Age of Android: More Than Just The Droid

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From the breathless media coverage, the casual observer might think that Motorola's Droid handset and Google's Android operating system are the same. They are not.

Android is much bigger a phenomenon than any handset. The operating system is capable of running the same applications on phones, netbooks, and tablet PCs. It is also suitable for specialized devices, such as remote controls.

Because applications are resolution independent, they transition easily from one type of hardware to another.

The operating system is touch-oriented, so a touch screen is needed for an optimal experience. A keyboard is also very useful for text entry, avoiding the need for a touch keyboard. The best Android devices will include both a touch screen and a keyboard.

This makes Android a credible choice for handsets, tablets, and netbooks, where Android seems much more facile than clunky Windows and giant-sized applications on running on underpowered Atom-based hardware.

You probably would not want to use Android on a dual-core desktop, where there is plenty of processing horsepower. On a $300 netbook, however, Android makes sense, and can leverage the entire Android application library.

Acer has already released a dual-boot Windows and Android netbook, the Aspire One D-250, that seems to work fine but failed to impress our reviewer. I think the shortcomings are easy enough to deal with, mostly by including a better collection of applications with the hardware.

Such a machine could be a big win for people, like me, who carry both smartphones and netbooks. A tablet running Android might be both inexpensive and actually useful.

It will be interesting to see how Chrome OS--Google's other operating system--plays into this equation. Chrome OS seems to be more of a netbook OS than a desktop operating system, at least for now.

If Google makes good the recent rumor, and releases a developer version of Chrome OS this week or next, the Android vs. Chrome OS questions will begin to be answered.

I expect each OS will be targeted to specific types of hardware and applications, but will have to wait for Google to clarify how the two operating systems will live side-by-side in the world.

Here is what Google has said previously about its two operating systems:

"Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks," the company wrote. "Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems."

The introduction of the Motorola Droid handset will be remembered for bringing Android to mass attention. Yet, it is only the beginning. By next summer, I expect to see maybe 40 Android handsets and a smattering of other devices available. Android is an operating system with a future.

Google is making this an exciting time in computing, with its two operating systems, free services, and emphasis on cloud-based applications. It is not clear how this will play out or whether Google will successfully challenge Microsoft. Still, thanks to Google, computing has become interesting again.

Welcome to the Age of Android.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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