CES: Android’s Big Business Bid

Steve Wildstrom / January 8th, 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.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Anders CT

    1) OEMs are trying anything and see what sticks. It’s an exploratory search, and Android has been succesful in many other places.

    2) Developer- and engineering-mindshare is legion around android. At IDF Intel bragged about having 1200 engineers working on Android. That matters a lot, because different entities will implicitly leverage each others investment of time and resources. Android has become the default platform to put on anything that has a userinterface, connectivity, applications and sensors.

    3) Android has many desktop related features lying dormant underneath. Trackball-support, keyboard navigation, and support for native windowing, and such. Someone has added this to the Android source-tree, probably for a reason. Or not. Sometimes Google seems to make new exciting plans every other week.

    4) I’m writing this on an Android laptop, and for me Android is better than expected on the desktop, but not ready yet. But Android wasn’t ready for tablets when the first Android tablets arrived, and arguably not even for smartphones when the first Android handset was launched,

    5) Android is sometimes accused of being af rip-off of iOS, but really those two platforms are in many ways the exact opposite. Android is this modular platform build-kit, that can be tested and tried in many different devices and use-cases, most of them failing, some of them succeding aginst odds. iOS, as we know, is an elegant consistent platform carefully integrated with a uniform set of hardware. Where iOS is beautifully crafted, Android is a box of legos.

  • Mauryan

    I simply wish Google had started at the dawn of the PC era. It and not Microsoft would have been a worthy competitor to Apple. And the PC industry would have reached incredible heights with companies like Google. The world had to endure a bad karma of having to work with Microsoft and become dependent on it. Creative companies like Google would have shaped the industry very differently. I am glad that it is all happening at least now. May be the Microsoft experience happened to show people how things could go if people lacking vision could get to run the creative industry. The era of Microsoft dominance reminds me of the USSR and its control over its people and the vassal states.

    • Anders CT

      Microsoft was once considered the nimble startup that disrupted the stale behemoth IBM. Now Microsoft is turning into IBM and Google into Microsoft. The question is who the next Google is?

      • Mauryan

        IBM created the modular PC. Microsoft got business from them. If IBM had gone to someone else, we will not be talking about Microsoft. That IBM shot itself in the foot and lost out a huge future market for itself is a different story. Microsoft did not disrupt anyone. Disruption something where a company comes up with something so different and new that it takes down the traditional market dominating companies. What Apple did with its iPhone is disruption and it brought down companies like Blackberry and Nokia. With iPad Apple caused another disruption to the laptop/PC market. Apple did not start out getting a small contract with Nokia or Blackberry, and then began to knock them down. Apple did something entirely on its own and hit the market hard on its head. Microsoft just happened to the one sitting on the chair when the music stopped.

        • aardman

          I’ve always said, Microsoft is not really a high tech company. Its primary skill set is not in the development and sale of technology products but in the acquisition, extension and perpetuation of monopoly positions through shrewd strategic contracting with upstream and downstream partners and the artful deployment of corporate and personal intimidation and coercion, both legal and illegal. In short, they can write the book on how to put the squeeze on your partners and competitors and end up owning the market. Microsoft in their heyday was what Standard Oil was about century ago.

    • steve_wildstrom

      While Microsoft is somewhat adrift today, this is monumentally unfair to what it accomplished in its glory days. Microsoft built the PC industry, both creating a mass consumer market and liberating corporate computing from the tyranny of the mainframe. Had Google taken the place of Microsoft, I’m sure things would have been very different, but not likely better. It’s essentially a meaningless question, since we have no idea what Google would have been had it been an entirely different company at a very different time.

      • Mauryan

        I don’t think I agree with your analysis. Microsoft built the PC industry the wrong way, wiping out all competition and creating stagnation. Apple could have been a good competition, but they took a different route that did not click and Steve Jobs was kicked out at the crucial time. By the time he returned, Microsoft settled itself as the only player in the industry. I am sure other companies could have created the PC industry as well. Customers were without a choice. Google is a real geek company. They are the 3M of the tech industry. It is just a matter of opinion as to whether they could gone on a different route or not. I can only say based on how they are now. They started out as a search engine company and their business model has not changed. They have added everything else to enhance the reliance on search. They have provided a very healthy competition to Apple. I dread the thought of Microsoft being Apple’s mobile competitor. Google helped competition catch up with Apple with quality and creativity. I wish companies like Lotus, Word Perfect, Borland, Netscape etc had survived over the years. They got eaten up by the big fish leading to stagnation. MS Word is one of the worst word processing software written. For lack of proper alternatives for many years, MS Words has become the default word processor for everyone. Likewise MS had enough time and opportunity to remain messy and lack creativity. This is not something I’d call as creating the PC industry. They managed to keep others away from it for a long time and I would not call what they do as innovation.

  • Dan

    I’m wondering if the Oracle suit related to use / miss use of java will be a fly in the Android pot. Reading “Foss Patents” it looks like this has not been a done deal as many presume.

    This may be more of an issue for Google rather than the companies that use it, but…..

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