Android Spreading Out to Netbooks, and E-Ink Devices

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 23, 2009

Although it is still early enough in development that it may not become a shipping product, Asus has confirmed that it has been developing a netbook based on Google's Android platform. Asus' Eee PC division lead, Samson Hu, told Bloomberg that engineers are working on a possible end-of-year release window. We've written before about Cupcake, a version of Android that is friendly to non-phone devices, and there have already been successful efforts putting Cupcake on netbooks. With netbooks all the rage now, Asus is also very focused on lowering netbook costs, even heading for the $200 range. This latest news is good for both Android and Asus.

Electronista notes this:

"Requiring Windows [on netbooks] has encouraged the use of Intel Atom processors, which at times struggle to run certain software features smoothly; Android as a Linux-based mobile OS is designed to run on as little as a 200-MHz ARM processor, and potentially lowers the cost of the components needed to run common tasks."

Undoudtedly, the lower costs are part of Asus' interest delivering an Android-based netbook.  Asus' CEO has confirmed that rumors that buyers of Linux-based netbooks are returning them at a greater rate than Windows netbooks are not true, and Asus officials have also said they're focused on delivering $200 netbooks.

Microsoft has had some success staving off Linux-based netbooks by getting Windows onto systems, but not total success. Netbooks remain a product category where buyers are extremely cost-sensitive, and open source software is keeping prices low for many models. Android can make a lot of sense for Asus.

Meanwhile, GigaOm recently reported on Moto Labs' successful effort to get Android working on devices with E-Ink displays. E Ink is an electronic paper display technology with a paper-like, high-contrast appearance, ultra-low-power consumption and a thin, light form. Combining it with Android is big news, according to GigaOm, because:

"Now you can have this low-power screen device updated via wireless Internet access. Marry that to touch-based interfaces and the opportunities are endless."

I expect Android to find success on both netbooks and E-Ink devices. Gizmodo has also written about how useful an Android-based pocket, tablet device might be, suggesting that Asus might deliver one. In fact, Android may have more success in the long run on these platforms than on phones.

The keys to making all this happen will be drawing an enthusiastic community of open source Android application developers, and delivering Android on multiple types of very low-cost devices. Google could also make a big difference here by subsidizing the costs of some these gadgets, and perhaps sharing broadband service plan revenues with carriers, as Apple does with the iPhone and AT&T. Finally, it's good to see successful efforts to get Linux-based graphical interfaces and environments working on Android. Check out this post, which has instructions on how to run X-Windows with GNOME, KDE, IceWM, and LXDE Desktop on Android devices.