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Android Reimanged: All Brains, No Body

Android is known for tablets and smartphones, but in today’s tech world it empowers products that most people don’t know exist. Take a look at what’s being done with Android.

Android products are often thought about in their most common form, flanked by a screen, touch panel, and camera.  These archetype product designs of the world’s most complete media-consumption-platform make sense based on the history of Android. In tomorrow’s world the Android operating system won’t be recognizable the same way.

Android is a brain.  Its intelligence can manifest itself just as easily through a sensor, mechanical apparatus, or wireless communication protocol, as through the more traditional screen and touch panel.  Android laced hardware, without any connection to Google services, is becoming a common driver behind invisible applications that gather data, send data, and sometimes process data.  This usually entails custom Android hardware running a modified build of the Android operating system.

IoT, one of the highest growth areas of real (rather than conceptual) tech currently, is leading the push for leveraging Android in alternative use cases.  For example devices that are (physically) connected to delivery trucks that gather geo-data from a discrete camera and other sensors.  The data gets sent to a backend for analysis and interpretation, and then turns into insight about parking and delivery conditions, optimizing the delivery process.  Few people will ever notice the product exists, and those who do don’t know (or care) what operating system is driving it.  There are a growing number of examples of Android’s use in embedded systems and dedicated products that previously would have been made with a custom written RTOS firmware.

For many companies making new IoT products, Android hardware has become preferable to non-Android electronics that use a standard MCU and a communications module (like Bluetooth or cellular).  The development time is faster.  The hardware costs are sometimes lower.  There are many engineers that can write Android apps.  It doesn’t make sense to put together a custom collage of components and write new firmware when so many sensors and other peripherals are virtually plug and play with Android.

Android is particularly advantageous for more complicated products.  For example, ones that use multiple sensors such as light, temperature, humidity, motion, or camera sensors, or peripheral electronics and interfaces, like external memory cards, HDMI, USB, NFC, etc.  The reason for this is that all these (and many other) sensors and peripherals are native to the Android OS, making integration faster and choice of components larger.  Often the components commonly used in Android devices have reliable supply chains and aggressive pricing as well.

There are some cases where using Android doesn’t outweigh the benefits of alternative options.  For example, don’t use Android for very simple products with just a few peripherals, like a step tracking bracelet.  In this instance the size and cost of the Android hardware doesn’t outweigh the development simplicity.  Also long life battery powered products should avoid Android hardware whenever possible.  Due to the size of the Android operating system and power of the CPU, Android hardware will almost always have higher power consumption than using a simple MCU.  If you have questions about what hardware to use in your product, you’re welcome to contact Hatch.  We may be able to provide you with some direction.

Hatch sees Android based systems driving innovation and creating efficiencies in retail, health care, warehousing, transportation, and other industries.  New Android IoT products are usually developed with the intention to save and/or make money, and sometimes, as a byproduct of creating efficiencies, also promote sustainability.  Hatch would love to get involved with more projects that have a sustainable aspect to them.  If your project has an environmentally positive aspect please mention this when getting in touch with us!

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Expert insights from the frontline of Android manufacturing.