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Android at CES 2014: The green robot is everywhere

Elliot Bentley

Google’s OS makes appearances on TVs, cameras and cars – and hybridizes with Windows 8 desktops.

Android may have been born on mobile devices, but the open-source operating system is now expanding beyond phones and tablets to a whole range of consumer devices. At CES in Las Vegas this week, Android was being shown off on PCs, online-enabled cameras, smart TVs, and even cars.

There was at least one notable mobile announcement: the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, a high-end smartphone that, at 4.3 inches across, eschews the trend for giant displays without skimping on power. Less traditional is the Polaroid Socialmatic camera, a single device with Android and a zero-ink printer which can both send snaps to social networks and print out physical copies on the spot.

Android! On your PC! With Windows!

This two-in-one, more-is-more approach appears to be in fashion at CES this year, judging by the bizarre 2-in-1 PCs running both Windows 8 and Android. It’s an obvious snub to Microsoft, which conceived Windows 8 as a “no compromises” OS for tablets, PCs and weird in-between devices like the Lenovo Yoga. However, it’s too early to tell whether this trend is a mere marketing gimmick, a transition period to full Android PCs, or a genuine evolution in personal computing.

The first of these will be the Asus Transformer Book Duet, a laptop that can shed its keyboard half to become a tablet. The Transformer line has driven record profits for the company, and the Duet retains this winning form factor, with the addition of a software button to switch between its two operating systems in around four seconds. Powered by a Haswell CPU, the Duet is promised to be the first of many hybrid devices powered by Intel chips.

However, Intel are not the only chip manufacturer to get on board the hybrid train: AMD are also integrating Windows with Android, albeit in a different way. Rather than dual-booting Android, its devices can launch Android apps from Windows start screen as if they were native apps. This virtualization layer is provided by BlueStacks; and if it all sounds a bit too familiar, that might be because Lenovo announced a similar partnership with BlueStacks at last year’s CES.

AMD are at least promising one unique selling point to their implementation, one which only a chip specialist could provide: hybrid CPUs with both x86 and ARM architectures, theoretically reducing the power needed to run both OSes.

Android! On your TV!

Android will also be reaching even larger screens, powering Philip’s next wave of high-end Ambilight TVs. Slated for around June 2014, details on these new smart TVs are still scant, but Philips have promised access to the entire Google Play store.

However, LG has garnered more column inches with its adoption of another mobile operating system, WebOS, for its smart TVs. It could be a second coming for the ill-fated Palm software, which was open sourced (and abandoned) by HP in late 2011.

Google themselves are rumoured to be weighing in with a “Nexus TV” set-top box this year that will also run Android, presumably replacing the all-but-abandoned Google TV line.

Android! In your car!

The most unusual place Android may end up in the near future is your car’s dashboard. In a blog post, Google announced an “Open Automotive Alliance” which already includes manufacturers Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai. The group is, said Google, “working to enable new forms of integration with Android devices, and adapting Android for the car to make driving safer, easier and more enjoyable for everyone”.

The group’s name is reminiscent of the Open Handset Alliance, another cross-industry group promoting open standards and interoperability across mobile Android devices. Google have been accused of using the OHA to stifle innovation in recent years, but it has likely reduced the level of fragmentation across the Android ecosystem.

It’s a very different approach to Apple, whose iOS in the Car essentially turns your vehicle into a glorified iPhone dock. Around 20 vehicle manufacturers are apparently invested in the scheme, including three members of Google’s new OAA.

However, it’s worth noting that car manufacturing works at a far slower pace than mobile handsets, and unlike many of CES’ other exciting gadgets, may not be available to buy for years.

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