The day we’ve been waiting for has finally come; while it may not have been as splashy of an event as we hoped, Google’s Fuchsia OS has been released for real devices. The question now is: where will Fuchsia go next?
Fuchsia in the smart home
Nearly five years after first being spotted, Google’s Fuchsia OS, long considered a skunkworks project, is now powering some Made by Google hardware in the wild. Starting with some devices in the preview program, the Linux-based “Cast OS” on the first-generation Nest Hub is being replaced with Fuchsia.
If Fuchsia’s rollout goes well — in this case, meaning almost no one notices that anything changed at all — it would only make sense for Google to switch out Cast OS on other Nest devices. Rather than needing to work on both Cast OS and Fuchsia to keep devices secure and up to date, Google could focus its efforts on Fuchsia.
Knowing that, let’s take a look at some of the devices we’ve seen Google work on supporting in Fuchsia over the years. Just keep in mind that Google working on support for a device does not necessarily mean that Fuchsia will be released for it any time soon or at all.
The first two devices spotted in development for Fuchsia were Astro and Gauss. While Astro ultimately panned out to be the Google Nest Hub, Gauss remained a mystery, which has since been removed from the Fuchsia code. Similarly, a device codenamed “Sherlock” ultimately released as the Nest Hub Max, while another named “Madrone” — which shared commonalities with Google’s Coral AI dev board — fizzled out.
Codenames “Eagle” and “Cleo” had a lot of hardware in common with the Lenovo Smart Clock before both were removed from the Fuchsia codebase. Later on, in 2019, we found that “Visalia” runs on the same AS370 chip as the Nest Mini we know today, while Fuchsia’s “Flapjack” gave us hints about the Chrome OS tablets that Google had in development before the commercial failure of the Pixel Slate.
Most recently, in 2020, Fuchsia gained a prototype called “Nelson,” which was later branched into “Selina,” the second-generation Nest Hub. Lastly, “Luis” appears to be Fuchsia’s codename for the “Touch Controller” in Lenovo’s Google Meet Series One lineup.
Paring down that list to just the Cast OS devices that are still supported in Fuchsia code today and haven’t been otherwise cancelled by Google, we have a decent list of possible devices for Fuchsia OS to launch on one day:
- Nest Hub Max
- Nest Mini
- Nest Hub 2nd Gen
Fuchsia on laptops and more
Of course, Google’s ambitions for Fuchsia reach far beyond the smart home. When we first got our eyes on the OS, it was testing an experimental new way of thinking about apps. Instead of focusing on the app itself, Fuchsia at the time had “stories” that were more about the things you were getting done.
Let’s use writing a research paper as a practical example. You open Google Docs to write, and Chrome to do some searching. For convenience, you open Recent Stories and drag together Chrome and Docs. This puts them together in a tab view, or you can have them in a split-screen configuration. You get to work and decide you need a place to keep notes. Simply open up Google Keep or Evernote and drag it into your Story. Now you can adjust your view to split however you think best, probably Google Docs on the left half and Chrome and your notes split horizontally on the right.
Since then, Fuchsia has steadily evolved, with the ambitious “Armadillo” interface being cancelled in 2018. While Armadillo may be gone, Fuchsia is still being designed with larger devices like desktops and laptops in mind. While far more barebones in appearance, Fuchsia’s “workstation” offers a simple launcher and window manager, which should be more than enough for developers who only need the bare minimum to test their apps.
Fuchsia OS for developers
Where Google has direct control over the sorts of things that run on its smart home devices, desktop and mobile devices have much more open ecosystems and need first-party and third-party apps to offer a good experience.
To an extent, Google is preparing for Fuchsia’s eventual launch outside of the smart home by working on “native” support for both Linux and Android apps. While this will help bridge the gap around launch, Google would undoubtedly want developers to create apps specifically for Fuchsia.
With that in mind, it’s interesting that Google did not choose to debut Fuchsia during its Google I/O developer conference last week. Simply put, this points to Google not yet being ready for the average developer to work with Fuchsia.
As it stands today, Google has only developed one way to create third-party Fuchsia apps, specific to programs built with C++. Meanwhile, Fuchsia’s usage of Flutter is currently in flux, shifting from a deep integration to something closer to Flutter’s ability to run on embedded platforms like a Raspberry Pi.
Looking ahead, Google has been developing Fuchsia’s “Integrator Development Kit” (IDK), which is aimed at making it easier for software development kits (SDKs) to support making Fuchsia apps.
This IDK contains a small set of libraries and tools required to start building and running programs that target Fuchsia. The contents of that IDK represent the most basic contract that the Fuchsia platform developers offer to prospective developers.
The Fuchsia IDK is not suitable for immediate consumption.
Before Google actively puts Fuchsia into the hands of the app developer public — beyond the long-existing ability to download the source code, build the OS, and try it for yourself — some more SDKs will need to be created based on the IDK.
More on Fuchsia:
- Google is officially releasing its Fuchsia OS, starting w/ first-gen Nest Hub
- Samsung is now a contributor to Google’s Fuchsia OS
- Google proposes way for Fuchsia OS to run Android and Linux programs ‘natively’
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