Android's next target could be the desktop

Posted by Ron Miller on Jan 21, 2014 9:49:00 AM

HP Slate21 Pro AiO running Android.Android already owns over 80 percent of the the world mobile market, so what can it possibly do for an encore? 
How about going after the desktop?

At CES, the huge consumer electronics show in Las Vegas earlier this month, several vendors were showing off Android PCs. But is there a market for such a device? There just might be, but it depends on who you ask.

Last year at CeBIT in Germany, I saw some novelty machines running Android, but it was more a proof of concept than a product. This year, that's all changed, and companies like HP and Lenovo are offering PCs running Android. Of course, Google is already selling PCs and laptops running Chrome OS, so it's fair to ask if there's room for another desktop OS from the same company.

For starters, there has been talk for some time of expanding Chrome OS to allow users to run Android apps. James Kendrick, writing on ZDNet a year ago, speculated that we might see a merging of the two products or at least a shift in which Android apps are allowed to run under Chome OS. I haven't found any evidence that's the case yet, but moving Android to the desktop makes sense on at least one level.

With millions of people around the world using Android phones, having a phone that links easily to the desktop surely has some value. It would in some ways mimic what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8, in having an OS that at least has a similar look and feel across devices.

Microsoft was hoping that Windows phone would resonate with people who are already using Windows on the desktop, and while that hasn't happened yet in big numbers, Microsoft surely recognized that they could benefit by linking the desktop and mobile experience. Why wouldn't Google want to test a similar strategy?

It's possible that Google will have as much success on the desktop as Microsoft has had in mobile, which is to say not very much because people buy these devices for different reasons. 

Preston Gralla, writing on Computerworld, thinks putting Android on the desktop is a horrible idea, even though he's used a fair number of Android devices. He sees the complexity of Android - something that might appeal to some phone users - as a barrier on the desktop. That has also been a long time criticism, rightly or wrongly, of Linux operating systems on the desktop.

He also sees the need to be touch-enabled as a big drawback. Of course, Microsoft has already taken this approach on the desktop, but the touch-enabled part does seem to confuse some users. 

Gralla's biggest criticism is the lack of Android productivity apps, which means it might be a tough sell in business where PCs still get a heavy amount of use. Fair enough, but at least some vendors are looking at the Android options. HP for instance has come out with a full line of Android powered business computers

For my money, I could see Chrome OS emerging with some ability to emulate Android and run the apps to give it more utility. We are already seeing Chrome OS emerge as a popular OS that has Microsoft worried. But I have trouble seeing where another OS would fit in Google's computing strategy.

To be fair, I haven't seen Android running on the desktop yet, but I believe Google would be wise not to mess with Chrome OS's growing popularity by muddling their product strategy and confusing potential buyers with multiple products.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HP.

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