Android adds to the desktop confusion

Trying to work out just where the PC market is hard enough but gets even more confusing, finds Billy MacInnes, once you add Android into the mix

I think it’s fair to say the PC industry is in a bit of a state right now. And when I say ‘state’, I don’t mean somewhere like California or New York. No, what I mean is a state of confusion. Confusion over the future of the platform, confusion over the operating system, confusion even over the role of the PC. Tablets and smartphones are eating into PC sales as people start to use different devices for tasks that were previously the domain of the desktop or laptop. The twin trends of mobility and BYOD/CYOD/COPE are also helping to erode the role of the PC in the corporate environment.

What happens when something becomes clouded by confusion? There’s often a mixture of responses from people saying “ignore it, stick to what we do best” to others urging a change of course and those that end up just flailing around and panicking.

Here we are at the beginning of 2014 and I have to say that things are looking decidedly cloudy (and not in the good way that we have come to associate with the word cloud when it comes to computing). Quite a few PC vendors have obviously chosen to consider life beyond the Windows ecosystem which has sustained them for so long. iOS and (especially) Android have come to prominence in the emerging tablet and smartphone markets (where Windows has struggled to gain traction) at the same time as Microsoft has appeared to stumble on the PC with the arrival of Windows 8.

PC vendors are starting to ask whether there might be something to be gained from finding a place for Android in their desktop product roadmaps. Some have even announced products. This is aside from Chromebooks based on Google’s Chrome OS, which are already available from the likes of Samsung, Acer and HP, products which have started to gain some traction in commercial organisations in the US, especially schools.

Funnily enough, the curse of confusion even struck Chromebooks at the end of the year when a number of media outlets mistakenly reported they had accounted for 21% of all US notebook sales in the first 11 months of 2013. The truth was they had accounted for 21% of all notebook sales through the commercial retail channel (a much smaller market).

Anyway, to return to Android, HP and Samsung have just announced Android-based All-in-Ones (AiOs). The HP model, the Slate 21 Pro AiO is aimed at businesses and costs $399. The Lenovo machine, the N308 Table PC, is a home machine and costs $450. Will others follow suit? If HP and Lenovo are successful, they might.

But in the meantime, most of them don’t seem to be willing to take the risk of appearing to endorse Android as a standalone desktop OS. Instead, PC OEMs have opted for a much more confusing approach which some commentators have described as a classic “more is more” strategy. For example, ASUS has an AiO that boots Windows and Android (the ASUS Transformer AiO) and has also announced a dual boot Windows/Android laptop/tablet (the ASUS Transformer Book Duet). Now, Intel is also starting to promote its Dual OS project which will allow users to switch between Windows and Android with the push of a button and AMD is working on an Android app emulation environment.

Quite why they want to go down the route of adding another OS to desktop and laptop PCs rather than offering separate models running Android seems strange and unnecessarily complicated. Why would anyone buy a Windows PC to run Android apps? They can do that on their tablet or smartphone. Surely, if they wanted to do that, they’d just buy a cheaper Android PC, assuming that the apps work as well on a desktop/laptop as they do on a tablet or smartphone. I can see that people might want to buy an Android PC if they become accustomed to using it on their other devices but I’m not convinced it will actually happen in large numbers. If Windows 8 has taught people anything, it’s that the user interface requirements for PCs and tablets/smartphones are still very different. The same goes apps.

Anyone looking at these developments would be forgiven for feeling…what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yes, confused.

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