How real are Google’s plans to make Android the universal OS?

11 May 2011

The irresistible rise of the Android operating system, I believe, is primarily down to Google’s ability to think outside the box and the fact it’s not hamstrung by legacy issues. If I/O proved anything yesterday it is Google’s ambition to make Android a universal OS.

At its annual I/O conference yesterday, Google revealed that around the world some 100m Android smartphones have been activated so far in 2011. The company also revealed the next release of Android 3.1, named Ice Cream Sandwich.

The company revealed that 310 different manufacturers’ devices around the world run on Android and that there are now 200,000 available apps on the Android Market. It revealed there have been 4.5bn downloads of apps from the Android Market.

What’s interesting about Android’s OS is just how quickly it is evolving and the company’s emphasis on quality apps. “Our vision is to create one OS everywhere, a state-of-the-art user interface with richer widgets and advanced apps,” product manager John Clarin said.

After highlighting Android’s momentum and showcasing Ice Cream Sandwich, Google revealed it has brought movies for rent to the Android Market, allowing users to rent thousands of movies and have them available across Android devices.

The company formed the Open Handset Alliance, whose founding partners are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T. New devices from participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, as long as the hardware allows.

Android@Home, in your car

Where it gets even more interesting is what Google means by universal OS. One of the ideas previewed yesterday was an initiative called Android@Home, which allows Android apps to discover, connect and communicate with appliances and devices in your home.

This included a preview of Project Tungsten, an Android device for Music Beta to give you more control over music playback within the Android@Home network.

Google’s ideas around making Android a universal OS are becoming a reality quicker than most of us can imagine and it’s hard not to see the company’s ambitions around Android@Home colliding with its environmental and energy management initiatives.

The idea of the device in your pocket turning on and off your heating at home, recording your favourite soaps and selling excess electricity back to the grid is tantalisingly becoming real.

Google also announced a research project with vehicle giant Ford that uses Google’s predictive API to help drivers manage their fuel and drive more energy efficiently.

If Google plays its cards right and keeps its foot on the gas of innovation, the universal OS could become the OS to manage your life. I don’t know whether to be scared or invigorated by that.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years