In advance of his upcoming webcast and the Android Open conference, I asked “Learning Android” author Marko Gargenta to weigh in on Android’s future. Below he offers three predictions that focus on Android’s expansion beyond mobile devices.
Prediction 1: Android controls the home
Marko Gargenta: Google painted their vision of Android @ Home at the last Google I/O. I think this has huge potential to make Android the de-facto controller for many other devices, from lights to music players to robots and factory machinery. We are seeing the first stage with numerous home security systems being developed using Android, as well as set-top boxes powered by Android. At the moment, many of these devices simply use Android as a replacement for embedded Linux and they’re still just self-contained devices.
In the second stage, manufacturers will start exposing libraries so developers can build custom applications for their devices, effectively turning them into platforms. I predict this will happen later this year as manufacturers realize the power of letting users hack their systems. The latest case study with Microsoft Kinect should help pave the way.
In the third stage, various devices will be able to interact with one another — my phone can detect my TV and my TV can communicate with my stereo. This will take a bit longer to get to as we still don’t have common protocols for this type of communication. We also run the risk of companies developing their own proprietary protocols, such as a Samsung TV only talking to a Samsung phone, etc. Compatibility may require Google stepping in and using the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) as a tool to enforce common protocols.
Prediction 2: Wearable Android
Marko Gargenta: The form factor for Android boards is getting to be very small and the price of the actual chipset is approaching the $100 point for a full-featured device. This allows for development of wearable Android-powered devices. Some of them will be for fashion purposes, such as watches. Others will be for medical and safety applications. I predict that toward the end of this year we’re going to start seeing high-end fashion accessories based on Android. We may not be aware they are Android-powered, and we may not be able to develop for them. At the same time, early medical devices will emerge, initially for non-critical applications. These will likely be closed, purpose-built systems with little opportunity for development or extension.
Prediction 3: Android and networked cars
Marko Gargenta: This is the next big frontier for Android to seize. The car industry is now at the point where the mobile phone industry was 5-10 years ago. People are going to want more from their car systems as they realize that things like Google Maps beat any stock navigation system. Consumers will want car-based connectivity to the Internet as well as apps.
The first stage of networked car development will involve using Android to build proprietary systems. This is already underway with commercial systems being built for cars without users even knowing the systems are based on Android. The second stage will involve connecting the cars to the Internet. This can be done in a couple of ways: cars can have radios with their own connections to the Internet or a driver’s mobile phone can be tapped for online access.
Whatever approach we take, 4G and LTE network developments will help the process quite a bit. Once the cars are connected, manufactures will have the opportunity to open up kits for developers to build purpose-built applications for those systems. It is likely that manufacturers may tightly control what apps are allowed into what vehicles by running their own proprietary app stores with strict policies and quality control. This is simply the nature of the auto industry to self-police itself and focus heavily on testing the software. It is not very likely that we’ll be able to simply download car apps from a major app market right away.