I wrote a column about a year ago (“Android is coming where you least expect”) talking about how the Android operating system (www.android.com) will have a place in applications other than handsets. When Google first developed the operating system (well, they purchased the company that developed the OS, but that's another story), it was clear that the company wanted to be a player in the handset space. And they've made some significant strides in that space (according to the lady sitting next to me on a recent flight, the Motorola Droid phone is the best thing ever invented).
It's not uncommon for one of the building blocks–Android in this case–to find its way into other areas of the embedded landscape. Embedded systems developers are a very resourceful group. If they think there's a better and more cost-effective way to produce a product, they're willing to give it a go.
I'm not endorsing Android here as the be-all, end-all OS for embedded devices, but it may be something that deserves a look. It's playing out in a similar fashion to where embedded Linux was a few years ago. Although Linux was touted as a so-so OS with a great price-free-we quickly learned that you get what you pay for. The investment in time and/or support proved to be higher than many people expected. Hence, Linux is used in lots of embedded applications, but it's far from omnipresent.
I expect Android to follow a similar path. We're now in the “let's see what it's all about” period. That fact was apparent at the recent Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley. We held a half-day tutorial on how to get started in an embedded design using Android as your OS. The class was packed to say the least. The next day at ESC, I moderated a panel called “What it takes to build a device using Android.” That, too, was packed. So there must be something to this phenomenon.
As was the case with Linux, some of the well-known operating system suppliers have either released or are readying a commercial version of Android or will support it in some fashion. That list includes Green Hills, Mentor Graphics, and Wind River. I expect, like Linux, it will have an impact, but only in certain niches. We'll have to wait and see how packed those classes are next year.
Richard Nass is editorial director of Embedded Systems Design magazine and the Embedded Systems Conferences. In a past life, he was editor in chief of Portable Design magazine and was a technology editor with Electronic Design magazine. He has a BSEE degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He can be reached at .