Android an alternative to Windows in netbooks, says Gartner

The smartphone operating system could compete on hardware derived from mobile phone chips

Google's Android mobile phone software worked well on mini-laptops at the Computex Taipei 2009 electronics show and, backed by the strong Google brand, may be headed for prime time, two Gartner analysts said Monday.

The researchers noted that PC manufacturers believe Android is not quite ready for netbooks or similar devices yet, but that it will inevitably get there. The mobile operating system was developed for smartphones, but a number of initiatives have put the operating system in devices such as mini-laptops, netbooks and smartbooks.

Netbooks and smartbooks are two kinds of mini-laptops with screens 10-inches or smaller and full keyboards, but differ in that netbooks are designed to work on PC microchips such as Intel's Atom microprocessors, while smartbooks run on mobile phone chips with processing cores from Arm Holdings.

"When Android did work, we found that the user interface was very snappy on relatively low-performance ARM processors, more so than Windows 7 on Atom," Christian Heidarson and Ben Lee wrote in Gartner's Semiconductor DQ Monday Report.

Android has put momentum behind the move to use ARM processors in the PC industry, including with support from critical software vendors, the researchers said.

Microsoft has said it will not port Windows 7 to ARM nor modify Windows Mobile to work on smartbooks because the devices are untested in the market. That leaves the field open for Google, which has so far remained mum on its plans to support Android outside mobile phones.

Computex served as a coming out party for Android in devices beyond smartphones and in gadgets running on two other kinds of processor technologies, the PC industry's x86 processors and MIPs processors.

Several Android-based smartbooks were on display at Computex, including a version of Asustek Computer's Eee PC based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor, which contain ARM processing cores. Asustek pioneered netbooks and has used other Linux OSes in past netbooks, but prior to Computex it had almost completely migrated to Microsoft Windows XP, which is the most popular OS for netbooks.

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) showed off an Android smartbook powered by ARM-based chips from Texas Instruments at Computex, while chip maker Freescale Semiconductor displayed Android smartbooks from Pegatron, the contract manufacturing subsidiary of Asustek, and Wistron, Acer's former contract manufacturing arm.

The Android Eee PC was thinner and lighter than current members of Asustek's Eee PC netbook lineup due to the 1GHz ARM processing core. The chips use less electricity and give off less heat than Intel Atom chips, so the mini-laptops they're in do not require cooling systems such as heat sinks or fans.

The smartbooks on display at Computex looked a lot like netbooks, with 10-inch screens and full keyboards, but they can run for eight hours on a three-cell battery, compared to two or three hours for a netbook with a three-cell battery.

Acer, the world's third-largest PC vendor, unveiled an Android Aspire One netbook, unique because it runs Android on an Intel Atom processor, not an ARM-based chip.

Acer worked with a Taiwanese Linux distributor to port Android over to x86 processors, a first for the OS. The device is due out in the third quarter, the company said.

Not to be left out, MIPS Technologies worked with software developer Embedded Alley to port Android to the MIPS chip architecture, which the companies also showed on devices at Computex.

Several other companies displayed their first-ever Android-based gadgets, including Inventec Appliances, which showed a smartphone and handheld computer, and Kinpo, which displayed a handheld computer.

Other vendors such as BenQ, Micro-Star International (MSI) and Garmin-Asus vowed to catch up with Android-based products of their own.

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Tags GartnersmartbooksAndroid netbooksWindowsGoogle AndroidAndroidacernetbooksElitegroup Computer Systems

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Dan Nystedt

IDG News Service
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