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Summary:

While much has been made of Google’s Chrome OS and its potential, the adaptability of the Android OS is what makes it more disruptive than its shinier smartbook-oriented cousin Chrome. Its appeal to everyone from chipmakers to serial entreprenuers will be seen at CES.

A few days ago, Antonio Rodriguez, a Boston-based entrepreneur and founder of Tabblo, emailed to let me know that he was leaving Hewlett-Packard to go do something new. Rodriguez sold Tabblo to HP in 2007 and had been working on some cool stuff at HP, but now he’s decided that it’s time for him to head back to the startup ecosystem. We met when he was trying to get traction for Tabblo, but we have stayed in touch since, musing over the future of devices and user experiences. (Antonio chronicles many of his thoughts over on his blog.)

When I asked him what he would do next, he said that, while he is “definitely headed back into the startup ecosystem,” he was shy on details as he doesn’t have “a very specific plan yet.” Of course, he wants to help entrepreneurs in the Boston area, but most importantly, he’s “really keen to get back to the intersection of what is good about the consumer Internet and the physical world of products and services that consumers actually pay for directly.”

“I am equally excited by a couple of the opportunities I’ve been exposed to through the course of the “Androidification” of some of the products I oversaw this last year as the consumer CTO for VJ’s business,” he wrote in an email. (VJ is Vyomesh Joshi, VP of HP’s Imaging & Printing Group.) “Given how you know I think devices like the [iPod] touch represent the next wave in personal computing, you can imagine there is fertile ground here.”

Rodriguez is onto something. While a lot has been made of Google’s Chrome OS and its disruptive potential, it is becoming clear the adaptability of the Android operating system is what makes it more disruptive than its shiner smartbook-oriented cousin Chrome. Android’s versatility is going to be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), scheduled to be held in Las Vegas in January 2010.

Here is a list of some of the products that indicate that Android is quickly evolving from just a mobile OS to an OS for connected devices:

  • Some analysts believe that Nokia might launch an ARM-based netbook running Android in 2010.index_5itb_1.jpeg
  • Archos has launched a portable Internet tablet that uses Android.
  • Spring Design is going to launch Alex, an Android-based dual-screen e-book reader at CES.
  • MIPS Technologies will be showcasing first Android set-top box at CES.
  • ArcherMind of Nanjing, China, has produced an Android-based car navigation system.
  • Many Japanese consumer electronics companies are pushing Android into new devices using it primarily as an embedded OS.

The bigger indicator of momentum for Android is the excitement it has generated in the semiconductor industry. EETimes reports that, in addition to chip companies ARM and MIPS, semiconductor design firms such as Aricent and Mentor Graphics have established special Android-focused businesses. Freescale Semiconductor is working on an Android-based netbook design, as is Qualcomm.

rcjAlex.jpeg“As we continue to push Android into a broad range of consumer electronic products, we are building a complete partner infrastructure to offer a total MIPS-based Android solution to designers of next-generation connected devices,” Art Swift, vice president of marketing for MIPS Technologies recently told EE Times Europe. Even Asian wholesale manufacturers have started to play around with Android, which means it is only a matter of time before it starts showing up in dozens of CE devices.

Here is where folks like Rodriguez can play a big part: take the expertise of wholesale hardware manufacturers, a standard Android OS, and add their own software expertise to build something unique and useful.

What makes Android interesting for all these people? Here is what I said last year:

It’s not just an operating system, but comes with middleware and key applications, making it a complete environment that can be modified for other users. It has a robust web browser (based on WebKit), the ability to handle 2-D and 3-D graphics, and is able to read all sorts of audio, video and image files. As a result it can be extended into any number of consumer electronic devices that needed a robust software system.

A year later, I would add three more features that make Android attractive: ability to connect to wireless networks; option to use touch interfaces; and, most importantly, ease with which applications can be written for this platform. Think of it as a platform for mass customization!

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

  1. Great point but misses the bigger picture (IMO) – that we will see one universal UI across ALL of out devices going forward – where all personalization will move seamlessly across

    (See my post http://www.afpr.com )

    http://twitter.com/A_F

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    1. Andrew

      My view is that the universal UI is going to evolve — and that is why Android is going to win over Chrome. It will be more adaptable — it has capabilities to adapt. Of course, this is a good way for it to stand out against other embedded OSes as well.

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  2. @Om,

    I’ve mentioned this on other posts, but I think Android could be to the iPhone OS what Windows was to the Mac way back in the ’80′s. Call me nuts, but outside of more connected device types, Android is already featured on more phones (albeit none as successful as the iPhone when measured in total units sold).

    I understand your friends vision, and have been pursuing it already for a few years, though I was not aware of Android’s pending emergence when I began my entrepreneurial pursuits. ;-)

    My $.02.

    Happy Holidays!

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  3. Oh and btw..Androids touch interface is awful and has about half the features of iPhone multi-touch. Its also dog slow like the rest of Android. So I wouldn’t be touting that one just yet. Its looking to me like Android will beat out RIm, Windows Mobile, and Pre but that isn’t exactly a challenge given the awful state of those OS’. Which means Android will be the low cost smartphone for carriers who don’t have the iPhone.

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    1. Darwin and Scott,

      Just to clarify — if you look at all the announcements from chip companies, the focus is on the embedded side of the equation where a lot of proprietary OSes have ruled in the past. It is where we can expect Android to have an impact – it is open source and can be stripped down to meet the needs of lighter devices.

      So just to think of it as a big screen-oriented OS is doing Android a disservice. There is that “other” market not many pay attention to. Imagine the impact on Wind river.

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  4. Android itself isn’t dog slow. Some of the hardware it’s been on has been cheap and old ARM11 processors, such as the G1 and even the HTC Eris. The Droid and Nexus One have the latest processor and are much faster as a result.

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    1. iPhone os ran fine on arm11. meanwhile even the nook – an android device is beset by performance issues and sluggishness. The kindle which is Linux but not Android powered is much better.

      Anyway you slice it – Android is slower and more resource intensive than competing alternatives. since it is open source and full stack it is going to be used everywhere but like thenook do not expect great results unless you are willing to make up for the softwares defects by throwing more hardware at it.

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  5. Beats me why there still isn’t a “Droid Touch”, by either Moto or HTC. Just trade all the GSM stuff + micro SD slot for a SSD and you have a nice device…

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  6. I guess that’s why I own an iPhone? Please.

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  7. Your article should be more correctly titled:

    “The Applefliction of everything”-

    1st PCs, then Music & now cell phones- soon to be tablets.

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  8. One thing we should add into this debate is that the “Androidification” is not just about the touch display (a place where frankly even 2.1 lags the iPhone), but also the much easier platformto wire into cloud services that Android provides over the iPhone one. Why? Background processing for one. A system that is more configurable by OEMs that your typical embedded OS. And a whole load of other reasons as well. It is this advantage that makes Android more relevant in a world where the twin forces of change are mobile computing and cloud computing.
    My 2 cents.

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  9. I’ve been saying (mostly to myself) for over a year now that Android is not a competitor to Windows Mobile — it is a competitor to Windows. There’s no reason it couldn’t run on a notebook-class or even desktop-class machine, or on anything from a clock-radio on up.

    Conventional Linux could have had a piece of that, if it weren’t hobbled by its dependency on the X Window System. But switching away from X means leaving behind pretty much every GUI application ever written for Linux. It’s a terrible dilemma.

    But Android is Linux without the X baggage; it has a modern imaging system, including 3D based on OpenGL. And it is rapidly developing its own ecosystem of applications, with an app management system at least as good as RPM or APT.

    In my opinion, Android will be the Linux distro that finally lives up to Linux’s promise: to break the Windows client OS monopoly.

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  10. Hi Om,
    Agree with you 100%!

    I think where Android beats the iPhone is that app development is much easier, since developers program in Java. The fact that the OS is open source and free also allows companies to adopt it much as embedded devices were built on BSD/Linux. It has also let to an impressive hacker community around it – including folks like Cyanogen, Haykuro, etc.

    I have been waiting for Panasonic/vtech/Uniden to build a home phone based on Android. And for an Android equivalent for a Touch.

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    1. Being ‘open’ has not make any developer rich yet.

      And don’t we love open as in free….

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      1. but open makes the OEM’s rich(er). Windows Mobile costs like 15-30 bucks per device. Android costs 0.

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