Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sci-Tech watch, 4: Android Operating System dips a toe in laptop -- and desktop -- waters (with remarks on Google's Chrome OS)

A couple of days back, I ran across a discussion of the new Google-HP Chromebook 11, for US$279.  I thought, well that is a "cloud based" netbook, locked into Google's browser Chrome extended into an operating system. 

Not interested. 

But, what about, an Android OS notebook or netbook PC?


It seems that Lenovo of China (which bought out IBM's PC line of products) "accidentally" leaked -- take that for what it's worth, it has sure got them a lot of free publicity -- a manual for its upcoming IdeaPad A10:

Lenovo's IdeaPad A10 Android 10.1" screen, netbook size PC, shown folded back to the 300 degree "reader" display position

Front view of the A10, showing Touch-Pad interface
Yes, it uses both a touch-screen with gestures and has a touch-pad as can be seen from the more conventional front view. 

That means it can use a mouse too.  Mix in that we already have Kingsoft Office free, the rumour that the long anticipated porting of the Libre Office productivity suite --a fork of Open Office -- to Android is nearing completion, the accessibility of apps for all sorts of things for about US$ 1 - 10, and with the capability to be an E-book reader and this device is looking quite interesting.

PC World comments:

. . . the laptop has a 10.1 inch HD screen and is listed as an Android device, according to the manuals uploaded on Lenovo's site. 

The laptop's 10-inch display also functions as a touchscreen. It can be opened up to 300 degrees, supporting the screen for reading or touching while the keyboard rests face down. In addition, the keyboard has signature Android buttons for "home screen", "previous" and "apps screen", found on the bottom of many phones and tablets running the Google OS . . . . 

The laptop's specs show that it could be a budget product. It has an Arm quad-core 1.6GHz processor from Chinese firm Rockchip, 1GB or 2GB of RAM, and 16GB or 32GB of storage. There is also a 0.3 megapixel camera, a microSD card slot and an HDMI port. 

Tech vendors are increasingly experimenting with Android at a time when demand for traditional Windows PCs has been waning. Earlier this year, Acer and Hewlett-Packard showed all-in-one desktops using the Google operating system. HP's product, called the Slate 21, has a price of $399.

On the convertible PC side, Asus has shown a hybrid device that can run both Windows and Android. Called the Transformer Book Trio, the product operates as a stand-alone Android tablet, but when attached to its keyboard it can also boot up Windows.
The point is, Windows 8 -- am I the only one who finds the blocky appearance of the start screen irretrievably ugly? --  has not taken off like a rocket, and with a growing base of Android Smartphones and  Tablets, a PC is the next logical step. Especially, when we consider that Android is actually built on the Linux Operating System Kernel, where in turn Linux is actually sufficiently compliant with Unix tests to be a valid Unix.  

Already, there are "super-tablet" Desktop All In One PCs that use Android, such as the US$ 399 starting, HP Slate 21.

This video review from India -- pardon glitches -- is remarkably sincere and  gives a good idea of Android as a desktop experience:

What this opens up is another road to educational computing, the c. 10-inch screen netbook sized PC running Android OS, and using Libre Office or Kingsoft as main productivity Suite. That goes with the 7-inch tablet with a folio and keyboard that I have already discussed.

I can speak from the experience of coming on four years of using an Asus Eee, that this is a valid computing platform, and has the distinct advantage of being truly transportable. the only complaint I have -- apart form the usual one that the small keyboard will take some adapting to -- is that it is a tad heavy for a go anywhere book reader. It fits in any reasonable sized pouch or bag, can accompany calculators and the like. (If you want a hardware calculator. A touchscreen calculator is easy to get, often free -- including my HP style RPN calculator. I even have a working HP 49 emulator on this Windows machine.)

One fly in the ointment.

Google's lock-in game is the App Store. If manufacturers want to access it, they have to come to Google, hat in hand. So far, there are a lot of other attempted walled gardens by various manufacturers. Not interested.

(A better bet so far is Amazon's Android App store that has some 50,000 apps, Yes Google Play is at 600,000, but 50,000 is quite good enough for our purposes, thank you. And of course, there's an App for that, too. [It is pre-loaded on Kindle Fire tablets, which use a modified Android.)

So, we have a workaround for that issue.

I therefore want to put on the table a cluster of such devices, for consideration as a new educational pattern:
a: 7" tablets living in folios with keyboards
b: 10" netbook PCs for students and many teachers (as in Australia and Trinidad and Tobago)
c: 10 - 12" transformer-type tablet/netbook PCs for those who want a step up
d: 21 - 27" All in One tablets for desktop work
e: 40 - 50+ inch screens based on TV's for display, with wireless keyboard and touch-pad
f: Multimedia projectors as needed, up to the high Powered Barco's for lecture theatres etc
g: For labs, a blend of thin client PCs, All in Ones and Windows workstations or the like as needed, backed up by servers
All of these would work together in the context of a distributed access web based education model that uses local micro-campus centres for class type work, backed up by a web based cybercampus.

But also, I think the Android netbook is a valid and potentially revolutionary computing platform, having potential to break the hold of Windows on the desktop, save for specialist niches where special software and high powered machines are really needed. 

In short, Windows may well be heading for the sort of niche status that Apple's OS X already has. (Given the rise of the phone as the most common computing device used by people, that may already have happened. Just, we need to move beyond thinking, entertainment to seeing potential for education and even productivity.)  END

PS:  It may be helpful to clip from the RH column, on the cyber campus edu initiative I have been pondering for a while under the capacity development theme for this blog:

Capacity Development -- the AACCS