With 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.
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.
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