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The Android Dilemma

Posted in New Technologies, Value added services and applications by Manas Ganguly on August 3, 2012

Tight control (Fight Fragmentation) v/s Open Source Innovation – That is a dilemma that Android has on itself.

A connected world of device systems running on seamlessly on a single platform. Embedded systems in the back end are evolving the definition of connected devices. Definition of device connectivity is migrating from Netbook, Smartphone, Tablet, Car, TV to complex enterprise/industrial systems and critical utility infrastructure which are stitched together by a complex network of  NFC, RFID, QR Code Readers, Motion/activity sensors and more (the list is quite large here).  In the later case, Linux has dominated the market for good cause: it’s lightweight, networked, reliable, standards-based, and cheap — a perfect combination that has stymied competitors.

What Linux does well, Android does better

Android pushes these benefits several notches further, adding a graphical user interface and modern mobile networking support, which are huge assets for embedded devices that might be mobile and require increased redundancy or frequent interaction with users who find menus and icons far less intimidating than command prompts or low-grade web interfaces.

One of Android’s greatest assets, and one of its critical weaknesses from a tablets perspective, is that Google essentially provides a blank slate upon which others can build compelling, integrated applications. Google’s desire to deliver a platform might be perfect for embedded devices, but it’s become a hindrance for enterprise tablets.

A solution for embedded devices is unfortunately Platform fragmentation on the other hand

Even while there are  concerns about Android hardware fragmentation, the rapid release cycle has muddied the waters on the software front, especially as it pertains to tablets. Add in Android’s ability to be enhanced and modified by manufacturers, which a great strength on the embedded device front, and you have different hardware providers doing everything from superficial “skinning” of Android on their particular device to providing a unique and different OS shell.

Google shouldn’t take an Apple-like approach to locking down hardware, software, and application distribution, but Android does need to be more tightly controlled by Google in order to achieve tablet success. A significant asset that Google has over Apple is that there are Android tablets available in every conceivable size, shape, and price point. Hardware manufacturers understandably don’t want to be forced into commodity status, but at this juncture, an average user could pick up three random Android tablets and find an inconsistent interface and experience among them. This is not a recipe for a successful enterprise device.

Its an interesting toss up and a marketers dilemma at Google – Maintain course and run out of favour for devices today. Or change course today and loose out on the what appears to be a great future in connected devices

Microsoft’s connected Living Room experience

Posted in TV and Digital Entertainment by Manas Ganguly on January 22, 2011

One central console to control content, media and entertainment at home: That has been what the Windows Media Centre along with the Windows Embedded Standard 7 OS is out to deliver to the markets.

Windows Media Centre allows turning TV tuner-equipped PCs into versatile DVRs (digital video recorders) with online program guides, burns some content to DVD, syncs media with various portable devices, and streams recorded content to the Xbox 360 and other Media Extender devices, among other features. That in effect defines the Connected Living Room experience. Inspite of the richness of Windows Media centre, HTPCs (home theater PCs) have been complex, appealing only to hardcore hobbyists. They’ve also been too expensive for service providers to consider supplying them to their customers.

Microsoft has also been lining up its set of partners for the delivery of Connected Living Room experience: Acer (Gateway), Evolve, Haier, Prime Time, and Reycom.

Stating a company release:
These devices work with Microsoft technology such as Windows Phone 7 and Windows Home Server to create a media experience that delivers more than the sum of its parts. By using connected media devices built on Microsoft products together, consumers will be able to merge multimedia content from various sources and locations such as the Internet and broadcast TV, social media portals, and personal libraries of photos, music and videos. All of this content comes together in a centralized entertainment hub that’s accessible by other Windows powered devices throughout the networked home.

The good part of this story is that the experience delivery at this time depends upon the ability of the hardware and the software to do specific things and do them the way they are designed to do. Microsoft has been making embedded software for a long time and they are good at it. Microsoft ported its Media Center software to the latest embedded version of Windows and is giving hardware partners the chance to build a DVR without spending all the big bucks on developing software. The bad news is that embedded also means restrictions, and while some are sure to hack their way to more functionality, it won’t be as easy. The inability to install one’s favorite codec isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, and installing software to automatically skip commercials is almost certainly a no go.

The other good news for Microsoft and this arrangement is that content owners such as Netflix, VUDU, Blockbuster, cable video-on-demand have all been available to embedded devices for some time.

It is an age of embedded devices with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verzion and DirecTV showing their content capabilities across a range of embedded connected devices. So embedded devices and the eco-system that is backing it up doesn’t just mean stability and affordability, it can also mean content.

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