SAN JOSE, Calif. Look out, Microsoft, I'm seeing signs that Google's Android could wind up in netbooks, digital picture frames and a host of embedded devices as a friendly, app-rich face for Linux.
In this recession-battered economy, designers will turn to open source code whenever they can. After all, Windows is often one of the most expensive components in a system, prompting some to dub it the Redmond tax.
But to date Linux has lacked a user-friendly interface and a high profile effort attracting mainstream application developers. Enter Android.
I found the Google-led open source environment easy to use in my test drive of the first handset to employ it. Multiple new Android handsets emerged at the recent Mobile World Congress, spurring the interest of application developers.
A huge battle for mindshare in cellphone software is now playing out between Apple, Google, Microsoft and Nokia. More quietly, it looks like there will soon be other fronts in this war.
Netbooks are one of the big new targets. Netbooks are all about shrinking the size—and the price—of mainstream notebooks, now the biggest slice to the PC market.
At MWC, Freescale Semiconductor said it is now supporting Android as part of its efforts to get its ARM-based iMx chip designed into netbooks that could cost as little as $200. That's way south of today's $399+ entry-level prices, thanks in part to eliminating the Windows profit margin.
Interestingly, one AsusTek exec told me Microsoft refused to lower the price of Windows XP for its Eee PC--the poster child of netbooks--until Asus started shipping Linux-based systems. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Asus demoed a number of Windows mobile PCs using ARM chips and Linux for secondary services and said it is working on Android-based mobile systems.
"The first [ARM/Linux netbooks] were largely ODMs playing with the technology because they could, but in the next year we will see models delivering a much more useful consumer experience," said one exec who asked not to be named. "I think they will be very compelling around next Christmas when we see $200 price points, but the margins are getting very tight," he added.