Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Google's Android Rampages Beyond Mobile

What started as an OS for cell phones is fast becoming able to control a whole lot more.

  • May 10, 2011

The Google keynote at its I/O event today started with boasts about how many Android devices have shipped–100m, almost all of them phones. Almost everything else said and demoed on stage underlined the fact that Android is about to extend its robotic tentacles far beyond just mobile devices. Those tentacles look set to tweak the technological noses of a slew of other companies and products that might have reasonably thought themselves beyond Android’s reach.

Amazon’s cloud music store, launched less than two months ago, is one. Google unveiled its own version that is much the same–users upload their digital music and can stream it from anywhere–but with slicker desktop and mobile apps and without a store to buy new music.

A new movie rental service delivered through the Google’s Android Market–on the web as well as tablets, phones and later Google TV–brings Google’s store closer to Apple’s iTunes. Both now offer apps, movies and books; only music is missing from Google’s offering. Movie rental and streaming service Netflix will also be paying close attention.

An upgrade to the most recent version of Android due this summer - Honeycomb 3.1 - and the version after that due in winter - known as Ice Cream Sandwich - bring new features that may trouble newly-minted Microsoft product Skype as well as the company’s console gaming division and its competitors.

The refreshed Honeycomb will enable Android devices to make use of USB devices in the same way as a desktop computer: anything from keyboards to webcams and joysticks will work. When Ice Cream Sandwich arrives it will bring some impressive software that can track a person’s head and eyes using a webcam, making it possible to create a 3D experience.

It wasn’t mentioned on stage, but a tablet and joypad hooked up to a TV could probably deliver a great gaming experience and Android looks set to make that possible. What’s more, Google TV devices will be getting these capabilities later in the year, along with access to the Android Market. It may not be long before you can plug a joypad into a Google TV device and take your pick of games from the app store to use it like a console. The potential for that–and for players to use the touchpad or motion sensors in their tablet or phone as controllers, too–should have game developers fizzing with new ideas. It may be less welcome news to companies like Nintendo.

Combine all that with other tech announced today that will have Android devices control everything in your home from lighting to irrigation–as detailed in this story–and it becomes difficult to think of that cute green robot representing a mobile operating system any more.

Rather, Android is being pitched as the operating system, for a future brought to you by Google.

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