The Androidification of Everything

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.

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