Android in 2013: Beyond Smartphones

Reading the Green Tea Leaves to See Android's Future

Last week, I began the “Android in 2013” series, projecting where Android will be a few years' out. That initial post focused on what people usually think of with respect to Android: smartphones.

However, the little green guy is already being used beyond smartphones, and there is no indication that this will change during the next few years. Let's take a look at some other segments and see where Android may wind up.

Right now, a lot of the focus is on tablets, courtesy of Apple's iPad and Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent comments regarding Google and HTC developing a tablet. Other Android-powered tablets have already been announced or discussed. Android is an easy fit for a tablet, since it can support a touchscreen interface. This segment is likely to proceed similarly to the past couple of years in smartphones: Apple will have the early lead, with Android a strong second in terms of momentum, and Microsoft getting into touchscreen-centric tablet operating systems a bit later. It is probable that, by 2013, Android will be #1 in terms of unit sales, with Apple focusing on the high end. However, it remains to be seen how well this segment will fare in terms of absolute size.

Part of the skepticism around tablets comes from the recent experience with netbooks, which had a 12-18 month heyday and then have somewhat faded. Devices where keyboards are the primary form of user input are not well-suited to Android...or, more accurately, other operating systems are at less of a handicap. Hence, I am not expecting Android to be terribly popular on netbooks, though it may do fine at the spot where netbooks and tablets overlap (e.g., a tablet with a popular or bundled Bluetooth keyboard accessory). Instead, I expect Microsoft to continue its dominance in this segment, followed by non-Android Linux (e.g., Ubuntu).

The other segment that got a bit of attention earlier this year is the television set-top box, courtesy of a New York Times report that Google and Sony are developing an Android-powered device in this segment. Apple, of course, tried Apple TV, but they may have been a bit early to the game, with the “sizzle” now on accessing free streaming content from Hulu and related sites via front-ends like Boxee and XMBC and hardware like the Neuros Link and upcoming Boxee Box. Android could do reasonably well in this segment, if the right media hooks are put in place and if Flash runs well on the devices. However, I am not sure that these devices will cross over into the mainstream by 2013. Some “set-top boxes” will have their functionality rolled into actual televisions, of course.

While people think of Android and smartphones, another area where Android may enter is in lower-end “feature phones”. As CPU and flash prices fall, what had been powering a low-end Android device (e.g., T-Mobile G1) could power a less-expensive phone, particularly when coupled with other cost savings (e.g., no touchscreen, no GPS). While the smartphone gains ground in the US and other nations, less-expensive phones are dominant elsewhere. By 2013, a few manufacturers are likely to have tried Android in this segment.

I am also hoping that by 2013, Google will have gotten Android into the confection market with a commissioned line of marshmallow treats. This, of course, assumes that Android is up to "p" in the release code-names by then.

Next up, we'll take a look at what capabilities Android may have by 2013.

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