Acer was one of the first notebook manufacturers to preload Android with the release of the Aspire One D250 netbook. The company touted it as a natural next step from its earlier efforts with Linux on the Aspire One line, though Android wasn’t the only OS on the D250. Acer implemented the technology as an instant-on environment that would ultimately boot into Windows. Unfortunately, Acer did little to customize Android, and that, combined with a lack of apps, made this netbook a novelty at best.
Though this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Android in the clamshell form factor (HP is tinkering with Android on the Compaq AirLife 100 netbook for Europe) the OS has become a popular choice among tablet and MID manufacturers. Touchscreen tablets with displays ranging from 5 to 10 inches offer users an experience very similar to what they’ve experienced with phones, but with more screen real estate for surfing the web, watching videos, and performing other tasks.
What you’ll find under the hood of these tablets are low-power ARM processors that promise even better endurance than Intel’s Atom chips for netbooks. And ARM CPUs simply aren’t compatible with the touch-friendly Windows 7.
Android’s mutability and open source flexibility is attractive to manufacturers because it allows them to modify the code to suit their devices and targeted audiences. For example, Barnes & Noble’s Nook runs on Android, but with heavy tweaks to the graphical user interface tailored for the eReader crowd’s needs. Tablet maker Archos made modifications to allow for HD video playback on the Archos 5 Internet tablet, something the OS doesn’t do by default. The Android-powerd Mobinnova Beam smartbook, due out this spring, also has a custom UI, though the device is designed to complement notebook users’ expectations.
While hardware restrictions and flexibility play a large role in whether device vendors choose Android, intended functionality is another major factor. For example, the focus of Archos’ 5-inch tablet is entertainment. When we first saw the Beam smartbook it ran Windows CE, but it will have Android when the multimedia-focused machine first comes to market. “Both operating systems have advantages and disadvantages,” said Mobinnova CTO Mark Anderson. “Timing is being driven by market demand. Android will have Flash 10 support earlier than Windows CE.”