image_811In a rather interesting article over at EETimes, Junko Yoshida has reported on Android’s potential outside of the mobile phone market, interviewing those that matter most in this area (the CE vendors). If you believe the hype, and we certainly do, Android set-tops, TVs, VoIP phones, Karaoke boxes and digital photo frames are coming soon to a retailer near you. The downside to this is that ‘soon’ is a relative term. Here is a summary of the four page article, that if you have the time, we recommend you read it in full.

According to Masataka Miura, chairman of Open Embedded Software Foundation (OESF), we shouldn’t expect to see commercially available, non-smartphone, Android-based embedded products until early 2011. However, we might be lucky enough to see a prototype of a set-top box running Android as early as Autumn this year at Japan’s largest electronics show, CEATEC.

Consisting of 25 companies (ARM, KDDI, Fujitsu Software Technologies) OESF’s aim is to create a viable Android-based platform for a variety of embedded products. Intel and TI are also interested in becoming involved. According to market research company In-Stat, this year is critical for Android, and the reason why it is appealing to CE vendors is because it is “Linux,” “open source,” and “free.”

For those familiar with the development world of Android outside of the mobile phone, they will realise that Android is still very rudimentary. According to Chris Fisher, co-founder and president of zoomMediaPlus, Android needs to improve a lot before it can be used as a “truly commercially usable open source platform.” With no way of performance testing your software, it makes it very hard for CE vendors to develop their own UI and applications such as a calendar or database. This is something the iPhone does much better than Android.

The next stage for Android is to work out how a light-weight OS can take advantage of systems with more to offer. Furthermore, Android needs a lot more work with Security; Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is something OESF want to address. Any code they produce will be published to the OHA assuming there is no overlap with the projects going on there. Obviously, converting an interactive device such as the smart-phone, to a consumption model such as the TV, doesn’t just happen because it’s running Android. A huge amount of work still needs to go into the development. But with so many companies involved with the development of Android outside of the smart-phone arena, can too many cooks spoil the broth?

Japanese companies are not famous for working well in the open-source market. Miura agrees that whoever produces the first few products will be able to steer the group as a whole. The idea of the consortium is good in principle, but sharing libraries of applications requires the maintenance of such items, and this is difficult when there is individual commercial interest. This sounds like Game Theory 101 all over again.

Rounding off the article, In-Stat’s McGregor points out that trends such as mobility and the internet work hand in hand, and soon we shall see MP3 players, TVs, digital photo frames, MIDs, netbooks, smartphones, etc. where Android can be critical if it plays its cards right.

James Tromans

Contributing editor of, based in the U.K.