Android’s mainstay is of course phones and tablets, but Google’s platform is versatile enough that it can be used on a variety of devices outside of the traditional markets. With CES just days away, companies will soon be flooding the show floor with all manner of gizmos and widgets, some of them running Android.
Let’s take a look at the kind of Android products we might see at CES 2012 that aren’t phones or tablets.
Google had a really rough year in the home entertainment arena. Google TV essentially withered on the vine as Logitech and Sony took big losses on the platform. Google was also very slow to get the Honeycomb update out to the devices. This is the update that added support for the Android Market and actually made Google TV somewhat usable.
We wouldn’t go so far as to call CES 2012 a relaunch of Google TV, but it has been confirmed that LG, Sony, Samsung, and Vizio are going to be demoing Google TV at CES. LG has announced they will be selling Google TV-enabled sets in 2012. LG is going with a built-in strategy, not unlike Sony’s first round of Google TV sets. The new LG TV will be a polarized 3D unit, so no active-shutter glasses. Combining Google TV and 3D? It's either brilliant, or a recipe for utter failure.
There's no direct evidence as to what Sony, Samsung, and Vizio are doing. In the case of Vizio and Samsung, we would again expect Google TV to be built into new TV sets. This could go a long way to explaining Eric Schmidt’s recent comment that most TVs in the US this year will have Google TV built in. If Google TV can just be another software package on so-called “smart TVs,” that might be true. Google should use Netflix as a model, getting its software on anything that can possibly run it.
Sony is the only company that might be able to front a Logitech Revue successor. Logitech has made it clear it is going to have to hang back to lick its wounds for now. Sony makes plenty of Blu-Ray players, and the company made a player with Google TV last year. We would really like to see a box people can buy. If Google TV is going to have a shot with this refresh, it can’t just be embedded in new TVs.
For the longest time, Google required all certified Android devices to be phones. The devices needed to have a camera and a cellular radio. In late 2010, that policy started to shift, and now there are a precious few Android media players on the market. The most notable line is the Samsung Galaxy Player series. With Android riding high, expect some more OEMs to get in on the PMP fun.
One of the reasons iOS has become so huge is that the iPod Touch makes a great gift, and it doesn’t come with a data plan. A phone is a nice thing to get for someone, but you’re also handing them a monthly commitment to a carrier. A PMP is a slick device that frugal adults, or young ones can enjoy.
Getting the Android Market on more of these devices should be Google’s goal, assuming they will function correctly in the ecosystem. The more devices out there, the more money developers will make. If Google can make it easier for devs to make a living designing Android apps, that’s good for everyone involved.
There will likely be a few licensed devices, possibly from Samsung. But the usual cavalcade of Chinese ODMs will be around too. This year they will have access to Android 4.0 source code, though. Even without the Google apps, that kind of device might be a little more compelling.
Home tech and Android@Home
There are a few ways that Android could infiltrate your home in 2012, and CES is as good a place as any to show those things off. Maybe this is going to mean Android running your microwave, maybe it’s going to be Droid refrigerator. Last year several manufacturers like LG has some extra-smart appliances running Android.
It’s still not clear to us that people want these things, though. Some of the scenarios constructed by appliance-makers seem compelling at first. If the oven is Wi-Fi connected and has a recipe app, it could download the directions automatically. Neat, but is this added layer of complexity going to improve anyone’s cooking experience? Seems unlikely.
What might be a more interesting aspect of Android in the home would be the rarely mentioned Android@Home project. This was one of Google’s big announcements at Google I/O last year, but it faded from the limelight terribly fast.
The idea behind Android@Home is that every appliance and electronic device in your home will become part of a vast and powerful mesh network that will totally not turn against you 2001-style. Everything from your lights to the thermostat could be controlled and automated from your Android phone or tablet. Android@Home really wants to be the final word in home automation.
If this is going to happen, Google needs to get on it. At Google I/O we were told that the system would be in products by the end of 2011. Well, here we are in early 2012. Android device penetration is very high right now, and almost all new devices will be running a version of the OS that is compatible with Android@Home.
From the kitchen, to the TV, to your pocket, Android could be more than your phone or tablet in 2012. These kinds of products are always harder to sell people on, but if Google can use its might to get manufacturers to build Google’s technologies into devices, there may come a day when you can just assume the things you buy are Google-infused and you don’t have to think about it.