Intel and Fujitsu are prepping for an Android future that extends far beyond mobile phones.
According to VentureBeat’s MG Siegler, a “reliable source” has told him that Intel is “stepping up its efforts to provide the foundation for Google Android-based netbooks to be mass produced.” This news isn’t entirely surprising. Intel produces the Atom processor that a majority of netbooks use currently and it’s a member of the Android-supporting Open Handset Alliance. It was only a matter of time until Intel made its move, especially as netbooks would be the next logical market for Android to enter.
Intel reported lowered earnings for the fourth quarter recently, and 6, 000 upcoming layoffs. But the company also said that $300 million of its $8.2 billion in revenue resulted from netbook sales, a 50 percent increase from 2007. The company further said that the cheaper Atom processors used in netbooks aren’t cannibalizing sales of more expensive processors. In a nutshell, Intel doesn’t want lose ownership of the netbook market so they need to prepare for anything including Android.
The main question being asked by netbook fans is whether Android would bring anything extra to an x86 platform such as Atom. Currently, it’s best for cheaper ARM processors which are used in pretty well all mobile phones and would need to be ported to x86. But as Kevin Tofel points out, Intel’s Moblin project targeted at netbooks is in alpha, and it’s a Linux-based mobile operating system built to run on the x86 Atom. Android itself is based on Linux, so it seems that Intel does indeed plan to extend Moblin into full Android support on x86 platforms.
Fujitsu is taking things even further, launching an initiative dubbed Services Built for Android. The initiative will offer consulting and engineering expertise to help run Android on embedded hardware, which aside from cellphones, mobile internet devices, and portable media players, could include GPS devices, thin-client computers, and set-top boxes.
Fujitsu believes the initiative will help companies bring Android devices to market faster. Market timing is especially important right now as Android is in its early growth phase. Work will include developing custom user interfaces and integrating with online services.
According to Electronista, Freescale Semiconductor has already enlisted the support of Fujitsu to run Android on its i.MX processors. Freescale’s line of processors run on advanced mobile devices and netbooks, though i.MX processors tend to clock slower speeds than Atom processors.
I doubt we’ll see a mass market Android netbook this year. Most companies are still working on handsets, many of which we’ll likely see next month at the Mobile World Congress. Next year I think will be a different story, but until then we’ll have to be happy with the variety of ports amateur programmers continue to achieve.