Recently, I wrote about Intel’s efforts in developing a processing platform that could turn Android into a mainstream desktop platform. This will clearly capitalize on a low-power architecture, while still delivering the performance requirements that desktop-bound computing will require. This points to one thing of course: notebook computers, or at least tablets that are also notebook hybrids, like the Microsoft Surface, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and Asus Transformer Pad.
The question here, of course, is whether Android will be a capable operating system for notebook computers. Android has already proven its worth in smartphones. And even while it had a rough start with tablet computers, Android has also proved its mettle in tablet computing, especially with popular devices like the Google Nexus 7, Kindle Fire series and a host of inexpensive tablet computers from various brands. But how about actually using Android as a platform for running notebook computers? How will the likes of the Lenovo IdeaPad A10 work, for instance?
The clear precedent here is Google’s own efforts with its own Chrome OS, and with Chromebooks that are now supposedly best-sellers on online retailers like Amazon. The premise is that Chrome OS is based on the cloud, and all the apps you need should already be available on the cloud, including email, file storage, document processing, spreadsheets, presentations and the like.
Before jumping onto the Android bandwagon, there should be a few considerations you might want to keep in mind.
Stand-alone vs. always-on connectivity. Cloud computing has clearly shifted power away from desktop software developers toward cloud service providers. Web-based email services like Gmail are clearly dominant. Browser-based document editing platforms like Google Docs are now increasingly popular. But even if you can get connectivity through mobile data, this is still a limitation that cloud-based operating systems have. Cut off the Internet connection for any reason, and you’re cut off from your data also.
How effective would an Android-based notebook computer be, then? While native apps can let users do offline work, just how well can a low-spec’d device do, in this case?
Connectivity with peripherals. Two words here: USB support. Another two words: multi-screen. Again, cloud computing has rendered many of our offline-based technologies unnecessary in this day and age. Think about disc drives, optical media or even thumb drives. How about printers? With almost everything accessible on the cloud, there is little need for local storage or even printing out documents on paper.
But a full-fledged desktop or notebook platform should be able to support these still, especially a multitude of USB devices that users might need, from printers to flash drives, to camera interfaces, and the like. Then there’s the likelihood that you would want to extend from a small display onto a bigger scree, which would require a display interface.
New perspectives. In conclusion, running Android as a platform for notebook computers would require a paradigm shift on the part of users, application developers and even the platform developer alike. Laptop computers have often been considered as being meant for more serious work — running spreadsheets, compiling code, editing long documents and the like — compared with tablets. Otherwise, then any tablet computer with a Bluetooth keyboard can simply function as a laptop replacement. In many cases, they are good enough for long emails, editing documents on the go, reading news and running apps.
But would an Android-based platform be able to replace OS X, Windows 8, Linux or any operating system currently running on popular notebook computers out there? Perhaps notebook users would have to change how we do work on our devices.