Android goes well beyond handsets - Embedded.com

Android goes well beyond handsets

In developing consumer electronics and embedded devices with operating systems such as Linux, developers must painstakingly customize their software for devices to be production-ready. This process can take a significant amount of time and resources to meet increasingly small windows of opportunity. Due to the fragmented natures of Linux and proprietary systems, applications tend to be device-specific, and in this environment, only the largest companies with substantial in-house software development teams can port applications across multiple devices.

Android as an open-source platform supported by Google provides a rich, well-defined software stack that allows easy application development and portability across a wide variety of embedded devices. It removes the barriers created by the fragmentation of Linux development and creates a single framework on top of Linux to allow applications to be written once and run on many devices. Android has the potential to bring a vast array of applications to consumer electronics devices that weren't previously possible. With it, companies no longer need to invest millions of dollars in feature and application development to compete with the world's largest OEMs.

iTunes, Windows Mobile, OVI, and now Android
Availability of a wide range of applications for a large number of platforms leads to broader industry adoption. This success is driving consumer electronics companies outside the mobile handset space to consider this model for device development. Until now, digital home devices such as DTVs, set-top boxes and Blu-ray players have primarily been closed systems with limited applications such as program guides, DVR, and service messages. Android will bring a full Internet experience to these devices, enabling compelling platforms for internet content such as digital pictures, video, music, news, weather, calendar, and traffic. Existing Android applications can be downloaded for a customized user experience, and as Android continues to develop for devices beyond handsets, developers will create a broad set of new applications.

Developers are also looking to Android to enable user interfaces in a number of other embedded platforms that require user interactivity and visual presentation, such as multi-function printers, kiosks, point of sales systems, and digital signage. Android provides a license- and royalty-free way to create simple user-intuitive interfaces for these types of devices. For example, multi-function printers, which have historically been peripherals to PCs, are becoming more intelligent, standalone devices where the PC is potentially not even needed. For example, people can connect their digital camera to a printer, then view, edit, upload to Facebook, and print their pictures without going through a cumbersome PC boot-up. Android can help drive this transition as it enables a rich, intelligent, and user-friendly experience.

Could this be done without Android? Of course, but Android makes development much faster, easier, and less expensive—leveling the competitive playing field.

Since Android was originally targeted for mobile handsets, functionality doesn't necessarily migrate seamlessly to other consumer electronic devices. Much of the functionality must be extended to handle different feature sets and usage models. Take, for example, a set-top box, where Android must be enhanced to provide the ability to play content-protected HD video and multi-channel audio on a large, high-resolution flat-panel display. Enhancements are also necessary to take advantage of the hardware accelerators typically found in SoCs for these devices.

Working groups of the Open Embedded Software Foundation (OESF), a consortium striving to bring Android beyond mobile devices, is undertaking the task of making Android viable for set-top boxes and other consumer electronics devices by developing standardized frameworks and defining interactions with existing middleware stacks.

To-date, Android on running on the MIPS architecture has been demonstrated on a networked home media player from RMI Corp. and BluRay and IP set-top box reference designs from Sigma Designs. And D2 Technologies recently demonstrated its mCUE converged communications client that brings IM and VoIP into a single client for Android-based devices.

The benefits of Android are clear. It eliminates concerns developers may have about “free software” with its full, rich platform for application development.

About the author
Kevin Kitagawa is the director of strategic marketing for MIPS Technologies. He has more than 15 years of mobile and consumer electronics experience. Kitagawa holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Computer Architecture, from the University of California, Davis, and a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. He can be reached at .

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