Google, after Android and Chrome OS is apparently hard at work on a third operating system for the smartphones. This one is an open source, real-time OS called Fuchsia. First popped up in August last year, just a command line, Fuchsia now has a new UI we can look at.
Starting from the basics, Fuchsia isn’t something like Android and Chrome OS because it uses a new, Google-developed micro-kernel called Magenta, which hasn’t been used before. With Fuchsia, Google would not only be dumping the Linux kernel, but also the GPL: the OS is licensed under a mix of BSD 3 clause, MIT, and Apache 2.0.
Google describes Magenta as targeting “modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of RAM with arbitrary peripherals doing open-ended computation.” The company hasn’t made any public comments on why Fuchsia exists, leaving us only to speculate.
Fuchsia System UI: Armadillo
The Fuchsia OS interface is written with the Flutter SDK, which produces cross-platform code that runs on Android and iOS. This means that, right now, you can grab chunks of Fuchsia and run it on an Android device. Fuchsia first went public in August 2016, and but back then it was nothing more than a command line.
Right now, the source code of Fuchsia can be downloaded and compiled into an Android APK and install it on an Android device. But except a home screen along with a keyboard, a home button, and a window manager, nothing really works. At GitHub, there’s a readme file that describes what exactly is going on.
The Fuchsia OS home screen is a vertical scrolling list. In center there is a placeholder for a profile picture, the date, a city name, and a battery icon. Above home screen, there are “Story” cards — basically Recent Apps — and below it is a list of suggestions.
Tap on the profile picture and it brings up a menu that’s a bit like Android’s Quick Settings. The top row of icons shows the battery and connectivity, while the below row shows sliders for volume and brightness, and icons for airplane mode, do not disturb, and auto rotate. You can interact with the buttons and sliders, but they won’t actually do anything on Android.
Above the profile section on home screen, the UI shows a bunch of cards labeled Story. The stories are described as “a set of apps and/or modules that work together for the user to achieve a goal.” Tapping on any card loads it up as a full-screen interface.
The list which is sorted by “last opened”, also has some window-management features. You can long press on a card and drag it around, and dropping it on top of another app, triggers a split screen mode.
The split screen system seems really capable. You can do a 50/50 split vertically or horizontally. Drag in a third app and it splits in to 33/33/33 horizontally or vertically, or a 50/50 split next to a full-height app, or a have a tab bar appear for the three full screen interfaces. You can keep dragging in apps until the whole thing crashes.
The bottom panel which is much like Google Now has a search bar mock-up and tapping on it brings up a keyboard, which is a custom Fuchsia interface keyboard. It has a new, dark theme, and things like long-pressing for symbols or settings do not work.
Right below the search bar mock-up, there are several suggestion cards, which seem different than Google Now’s news, weather, and calendar suggestions though, with the docs saying “Conceptually a suggestion is a representation of an action the user can take to augment an existing story or to start a new one.” That almost makes it sound like an app launcher.
Here’s a preview video of Fuchsia OS Armadillo:
Fuchsia has a long road ahead of it. Back in August when the OS went public, Geiselbrecht told the Fuchsia IRC channel that, “The Magenta project [started] about 6 months ago now”. Going by the time stamp of Android – which hung around inside Google for about five years before it was launched – if Fuchsia follows a similar path, then we can expect a product sometime around 2020.