Reading the Tea Leaves

Anthony (@anthonyslai) has been on a roll lately, and his latest post reminded me to put words behind a hunch I have.

When the Chromebook Pixel was announced, a lot of head-scratching ensued. What’s the point of a fantastic piece of expensive, high-end hardware that runs an internet-tethered OS like Chrome OS? After all, Chromebooks have settled into a niche at the bottom of the device market, one where netbooks were once aimed.

Then, I heard that Google was giving Pixels to its employees. Obviously most Google’s employees are developers, and in order to do their work, they’d have to do development.

Prior to I/O, I fully expected that Google would announce a cloud-based IDE, which would explain why employees were given Pixels.

No such announcement came.

However, every I/O attendee received a Chromebook Pixel, which only strengthens my hunch that a cloud-based IDE is coming.

There were several announcements at I/O that contributed to this line of thinking.

First, Android Studio, a custom IDE for Android development based on IntelliJ IDEA, which will include hooks for Cloud Messaging and other Google services. Speaking of Google services, the Play Services APIs and Hangouts were also announced.

The former adds several features that are self-contained, allowing developers to upgrade apps without requiring newer versions of Android. The latter consolidates several messaging products and effectively removes support for XMPP in favor of the Hangouts API.

Google has been slowly backing away from open standards recently in favor of their own APIs, e.g. lost in the most recent Spring-cleaning announcement, which included Google Reader, was an announcement that the CalDAV API would be limited to a whitelist in favor of the Calendar API. Details are scant, but the loss of CalDAV support for calendar applications like iCal is kind of a big deal.

I/O this year focused squarely on developers, not on product. No new Android version was unveiled, but rather, existing Android apps, like Maps, Plus, Play Services and Hangouts, received major, version-independent updates. This points to alleviating a huge developer concern, fragmentation.

So, why give attendees an expensive paperweight in the Pixel?

The other shoe has to be a browser-based IDE that leverages the computing power of the Pixel with Google’s network infrastructure, while providing all Google’s APIs and services in one package, the ultimate ecosystem package for Android and possibly Chrome OS developers.

This isn’t all that crazy, given that services like App Engine already use Google’s infrastructure.

Should this IDE materialize, the key here is distributing the compilation workload between the machine and server, while minimizing the bandwidth consumption.

But if you happen to live in a Google Fiber city, you could develop on a Pixel and use Google’s bandwidth and server infrastructure, allowing Google to control even the transport of your code.

So, Google could have all the bases covered, providing an unprecedented development experience.

Anyway, I’m not a developer, but I play one sometimes. I’ve run this idea past a few developers, and it seems plausible, even a little bit desirable.

What do you think?

Find the comments.




  1. Cloud-based IDE from Google? I’m with you, thought we’d see it at I/O. Still expecting it literally any day.

  2. @Floyd: I wonder if Tim Cook’s commentary about opening (ever so slightly) their iOS APIs to developers has any bearing. Google has invested heavily into iOS development, which makes sense, so maybe they’re waiting to see what (if anything) they can include. Long shot, but possible. Also possible, maybe they’re waiting for a few more Fiber cities to go live.

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