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 Adding to Android’s army

Android, as Andy Rubin (no relation) has pointed out on multiple occasions, plays a game of numbers. And at Google I/O, the company carrying on its development shared some large ones: 100 million activated devices with 400,000 being added each day. However, like in many games, different players can catch up or overtake each other at different points. Just ask Nokia and RIM. To stay on top, operating system vendors implement strategies that lock consumers in. The more money consumers sink into iPhone apps, for example, the more incentive they have to stay with that platform; the same is true for accessories that use Apple’s 30-pin dock connector that has been around since the third-generation iPod.

With Android having become the lead operating system for every smartphone company that licenses its OS with the notable exception of Nokia (which nearly did), Google showed that it’s intent not just on moving Android into other devices with sufficient computing horsepower such as tablets and, increasingly, TVs, but now has its sights set on having just about everything that can’t run Android directly feed into it. Google is taking two approaches – one for things that plug into Android devices, and one for things that don’t.

The Android Open Accessory platform seeks to match, if not trump, the wide range of accessories that have surfaced around Apple’s 30-pin connector that began as a simple way to provide charging and audio out. On one hand, unlike Apple, Google is building its accessory platform around the nearly ubiquitous USB connector. Perhaps more importantly, without any special connector to license, it is not charging companies for use of the accessory protocols. This should bode well for adding Android support to peripherals from the traditional to the emerging such as various health monitors and theexercise bike shown at Google I/O. On the other hand, the wide variation in terms of where the connector is placed may make things difficult for peripherals that depend on a device’s physical positioning such as speaker and car docks. (There have been challenges with 30-pin products too as Apple has changed the dimensions, power and authentication criteria over the years.)

Overcoming these challenges, however, is child’s play compared to Android@Home, which sets out to capture one of the most elusive quests in consumer technology – mainstream adoption of home automation.

Android@Home takes Google into territory where there has been no successful mainstream model and no trailblazing model like the iPhone to reset expectations.

Using a new low-power lighting standard developed by Google, radios can be embedded inside of light bulbsthemselves without adding significant cost, potentially circumventing the need to have electricians install them in wall switches. NXP Semiconductor has also shown off such a small radio. While this represents a milestone toward consumer adoption, cost, complexity, low awareness, and the notoriously fractured home automation standards market have long stood between cool and potentially money-saving technology and mass adoption. What’s more, while we’ve been hearing about energy utilities delivering Zigbee-based automation into homes via smart meters for years, there now seems to be more interest from other service providers, with Verizonannouncing that it would be using rival standard Z-Wave for smart energy and home automation service. Security service providers ADT and Vivint are also supporting Z-Wave.

While the Android Open Accessory platform is a natural extension, Android@Home takes Google into territory where there has been no successful mainstream model and no trailblazing model like the iPhone to reset expectations. Bringing home automation to the masses will require developing an ecosystem at least as strong as the one around Android itself.


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