Can Android save the PC Industry?

A few months ago, I wrote a piece in Tech.pinions asking if “Android is the new Windows?” In the article I pointed out that, when the PC was the center of our universe, Windows was the one constant all PC vendors and developers could back. Today, the OS universe is quite different and there are two other operating systems — iOS and Android — that have divided the attention of OEMs and app developers. In sheer terms, Android has become the dominant device OS for tech products around the world.

For the PC industry, the rise of mobile, especially smartphones, has impacted the tech market. While demand for PCs has declined, demand for smartphones has risen exponentially. But there is an interesting trend developing within the Android community that, in a strange way, could actually be the PC industry’s savior. One of the things we know from our research is, for over 1.5 billion people, their first introduction to personal computing has come through a smartphone. More specifically, an inexpensive smartphone that gets them connected and gives them access to tons of apps, but is usually of poor quality with various technological limitations. We know many of these people will eventually upgrade to a better smartphone and this is where Obi Mobile and Motorola are positioning their high quality, low priced phones.

However, there is a pretty serious school of thought developing about this audience that posits the idea that, at some point in the next two to four years, they may actually want to buy something with a bigger screen that has even more functionality. This school thinks this device most likely will be a laptop, not a tablet. Part of the reason they think so is 5.5” and 6” smartphones have already impacted demand for tablets and, for the most, smartphones with large screens already serve as a tablet as well as a smartphone. On the other hand, we know from research many of these people are very familiar with a laptop and, in a lot of cases, have coveted a laptop as a better tool for them to help educate their kids, manage media and perhaps even help run a family business with a better tool.

But, for me, the big rub with this idea is the leap of faith that says, if they were to move to a laptop, they would want a Windows-based portable computer given that the only OS they have ever used is Android. What makes more sense is to create a version of Android that can be used on a laptop. Yes, this has been tried before with the Motorola Atrix but the timing and implementation was wrong. It turns out, a few companies are already thinking along these lines and at least one solid Android OS that can be used on a PC is actually ready for the market now. It is coming from Jide, founded by three Google employees. They were part of the Android team but left to create a very rich version of Android that can run on a PC. In fact, they are already selling a 2 in 1 Android portable for $400 and taking pre-orders now.

The Jide OS is called ReMix and it runs all Android apps and includes the Google Play store. That suggests to us Google has actually blessed this version. Check out their site and click on the demo. You will see it runs Powerpoint and other Office apps as well as Android apps in native form. Our sources tell us Blackberry is also doing a dedicated Android OS that is highly secure and there is at least one other major company in the software space doing something similar.

These are interesting developments and could have ramifications for PC makers. Today, their OS loyalty is still with Microsoft although all have broken ranks to support Chromebooks, too. But we could see legitimate demand by smartphone users who will, in the near future, want to graduate to a laptop. In this case, I would be more inclined to think a move sideways to an Android laptop they are familiar with makes more sense. If so, PC makers would support Android on a PC in a heartbeat. This could be an impetus to actually help grow demand for laptops and PCs in the future.

This is an area to keep a close eye on. While Android today is a mobile OS, its reach beyond mobile, thanks to Jide and others, suggests its role could eventually be much broader. The next logical place for Android to go is the laptop and, perhaps, even a low-cost desktop.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

12 thoughts on “Can Android save the PC Industry?”

  1. Interesting article. I’m surprised the subject isn’t seeing more action: I see pent-up demand for Android on laptops and desktops (from non-techie users with limited skills and needs of course), and with MS trying to cross over from xtop to mobile, countering with expansion from mobile to xtop seems natural.

    I’m not sure Jide is that important. It’s mostly a reskin of Android to give it Windows-like start menu and multiple windows. I think most users interested in Android on a xtop would rather keep it as simple and as similar to their phone/tablet as possible. And multiple windows on anything below 12″ (and even then…) don’t really work. Vanilla Android is also very… desktopable already: USB/BT devices work out of the box (keyboard, mouse, hard disks, ethernet, sound cards, gamepads, webcams, and Google Print compatible printers, though they’re a bit of an issue since they need some kind of Google Print gateway, usually a PC). If they’re serious about moving Android beyond Mobile, Google just need to tweak the right mouse button (currently “back”, needs to be context menu), standardize CUA keyboard shortcuts (currently supported on a per-app basis, not wholesale), and have a “desktop” category in the PlayStore for apps that are desktop-aware (landscape display, different definitions/resolutions than Mobile, missing sensors…).

    Many OEMs haven’t waited for Google to move: HP and Toshiba have released Android laptops, Huawei ZTE Dell nVidia and a host of 2nd/3rd tier OEMs (most prominently Minix and Tronsmart) have Android mini-desktops. Intel’s subsidies for Mobile processors seem to be on the wane, but last year was rife with Intel-based dual-boot (Windows and Android) tablets and mini-desktops. And even a deskblet (that’s a desktop with an integrated touchscreen, you’ll thank me later for that phablet-level moniker ^^)

    Google seem uncharacteristically shy/unexperimental on the subject, which leads me to think they’d rather ChromeOS took the cake. I’m wondering if they haven’t let the… window.. of opportunity close on them, MS’s latest features and products seem well ahead (that Continuity phone from Acer !).

    Interestingly, Apple seem to be taking baby steps in the same direction: the next aTV seems on track to support apps… we’ll see how far that goes (peripherals ? non-gaming apps ie chat, office/media editing, … ? )

    1. It is interesting that Google wants Chrome to be the PC option not Android…Not sure why or if they will respond to this opportunity. Actually if Blackerry does a highly secure Android for a laptop or PC that would be more interesting.

      1. I think ChromeOS has a few advantages over Android, both from Google’s point of view and from Corp users’:
        – easier updates. Linux on ARM is a mess, ChromeOS is a bit more insulated from that, and a bit more indifferent to it: Google does all the work on the back-end and the front-end of the OS, carriers have no say, OEMs have little say (hardware drivers if that). Plus ChromeBooks/Boxes use a lot fewer hardware platforms (barely ten, vs thousands for Android).
        – easier management. Android has fairly caught up, but still, centrally managing ChromeBooks is painless and foolproof. Security-wise, I’m not aware of any hack of ChromeOS ever, which puts it in a whole other plane compared to every other ecosystem. Not a lot of hackers trying, probably, but the ecosystem does seem very tight and controlled to start with.
        – total ecosystem control. Both technically and tracking/advertising-wise, Google share neither the work nor the rewards the way they do on Android.

        Now that ChromeOS works fine offline, I think the main issue is the UI: it’s not bad, but it’s different, meaning yet another UI to learn (and apps to search for). That’s a major hurdle for non-techies, combined with fear of the unknown.

  2. Not going to bother buying the article since the question it asks is so utterly wrongheaded.

    1927: everyone who wants a car, has a car. Panicked headline: “Can a choice of colors save the automobile industry?”

    1950: everyone who wants a refrigerator, has a refrigerator. Anxious headline: “Can ice makers and chilled water dispensers save the refrigeration industry?”

    For a long time, everyone who had a computer wanted a new computer. They weren’t fast enough, full stop. Also for a long time, not everyone who wanted a computer had one. Circumstances have changed. Computers are by and large fast enough, and nearly everyone who wants one has one. So growth has halted and from now on PCs will only be sold to replace broken PCs.

    Does this mean that the pc industry needs saving? Only if you’re a wall street investor — those idiots think that any industry that isn’t growing at least 20% a year is not long for this world. But in the real world, instead of wall street crazytown, all it means is that the PC industry is finally done with its adolescent growth spurt. Just like every other mature low-growth industry, it will now have to recalibrate its sales expectations and its marketing strategy. Some companies will get out of the PC business, others will have to downsize or merge. And in the end, it will have to start adding value to its offerings other than “it’s faster than last year’s” — like Ford’s multiple colors and Frigidaire’s ice makers, it will instead have learn new ways to compete.

    1. Best not to comment on articles you don’t read. He is making a different point about how to address new users.

  3. I think that we have to redefine what it means to say “PC industry”.

    Traditionally, the most profitable players in the PC industry were Intel and Microsoft. Hence to say “save the PC industry”, I would typically expect it to mean saving Intel and Microsoft specifically. That does not seem to be your discussion and I find it a bit confusing.

    In a similar note, it is unclear if traditional PC vendors like DELL or HP would be the beneficiaries of a potential revival of the market due to Android desktops. I would actually expect Android desktops to come out from smartphone vendors and not desktop vendors.

    I think it boils down to what we mean by a PC. Do we simply mean a device with a keyboard and mouse, or do we mean a device that runs Windows and is capable of running full Office applications and legacy corporate applications, has full multi-windowing, minimal sandboxing, etc., but requires an IT department to manage? I think it is misleading to use the former definition, and that it is actually better to use the latter, especially when we look at the competencies of the major players in the market. I would generally prefer to use the latter definition instead of the former. However, in this article, it seems that you are using the former.

    Could you please explain how you define a PC, and your rationale for defining it in that way?

    1. For devices, I’ve been trying to use xtop to refer to “old” PCs (laptops and desktops, with a keyboard and dominant non-touschscreen pointer, though increasingly with touchscreen support too).
      As for the industry… Wintel OEMs ?
      As for the ecosystems… Win32 and MacOS ?

      I’m also a bit confused as to what the article pertains to.

  4. I didn’t even know Android ran on PCs. Let’s face it, Apple’s sucking up all the profits in the PC business too. Between the laptops, desktops and tablets Apple’s putting a hurting on everyone but the sub $400 market- and what profit is there to be had there?

    A week ago, I read an article of about a school system investing $1.5 MM in Chrome OS laptops; and I thought, wait until the MFG goes out of business in 6 months and the school’s left with no where to buy additional units; no support, the cases begin to crack; the hinges fail, etc. Of course, upfront $ was the main concern. But what’s the old saying?- you get what you pay for.

    1. PCs can mean several things. Android runs on devices with ARM on x86 processors, including those in laptop and desktop formats (there are many “Android TV boxes” even on

      That’s Android-specific devices. You can also install “Android x86” to replace Windows or multi-boot on Wintel desktops and laptops (), same as for a hackintosh (more hardware choices for Android though). Or install it in a virtual machine within Windows/MacOS. Or use Bluestack or AMIDuOS to run Android apps from Windows/MacOS.

      Even my iBrother is doing that, to play games with his kid, one off the iPad, one off Android on their Mac.

      As for long-term support, I’m not aware of any specific quality issues with ChromeBooks: most of the savings come from the internals. Also, OEMs are the same as for PCs (Dell, Tosh, Asus, Acer, HP…), I’d assume the build quality and long-term supplier viability are not issues. I’m also not aware of any issue with long-term availability (not any more than with, say, Apple), and anyway the whole point of ChromeBooks is that they’re today’s dumb terminals, ie transparently interchangeable; even, if a supplier dies or a model becomes unavailable, switching to a new device is a simple matter of… logging in.

      “You get what you pay for” does have limits; Fancy an audiophile ethernet cable ?

  5. Your thesis here seems to rely on the belief that Windows is a barrier for people moving from smartphones to their first laptop. Windows certainly does have issues, cost and complexity being two of the biggest. However, I do not see Android is going to make a significant difference. Your primary reasons seems to be that familiarity with Android and their Apps will drive Android smartphone users to an Android based laptop. I don’t see this as Android as a desktop OS is very far behind the competition (including Chrome) and really offers no other benefits. Unless moving to Android allows laptops to become significantly less expensive or it enables solutions that no other laptop OS does, it will not have a major impact.

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