First, it’s worth going over exactly what Fuchsia is, because it’s been quite a while since we talked about it. As opposed to all of Google’s other OSes, such as Android and Chrome OS, Fuchsia uses the company’s new ‘Magenta’ kernel instead of Linux. According to the project’s documentation, Magenta is designed for “modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of ram with arbitrary peripherals doing open ended computation.”
Magenta’s apps and the system interface are written with Google’s Flutter SDK, which was initially designed to create cross-platform apps for iOS and Android. Flutter applications are written in Dart, the company’s home-grown programming language. All of the system and apps are rendered by ‘Escher,’ which uses OpenGL or Vulkan to display everything.
The ‘Armadillo’ interface
So, on to the new stuff. Fuchsia’s system UI has a new name – ‘Armadillo.’ Ars Technica was able to compile Armadillo into an Android APK, since it is written with the above-mentioned Flutter SDK. The interface doesn’t really do anything besides looking pretty, but it does give us an idea of what the finished product could look like.
The home screen is a vertical list, with a profile picture, the time, and a battery indicator in the center. Tapping the profile picture brings up something similar to Android’s Quick Settings, with toggles for auto-rotate, do not disturb, Airplane Mode, and so on.
Above the profile picture is the ‘Story,’ which the documentation describes as “a set of apps and/or modules that work together for the user to achieve a goal.” Currently, this works similarly to Android’s Recents screen. Users will also be able to combine stories into a ‘Story Cluster.’
Dragging a Story card onto another one triggers a split-screen mode. The user can split an app 50/50 vertically or horizontally, drag in another app for a 33/33/33 split, or even have a tab bar appear for using all the open apps in full-screen. You can even have two apps split vertically next to two other split apps, seen below. This is far more flexible than Android’s current multi-tasking functionality, but whether or not it will stay this way is uncertain.
Below the profile picture is a panel resembling Google Now, with a placeholder search bar and suggestion cards. Armadillo’s documentation says, “a suggestion is a representation of an action the user can take to augment an existing story or to start a new one. [The] suggestion contains enough information to create the visual representation of that concept.” So maybe they will work more like an app launcher? It’s hard to tell at this point.
Google Fuchsia: What does it look like? Watch the video
Fuchsia has already been given an early user interface with a card-based design,which posted a video and images of the yet-to-be-announced software. The interface is reportedly called Armadillo. It was actually first discovered by Kyle Bradshaw at Hotfix.
Google Fuchsia: What devices might it power?
The current school of thought is that Fuchsia is a new OS that could unify Chrome OS and Android into a single operating system (something that’s been heavily speculated since 2015. Reports have claimed that OS will release in 2017. That said, Google’s own documentation describes the software as targeting “modern phones and modern personal computers” with “fast processors” and “non-trivial amounts of RAM.”
Fuchsia is also built on Magenta, a “medium-sized microkernel” based on a project called LittleKernel, which is meant for embedded systems, such as a device that has a specific purpose but doesn’t require a whole OS, like a router or watch. Also, the two developers listed on Fuchsia’s GitHub page – a senior software engineer at Google and a former engineer on Android TV and Nexus Q – are well-known experts in embedded systems.
Furthermore, Google’s documentation notes Magenta supports user modes, graphics rendering, and a “capability-based security model”. Although all this points to Fuchsia being an OS for Wi-Fi connected gadgets, Google already has an IoT platform called Android Things. Also, Ars Technica has compiled the Armadillo system UI, and it seems like Fuchsia is intended to be a smartphone or tablet OS.
Google Fuchsia: Will it replace Android?
Possibly. Android is riddled with problems that Google has yet to fix. First, there’s fragmentation caused by hundreds of different devices from dozens of manufacturers using different, tweaked versions of Android rather than the latest, pure version. Second, there’s an update problem. Google has an annual release schedule for Android updates, but it takes about four years for an update to fully flood the ecosystem.
Although many of these problems are related to Android being open source – which means Google gives it to OEMs and carriers and lets them tinker with it and load it onto random hardware, resulting in fragmentation, as Google can’t then decide to push Android direct to these devices if any modifications and tinkering has been done – another problem is that Android is based on Linux.
Linux is not only old but is dogged by many legal issues – and subsequent licensing fees from Android hardware OEMs eat away at profit margins. The Linux kernel was also not originally designed for smartphones and IoT devices, and yet the kernel’s been completely tweaked and loaded onto those devices, creating a prime environment for bugs and vulnerabilities to grow.
A new operating system and platform would solve all these issues. It wouldn’t be shackled by pricey patent licensing deals. It would be safer, built, and optimised for today. It could also be modular and truly unified, meaning it would work across many devices. Google could even begin licensing it to hardware developers, solving those fragmentation and update problems.