the future, we could see Fuchsia being merged with other emerging technologies like cloud-based computing, ultra-fast 5G networks, quantum computing etc. to evolve as a collective and connected system of devices, such that the operating system does not run individually on each of the devices. Instead, this all-encompassing OS can be run as decentralized instances on each device, all of which work in unison.
This might sound like science fiction but there’s no rationale to deny it either. But among all of this, will we lose the ability to customize our user experience – as we do on an Android smartphone – or will an artificial intelligence customize it and suit it for our needs? This is something only time will answer, but we’ll keep on updating this article frequency with each major development in this area to keep you abreast with what the future holds for Fuchsia OS.