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A Netbook With Android: Far-Fetched or Coming Soon?

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nullWith 2008 coming to a close and CES just around the corner, I’m thinking about what 2009 will bring us. One idea, which at first may sound far-fetched, gets easier to believe if one considers two of the hottest trends right now: netbooks and Android (s goog). Could they actually go together, like peanut butter and chocolate? With help from Qualcomm (s qcom), another Open Handset Alliance member, they just might.

While netbooks are essentially small notebooks, the word “net” is part of their name for a reason. And as both cloud services and wireless broadband continue to mature, netbooks are poised to leverage both as portable, thin clients. But there are some challenges with today’s netbooks, among them the general lack of integrated wireless WAN connectivity, marginal battery life and operating systems that are made for desktops, not mobile devices.

So how would an Android-Qualcomm netbook address these challenges? Android currently runs on the T-Mobile G1, which is based on Qualcomm’s MSM7201A ARM11 mobile processor running at 528 MHz.

snapdragonlaptop4r Qualcomm, which also has a faster, dual-core chipset version with a 1.5GHz clock cycle, recently presented a Snapdragon-based concept netbook. While the concept netbook was running RedFlag Midinux, it shouldn’t be a big stretch for Google to port Android to Qualcomm’s faster Snapdragon chipset.

This solution also tackles the connectivity challenge. While Dell (s dell) and HP (s hpq) have recently started to add expensive, embedded wireless broadband module options to their netbooks, Snapdragon natively supports 3G connectivity on HSPA networks. Plus it includes GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It’s an all-in-one solution with one additional benefit over current Intel Atom-based (s intc) netbooks: It’s relatively power efficient. Qualcomm expects five or six hours on a single charge, which is double the average of today’s netbooks.

This scenario handles the hardware side of things, so what about the software? Clearly, Android is Google-centric and therefore optimized for a heavy web experience. In its current iteration it has a solid web browser, although the search giant could tailor a version of Chrome for a netbook-sized screen. It has a drop-dead simple and seamless software store in the Android Marketplace for third-party apps. Plus, it’s not a clunky desktop operating system that’s been sliced, diced or remixed for the smaller screen. Lastly and perhaps most interestingly, Android already supports a touch interface on the handset side; is it a coincidence that Qualcomm’s netbook concept device is a touchscreen convertible?

We already know that Google’s intentions aren’t to limit the Android platform to mobile phones. With the right hardware and expectations that these devices can truly be portable thin clients, an Android netbook might not be so far-fetched after all.

Related Post: Can Motorola’s big bet on Android pay off?

46 Responses to “A Netbook With Android: Far-Fetched or Coming Soon?”

  1. You cannot get Micro Soft Office on Linux Operating System. Office is a must for netbook users. You have limited access to downloads and programs with Linux because there aren’t enough programs for Linux and if you do have Linux and want a new program you have to start a course study on Linux programing just to get one program installed.

  2. I don’t understand what you are saying. Android runs on top of an OS using java. That OS is a linux-based kernel. Even the linux notebooks have something running on top to give the user an interface. Because it is java and linux it is possible to port over some of the linux apps to an android based device. As well, it is possible to use some existing java apps. More importantly, the java and linux-based developers can start to work on a more familiar but innovative architecture. So the best is yet to come.

  3. Anvarzhon Zhurajev

    I can see some commenters arguing that using Android as it is now makes less sense than it could. Right. Maybe. But this uses an assumption that there is no Netbook version of Android on its way. I am pretty sure, that it might jump into spotlight right out of the blue. As if current version of Android itself didn’t do so.

    In general, I am pretty much sold to what author writes. More processor platforms will come to netbook arena, along with new software platforms.

    I would not be surprised to see a netbook from Apple that uses iPhone-like OS rather than full-size OSX and uses those low-power processors made by company acquired last year (otherwise, why it would spend millions on such a company?) I guess that netbook success will force Apple to introduce their own, but they will do it in style and provide some extra stuff (with which they will take their Apple Tax) like docking station, or iPod-connector, automatic backup with Time Capsule etc…

  4. container

    1. android is efficient OS made explicitly for smartphones as they are *today* or in near future
    2. android’s killer use is in merging efficient OS with great (touch) UI and supply of applications to go with.

    If you put android to a PC you loose the most of the above:
    – the UI (the PC interface is just SO different from smartphone)
    – you have to rewrite the OS for more powerful hardware
    – the apps written specifically for the UI and power are not usable anymore.

    Android is written for today’ smartphone defined by a form-factor of the mobile user experience. You can’t put the same appliance in your pocket, on the table and in the living room. The same goes for apple iphone OS and Nokia Maemo platform.

    The question that is more interesting is how is Google (or anyone else?) going to achieve the holy grail of CROSS-PLATFORM personal information service. Why even care what platform does your smartphone, ultra portable pc, laptop, gaming machine, set-top box or kitchen sink have, when you can access all client computation power throught browser that has either Google Gears or Google Native Client.

  5. Google only did android b/c cellphone OSes suck. Cell phones have been around for 20 years and so has the internet, yet practically no one, save for iphone users, use the mobile internet. nobody (save for apple and google) have bothered to realize that people only use the mobile internet when the OS isn’t crap. the iphone comes pretty close to duplicating the desktop internet experience. google wants that experience in EVERY cellphone…not b/c they want OS market share…but b/c they want people to actually USE the mobile internet…Google knows that users inevitably gravitate to google on the web, but first they have to actually get people to use the mobile web. Its that simple. Save for operating costs, google gives android profits back to operators and cellphone co’s…that’s how much they don’t care about market share…they just want to facilitate a useful mobile internet experience so that people will eventually use google on the mobile web (their real money maker).

    Which leads to the point that google probably doesn’t care about netbooks, simply b/c the OS is perfectly usable and capable of accessing and navigating the internet (as its just a watered down laptop).

  6. Is this really speculation – the “cupcake” branch of Android includes “basic 486 support” – my guess is that we are closer than is described above.

    The other part which is overlooked is the netbox sector – which Asus is moving into quickly. Now what if we combined Android on a netbox with the linux edition of Boxee – that could really shake up the set-top market.

    More …

  7. Far fetched? No way – it’s a given! Think how long the battery would last with Android’s ultra efficient Dalvik bytecode and Chrome’s V8 javascript engine.

    What is speculation is any Net book using Android as its OS – the lack of an accelerometer. So many Android apps rely on it, not to mention “Compass Mode”, its almost a requirement. Other than the just released Mac Books, are there any laptops, Net books out now that have an accelerometer?

  8. HereAndNow

    Over the next 1-2 years, smartphone applications should become available for 90% of what is typically done on desktop machines (messaging, music, video, office apps, …). This 90% should satisfy 100% of a basic user’s needs.

    The issue then becomes size and processing power. When people are not on the move, they will probably want to have a bigger screen, a keyboard/mouse and more processing power.

    Users who are already have an Android smartphone and have 100% of their needs satisfied with it, will probably be comfortable with an Android netbook/notebook. Why would they want to deal with a different OS, viruses, spyware, disk defragementation, shorter battery life, slower operational speed, higher hardware & OS costs, etc., just to have Windows?

    Now that Android is gaining significant traction with the major smartphone vendors, I think the future for Android netbooks/notebooks will be VERY bright!

  9. Mike Cerm

    Instant-On is nice in theory, but I have an Acer Aspire One, and it wakes from Hibernate in less than 30 seconds. Longer battery lifre would be great, but the included battery already lasts 5 hours. If the trade-off to improve on those two stats is that I can’t run my usual suite of (Windows) applications, then I’m just not interested. If Linux is too much of a hassle (and judging by the netbook return numbers from a few months ago, it is), then I don’t really see much of a future for Android as a Windows substitute.

    A netbook/smartphone-hybrid makes about as much sense to me as a $4000 gaming laptop. For all that coin, you get frame-rates akin to a $800 desktop, in a package that you can’t carry around.

    It’s really a matter of what you think that a netbook should be. I use my netbook as a tiny laptop. It replaced my existing 12″ laptop. I want it to do all of the things that laptops do, but be as small and light as possible sacrificing the functionality that matters to me. I see a clear market for netbook-as-tiny-laptops, and it’s totally different from the all-day-in-your-pocket specialty-device market.

    In the future, I think that the typical power-user arsenal is going to be smartphone in the pocket, netbook in the briefcase (or backpack), and an old-school tower at home for those who really need to crunch numbers or game. The gamut of use-cases demands that there be those disparate markets and devices, and trying to put devices in the spaces between is costly and of limited use.

  10. Why run a mobile phone OS on a stripped down notebook ?

    What Android gives people is a good UI framework which is better than GTK + KDE/Gnome etc … But then the Androids UI is also created for a 3.5″ ish screen

    To create a netdroid – You would have to completely rewrite the UI framework for a laptop like device in which case what does Android give you? Any linux out there can be used ..

    Also you have to remember that the eeepc and the ilk launched with linux and only attained popularity when they started running windows. A customised os for netbooks is questionable mainly because the appeal of netbooks lies in the fact that it fits right in . You can run your apps on it if you need to. You do not have to wait for your favorite app to show up for the netbook.

    As for the cellphone connectivity. Writing a cellphone driver for windows and linux is not hard and infact there are plenty of notbook with built in 3g connectivity .. So Android does not really give you anything there either …