Blog Post

Will Google's Android Power the New Fourth Screen?

android-logoBack in the late 1990s, Microsoft (s MSFT) introduced its Windows CE embedded operating system. While aimed primarily at PDAs and pre-netbook devices, it quickly spread to be included in additional devices, among them point-of-sale systems and medical equipment, and has become the core of many other Microsoft products as well. Google’s (s GOOG) Android may have a similar impact, expanding beyond its mobile phone core focus to other network-connected devices, such as set-top boxes, netbooks and digital frames. John Roese, former CTO of Nortel, discussed this new class of broadband devices in his post, Broadband’s Kindle Paradigm.

I came to this conclusion after our Mobilize conference, and outlined it in a post entitled Where Will Android Go Next? We’ve already heard of efforts to port Android to netbooks — but today it appears another, more important milestone has been reached. Moto Development Group Motorola (s MOT), which is banking on Android to save it, says its Moto Labs has succeeded in making Android work with E Ink display screens. E Ink is an electronic paper display technology with a paper-like, high-contrast appearance, ultra-low-power consumption and a thin, light form; Moto Labs has developed a way to marry Android to the E Ink development kit. And while the fruits of this labor won’t show up in a commercial product for some 12-18 months, it’s still big, big news.

Why? Because now you can have this low-power screen device updated via wireless Internet access. Marry that to touch-based interface and the opportunities are endless.

k2kindleYou could theoretically get your newspaper delivered in electronic form, wirelessly, with an e-Ink display married to a 3G mobile phone, many times a day. It’s a scenario that my former Business 2.0 boss, Josh Quittner, touched on in a very prescient story for Time entitled “The Race for a Better Read,” in which he talked about how the future of print was in appgazines.

That’s why I believe the old print business ought to take advantage of what’s doable now so that it’s ready to provide a new reading experience once the iPod of readers finally arrives. For magazines like this one, that means creating hybrids — what I’ve come to think of as “appgazines” — that act more like computer programs than Web or printed pages.

Indeed, if you take all the emerging technology trends — multitouch, wireless connectivity, cheap silicon, better batteries, location-based services and a move toward open-source operating environments — and marry them to the explosion of digital information taking place, what you have is the opportunity for yet another screen in our increasingly digital lives.

And suddenly Amazon’s (s amzn) Kindle stops being just another e-book reader. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jeff Bezos and his crew are miles ahead of the competition.

Related Posts:

* A netbook with Android: far fetched or coming soon?
* Where will Android go next?
* Android: What it means, what experts think.
* Keynote by Google Android co-founder Rich Miner at our Mobilize conference.
* GigaOM Interview with Jeff Bezos.
* GigaOM Interview with Ian Freed, VP of Amazon Kindle.

38 Responses to “Will Google's Android Power the New Fourth Screen?”

  1. Hi,

    I am looking for a Philips 7FF1M4 digital photo frame but am currently struggling to find one anywhere, or to find anywhere that has a good review. Do you know anywhere you can point me to that will provide one of these please?

    Many thanks

  2. Hi there,

    I showed Android running with an E-Ink display a while back, video and picture here: ,
    and in my implementation, I don’t need a 2nd cpu (beagleboard) with a USB interface and I don’t need an external keyboard since the device already has a touchscreen! It wasn’t particularly hard, just a couple of drivers which I have posted as open source ( ) and are merged into the arm Linux kernel. I’ve started working on a mobilephone adapter kit so drop me an email if folks are interested in collaborating on that effort.


  3. javafx is really cool …………….one single profile for j2me (mobile applications ) and desktop applications .and runs on top already installed huge installed base …..why to waste so much time on developing applications for each platform when there existing platforms like javafx and j2me

  4. Wow! Seriously, wow! As a library sciences student, I can see a wide range of applications for the so-called “Library 2.0.” Digital public libraries, libraries in the cloud, whatever you want to call it.

    I have to admit though, it could be ominous for Apple. I will laugh, cry and then hurl carrot chunks if Google Android eclipses Apple’s iPhone OS the same way Microsoft Windows overshadowed Mac OS back in the day. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

  5. Symbian has a big potential but potential is locked for Nokia on the name of security. The day Nokia opens potential for developers things won’t take much time to turn around. My company just moved from Symbian to Android because of their locked code.

    Open Source/Symbian foundation can be helpful for OEMs but developers have no joy until Nokia give access to their locked APIs.

    Will Nokia wake up? Being 4 years of Symbian developer and now Android developer I personally don’t think so but you never know what comes next

  6. Nice to see Android expanding into embedded OS’s, I am not sure they are really that different than Symbian and WinCE. Certainly with Symbian going open source it will be very comparable.

    The bigger problem is the resolution of the multi-touch patent (Apple, Palm???) as I believe it still delivers a compelling and differentiated UI. This will take a few years, so the advantage is with Apple in the meantime.

  7. I don’t think Bezos and Amazon get proper credit for the amount that they do. They are leading in multiple semi-unrelated areas: online commerce platform, cloud services infrastructure, and consumer electronics. And they do all three very very well.

  8. Josh Quittner

    Thanks for the shout-out Om. Great post. One thing to note: The upcoming Plastic Logic device, which also uses e-ink and enjoys a wireless connection like the Kindle to a high-speed data network, is built on Windows CE, too.

  9. It stands to reason that as virtually every home has wireless broadband via wi-fi there will be a whole category of devices (I euphemistically call the category wall widgets) that have a UI, can consume/present internet feeds of all kinds and which are manage-able (tune-able). While I have speculated that this is a category that Apple could stretch iPhone software to support, Android is a natural as well. In theory you could have lots of screens in your house.

    Here is a post on the topic if interested:

    Wall Widgets: Fixed Wireless at Home