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Android in Everything?

Google is taking no prisoners when it comes to the Android OS. It's already capturing smartphone users but what comes next? Could Android show up on computers, TVs, or on the LCD screen in your car?

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Google is making a splash with the Android OS that's starting to turn into a tidal wave.

It seems almost every week there is some new high-powered smartphone that runs on Android, such as the recently announced Motorola Droid 2. As covered recently in Inc. magazine, Android is also showing up on tablets that are hoping to dethrone the popular Apple -- perhaps by gang warfare.

This domination has made the pundits wonder: what comes next? Could Android show up on notebook and desktop computers, your next HD television, on the LCD screen in your car, and even as the operating system for your next oven? According to Ross Rubin, a smartphone analyst with NPD Group, Google has already shown Android running on a watch and other personal, low-power devices. It's not unthinkable to imagine Android taking on the big boys like Microsoft and Apple.

"Android's success will depend on a number of factors, including how well the dynamics of the category lend themselves to Android's strength, Android's support for a full Google experience on those devices, and the market acceptance of key applications that may be native to competitors," says Rubin.

That means: Android has a good chance if the market plays along. Still, the jury is still out on whether the OS can compete as a tablet operating system, and Rubin says Google has a tough road ahead, mainly because there is no app store yet for these brand new tablets. Yet, Rubin also says Android has strong prospects because the tablet market has many of the same "fluid dynamics" as smartphones, such as high product churn (consumers wanting a new device every few months) and early adoption.

Why Android, why now?

Dan Noal, a solutions architect at Wind River, a software company owned by Intel that works on embedded systems such as medical devices, cameras, and set-top boxes, says Google has nurtured Android over the years, built up strong developer relations, and (unlike Apple) given developers a degree of freedom to develop innovative applications with custom interfaces.

Noal says Android also hit a perfect storm with phones: right around the time it came out, one of the leading mobile platforms essentially died (Windows Mobile) and another went comatose (Nokia Symbian). That has led to new product categories, starting with tablets but also with recent set-top boxes such as the Logitech Revue (which runs on Android). Samsung recently touched on plans to experiment with Android as an OS for a future HDTV, according to a CrunchGear.com report.

Of course, Google also announced that Chrome OS will available for netbooks and notebooks soon, and the company hinted back in July of 2009 than Chrome and Android will likely merge. (The two operating systems probably share a common Linux code base.) Some netbooks, such as the Acer Aspire D250, came with an option to run Android or Windows when you first boot the machine.

Is it flexible enough?

In my tests, Android running on a netbook or tablet is a bit clunky -- the OS is designed for a smaller screen, and apps tend to look pixelated or don't format correctly for the larger 7-inch screen.There's some question about whether Google can really make Android work for a variety of devices.

That said, Android has one major advantage over other operating systems, including those from Microsoft: the licensing costs are much lower, according to Noal. However, Android likely will not show up on dishwashers, ovens, and other appliances since those product categories can usually get by with a leaner and less powerful OS, usually based on Linux and without any licensing fees.

Still, there is one last proving ground for Android: your automobile. Rubin disagreed with the idea, saying most car makers have established relationships with companies like QNX. However, the ease of connection between a car navigation screen and your phone makes sense.

"There is no doubt that Android will find its ways into cars. While there are special considerations unique to the auto industry, those in the industry have already had discussions and started looking into Android for aftermarket auto electronics, such as car navigation systems," says Noal.

In the end, Android may not reach total world domination. It has a long road ahead in the laptop space, will compete with iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry in the smartphone category, and probably won't work for appliances and small electronics like clock radios. But it will continue to gain market share, says Rubin, and could even enter that rare legion of top market share.

 

Last updated: Dec 6, 2010

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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