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Android Aims To Be THE Controller for Electronic Devices
Android Aims To Be THE Controller for Electronic Devices

By Barry Levine
May 11, 2011 11:07AM

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Google envisions its Android mobile operating system controlling virtually any electronic device. Its Android@Home was unveiled at Google I/O, with an Android-powered phone turning a lightbulb on and off. Google said Android@Home will be an open protocol able to talk to peripherals and closed systems, such as Apple and Windows devices.

Having apparently accomplished its initial goal of organizing the world's information, Google has now turned its sights to the real world. Several announcements at the ongoing Google I/O conference in San Francisco envision a world where the Android operating system can control, and communicate with, virtually any electronic device.

For the home, the company unveiled Android@Home, in which electronic devices in the home -- TVs, the dishwasher, home stereo systems -- could be controlled by an Android device acting as a remote control.

Bulbs, Music, Exercise Bikes

As an example, the conference featured an on-stage demonstration of a cooperative lightbulb. A company called Lighting Science Group, which makes wireless lighting products such as bulbs and switches, demonstrated how an Android phone can remotely turn a lightbulb on or off. The company's lightbulbs have wireless transponders that communicate with a wireless hub. Lighting Science said its Android-friendly products will be out before the end of the year.

An Android@Home system from Google is a new home-theater setup called Project Tungsten. It can play music wirelessly to speakers anywhere in a house, is controllable by an Android device, and can stream from Google's new, cloud-based music service, Music Beta. No release date was given.

Google said Android@Home standards will be released later this year, and it will be an open protocol that can talk to closed standards, such as Apple's iOS mobile devices and Microsoft's Windows computers. The company is also releasing software developer tools for connecting Android devices to peripherals via USB, with Bluetooth connections to peripherals coming soon. In one example shown at I/O, an Android device downloaded data from an exercise bike.

'The Right Way'

There are already ways to control equipment using an Android device, but they require user initiative, such as downloading and testing an app, and they aren't widely supported by home appliances or consumer electronics. Other companies, including Microsoft and Sony, have also issued their own protocols and some products using technology to connect them, but their standards haven't really caught on.

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said Android could be well positioned to become the connection platform between electronic devices. The idea here, he said, is "why try to have all sorts of logic in devices and appliances when you could just have one or two Android devices with the logic to control them?"

Shimmin noted that, at this point, Android's position as a universal platform for any electronic device is just a vision from Google. But the company has "a huge developer population," he said, as well as a rapidly growing population of manufacturers.

He recalled another company with a similar vision at one time -- Sun Microsystems, with its "write once" Java platform that could operate across devices. But Shimmin said Google is "going about this the right way," by controlling the development of Android and then pushing out the open-source code and letting developers and manufacturers do what they want.

He also pointed out that Ice Cream Sandwich, the tasty name for the next major release of Android, is designed to be the first version of the operating system that is "unified across disparate devices," rather than being focused on smartphone or tablet optimization, as current and previous versions have been.

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