Thursday, February 28, 2013

DroidBooks: When will Android hit the big screen?

Forget ChromeBooks. I'm waiting for a DroidBook
By +Pete Mazzaccaro

With all the recent talk of touch optimization, from Ubuntu's tablet test runs to the new and wildly priced Chromebook Pixel, I can't help but wonder when someone will try to take Android to a larger form factor, a Pixel-sized notebook that can take the mobile OS to yet another form factor – a form factor that I think would work really well.

You could call it a DroidBook.

If you've used Android on your phone or a Nexus 7, you probably think putting it on a touch enabled notebook won't work. It's a mobile OS suited for slates not the more traditional notebook form. But having owned and used an AsusTransformer Infinity -- the closest thing on the market to a real Android notebook -- for more than four months now, I can tell you that I'd be much more eager to buy an Android-powered notebook than one running Chrome OS for a number of reasons, but primarily because I still think Chrome OS is a lot more about promise whereas Android can do more right now. And it's only going to get better.

Chrome OS can do things better than Android today. It can handle multiple windows and offer a much better, desktop browser experience that is still lacking on the main Android browsers, but there are many things Android can do better right now that would make it a much more versatile and useful OS for touchscreen notebooks.

1. It's already touch optimized. Android was built for the touch screen and the recent success of Android tablets has prompted many developers to optimize their applications for large, tablet screens. All those applications that look great on the Transformer will work just as well on a larger, Android notebook screen.

And, while shoehorning desktop paradigms into touch (from GNOME Shell to Unity to Metro) has caused many a user to rebel, enabling better multitasking in Android will only be welcomed by an already large user base. Instead of removing features, Android would be adding them. The difference in perception shouldn't be underestimated. Ubuntu and Windows have been trying to offer consumers a converged experience from phone to tablet to PC. It appears to me that moving Android to the PC is a lot less of a leap than it is for the Ubuntu desktop to the phone.

2. Choice. As Linux users, we like choice. Android gives the user a number of applications you'll likely never find on a Chromebook: Your choice of browser, mail client and office suite. I use Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Dolphin browsers across my three Android devices. I like that option. I use Office Suite Pro, but there are many alternatives I can choose from. Also, I use a mail client for my work account that looks and functions very well in Android.

In addition to software, Android is remarkably customizable, from keyboard input to UI. I can imagine that a well designed launcher (the desktop UI for Android) could be customized to further take advantage of a laptop use environment.

3. Great native applications now. Yes, Chrome OS has great offline applications. But Android has a lot more. I have come to rely on a number of Android applications that I'd love to see on a more powerful, larger device. In addition to Office Suite Pro, I use Photo Editor, Hi Q audio recorder and a number of other applications that I'd be hard pressed to replace with Chrome OS. Being able to record video and audio is a pretty big feature that I'm not sure we'll see in Chrome OS anytime soon. With Android I can record both at a very good quality.

4. Games. Don't underestimate the power of good games. Steam for Linux is probably the single most interesting thing going on for Ubuntu right now in the potential it has to open up a whole new demographic. Android already has a lot of very good games that are already touch optimized. Many of the more so-called console quality games support using a controller.

I currently run an outstanding Sega Genesis emulator on my Transformer and I was able to easily set it up to accept a Play Station controller that plugs into the keyboard dock's USB port. The controller is already supported, I just mapped the buttons. I have an HDMI cable to run the transformer to my TV and I can play old Genesis games right on my HD TV.

Beyond that, there are so many other things that Android does well, from notifications to an expansive choice of software markets (Google Play, Amazon App store and more), that it would only seem a matter of time before someone takes one of those small windows 8 laptops lying around unsold and decides to port Android to it. I could see Asus doing this in the near future (If they think a 7" Android phone is a good idea, why not a 12" Android Transformer?)

There are a few things Android could use, still. It could use a standard method to activate super user without first rooting and rewriting your device's recovery software. It could also use native printing support. Add a window manager to that, and Android would immediately be a compelling choice for the sort of mobile laptop experience the Chromebook is already shooting for.

For me, a nearly perfect computer would be the recent $250 Samsung Series 3 Chromebook with a touchscreen and Android. If that sort of device could be built with a touch screen and retail for approximately $500, I think it would be big winner. It would be more flexible, more open, offer more choices and be a lot more awesome.

-- Pete Mazzaccaro

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1 comment:

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