But if the Alpha 680 is any indication, it might not be so easy to make Android work smoothly on a netbook. Solis says that early demonstrations suggest that the operating system needs work in order to run properly on the Skytone device. “Android isn’t ready,” he says. “They need to do work to make it run well on a netbook.”
The main problem revolves around the user interface. “Making the UI work well is exceptionally hard,” says Mark Murphy, an Android developer and contributor to the Android Guys blog. It’s a matter of making sure that the hardware and software communicate effectively with each other, and it’s a different case for each device. One issue is ensuring that the interface and applications adjust appropriately to the larger screen size of a netbook. Also, Murphy says, Android is designed for touch screens, directional pads and trackballs as pointing devices.
While a majority of mobile-device manufacturers are publicly supporting Android, it’s not as clear which major laptop companies might choose ARM and Android over Intel’s Atom and Windows. Still, as rumors of other Android devices start to emerge, there will be more pressure for the operating system to perform, for both developers and consumers. It’s important that there’s some consistency in the way that Android is implemented, says Chetan Sharma, an analyst who runs his own firm in Issaquah, WA. Otherwise, he says, developers will need to pick and choose a particular version of Android to work with instead of being able to contribute across the board. For their part, consumers expect reliable, easy-to-use software, Sharma adds.
“A moment of truth is coming for Android,” says Sharma. “If all of the applications are developed seamlessly, then that means that fragmentation issues that have plagued the mobile industry are on the path to being resolved.” Still, he cautions, device manufactures will need to tweak Android for their own products, which “might create different flavors of Android.”
But whether Android will be ready or not, cheaper netbooks are on their way, predicts Kevin Burden, another analyst at ABI Research. Consumers “want these things to be $150. They want to let their kids bang away on them, and when they break, they’ll just throw it away and buy another one,” he says.
Moreover, low-end netbooks could find their way into emerging markets such as China and India, says Solis. “It opens up to people who can afford a $200 netbook, but not one that’s $500.”