CES: Android’s Big Business Bid

on January 8, 2014

Android is turning up in the strangest places. The Google mobile operating system, alresady the numerically dominant platform for smartphones and tablets worldwide, is making a move to desktops and laptops.

It’s not clear that this is something Google envisioned or much desires. Google has had a fair amount of success with PC-like Chromebooks using the browser-based Chrome OS. But OEMs are opting instead to use Android in systems, which ofter also incorporate Microsoft Windows in some form.

At CES, Both Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo are showing all-in-one desktop units running Android that can also double as standard desktop monitors. I’m still having a bit of trouble figuring out the use case for these systems, as well as the case for Android rather than Chrome OS, but the manufacturers are pressing ahead.

The Hewlett-Packard Slate 21 Pro All-in-One is a $399 21.5-inch touchscreen Android desktop aimed at a business makers. With its 21.5-inch 1080p display, it looks like a seriously oversized tablet. A hinged prop gives a continuous range of screen adjustment from near vertical to near horizontal and a USB mouse and keyboard are standard.

The Slate 21 runs Android 4.3 (Jellybean) and connects to the Google Play Store to run all standard Android apps. Since the Slate 21 is more-or-less permanently fixed in landscape position, a modification to the OS lets portrait-only apps run scaled up and post-boxed on the horizontal screen.

A couple of features let the Slate 21 function as a business thin client. Built in software supports printing to network printers. And the unit is certified to run Citrix Receiver, letting it function as a virtual Windows desktop in a Citrix Xen Mobile environment. Skype and HP MyRoom teleconferencing apps are preloaded. And you can convert the Slate to a stand desktop monitor by plugging in a PC with an HDMI cable and pushing a button to switch.

HP is targeting the Slate 21 primarily as small and medium size businesses as well as hospitality and other verticals, including kiosk use. The device is compatible with standard VESA accessories for wall or swing-arm mounting.

HP is also selling a version of the Slate aaimed at consumers (without the ability to double as a monitor.) Acer also offers a similar consumer device.

Lenovo is taking a somewhat different tack with the ThinkVision 28. This $1,199 Android all-in-one features a stunning 28-inch 4K touch display that can double as a PC monitor. Its primary market is likely to be creative professionals, such as photographers and graphic artists, though it’s still a but unclear to me what they will do with the Android part. Lenovo also offers a cheaper ands smaller consumer Android all-in-one, the $399 N308 with a 19-inch display.

Both Intel and AMD are pushing a somewhat more curious idea, alptops that can dual-boot both Windows and Android. Technically, this is not particularly difficult, though dual boots have never been terribly popular outside of some niche markets. Asus has announced the Transformer Book Duet, a 13-inch convertible laptop, starting at $599, that can boot both Windows 8 and Android Jellybean.

I’m no great fan of Android tablets to begin with and it will take some convincing to get me to believe there is a real market for these products (I think similar devices based on Chrome OS might makemore sense. Still,its good to see experimentation continuing in traditonal form factors.