A Fuchsia Future? Part Four: What Now?
Fuchsia is not just a difficult-to-spell name of a color. It is also the name of a “skunkworks” project inside of Google building a next-generation operating system for all form factors. This week, I’ll explore various aspects of this and my expecations of its impact on Android developers and apps.
Today, I’ll look at what I think that you should be doing now, with respect to Fuchsia.
What you should be doing depends a lot on who you are.
Keep an eye out for concrete signs that Fuchsia will ship. Obviously, the “gold standard” sign would be if Fuchsia actually ships, at least at the level of developer preview hardware. However, things like a Kotlin/Dart target would be a strong positive indicator in my mind. News reports of hirings and stuff, by contrast, are interesting data points but are far too squishy to give me much incremental confidence.
Authors of Existing Android Apps
Unless your app is in desperate need of a rewrite, there is no need to race to create a Flutter edition of your app. In all likelihood, Fuchsia will be able to run Android apps, at least to the degree that Chrome OS can. Plus, in all likelihood, it will be a year or two after production hardware ships before there are significant numbers of Fuchsia users. You are unlikely to “miss the boat” if you are not using Flutter on the first day.
There may be some element of “first-mover advantage” for having a Flutter app when Fuchsia ships. This will depend on how well Fuchsia runs Android apps. If Android apps behave fairly normally, such that Flutter apps are not seen by users as a significant improvement, then there will be little first-mover advantage. If Fuchsia cannot run Android apps at all, or does so extremely poorly, then Fuchsia may fail in the marketplace, and so aggressively moving to Flutter might make you a big fish in a rather small pond. The “sweet spot” for first-mover advantage is where Fuchsia runs Android apps well enough to sell OK, but there is a noticeable advantage to Flutter apps. Your guess is as good as mine as to where Fuchsia will land on this spectrum of Android compatibility.
Developers (Developers, Developers)
There is somewhat greater “first-mover advantage” at the level of an individual developer. Developers who set themselves up to be Flutter “thought leaders” may be able to have lots of success if Fuchsia ships and succeeds. I am a fine example of this: I bet heavily on Android 11 years ago, and by many measures, I have had some success. Others have as well. There will be those who replicate that result with Fuschia.
Even if you decide not to race to Flutter, if Fuchsia does look like it will ship, it will be a good idea to understand what it will take to create Fuchsia-native apps using Flutter (whether using Dart, Kotlin, or something else). If Fuchsia comes to pass and serves as an Android replacement, there may be a lot of work in the 2020’s porting Android apps to Flutter.
Privacy and Security Advocates
Here, things get murky fast. On the one hand, Android is arguably the most successful open source operating system ever. On the other hand, it is plagued by privacy and security problems. We will need to keep an eye on:
What does the mix of open source and proprietary code look like? On Android, Google Play Services and proprietary Google apps make up an ever-growing share of the Android code base.
How will Fuchsia compare to Android and Chrome OS with respect to app distribution? From a privacy standpoint, being able to install apps without having to use the Play Store has advantages. However, the ability to load apps from other distribution channels has security impacts. Chrome OS is a “walled garden” at present, akin to iOS, and if Fuchsia is the same, then we will need to determine how best to deal with that.
How much of Fuchsia is “Google’s way or the highway”? For example, using a push messaging solution other than Firebase Cloud Messaging is difficult on Android and might result in your app being banned from the Play Store. This forces all push communications to go through Google’s infrastructure, which in turn poses problems for privacy. Having pre-installed Googly options is reasonable; blocking competition for those options is, well, anti-competitive.
Competitors may have a window for stealing market share. If Fuchsia comes to pass and Google somehow screws it up, that may “take enough wind out of the sails” of Android+Fuchsia to open up opportunities for something else. Obviously, Apple and iOS would stand to benefit. But if other manufacturers had some other option at the ready — a Chromium phone, perhaps? — then there might be a chance to get another entrant into the mobile device OS space. However, competitors can’t wait to see if Fuchsia fumbles and only then try to compete, as by the time they get a competing solution to market, either Fuchsia will be fixed or some other entrant will have grabbed the available market share.
Antitrust regulators looking at Google’s behavior with respect to Android need to ensure their consent decrees and similar demands for behavior changes are not limited to Android. What good will blocking anti-competitive behavior for Android do if Android gets replaced by Fuchsia?
Users will just need to bide their time and focus on the devices of today, worrying less about the devices of tomorrow.
As for me, I’ll be watching along with everyone else, waiting to see if and when it makes sense to invest in Fuchsia.
This concludes my series of posts on Fuchsia, though I’ll write about it more in the future if interesting stuff happens. If you are tuning in late, the other posts were:
- Part One: Build One (or Two) to Throw Away
- Part Two: Is It Soup Yet?
- Part Three: A Tale of Two Languages
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