Ah, Google. It’s a huge company, but its number one business is not search, or Chrome or even Glass. In fact, it is not any software or hardware product Google offers. Google’s primary source of revenue is the data it gets when you use its products. It’s no wonder that Google wants to get into the Internet of Things, and Android is its key.
With sensors, tags, and data centers, can you imagine the amount of data that Google could get? From traffic data to weather to everything that is measured by any device in the Internet of Things. In fact, Google’s head of Android and Chrome, Sundar Pichai, said in August 2013 that the company’s goal was to “put computing everywhere.” This is the reason why Google is looking for strategic partnerships with companies that manufacture hardware to help them gather, process and distribute information. Or why they do it themselves.
At the heart of this development is Google’s Android OS. Android is currently the number one operating system for mobile phones. In fact, in the third quarter of 2013 more than eight out of every ten mobile devices shipped with the Android OS.
But even with that stellar performance in the mobile market, such devices still represent a very low number when you consider that most interconnected things are running Android. From espresso makers and miniature satellites to video game consoles, rifles, refrigerators, and farm harvesters, all of these are running on Android.
So how did this relationship between Android and the Internet of Things start and what sustains it?
Android seems to be the logical choice for the Internet of Things. The open source operating system, on top of being comparable to proprietary OSes such as Apple’s iOS in terms of features and design, is free to use, so it does not impact the cost of a device. Yet it is not an inferior operating system. In fact, it is much better developed than some commercial operating systems out there.
Further, because it is open-source, anybody can take a look at the code and tailor-fit it to their needs. You can add or remove features as you see fit.
Android also uses less power than many other operating systems. The original Android code was based on Linux, and Google stripped it down and streamlined everything. Fewer functions are needed to run the OS, which in turn leads to less power consumption by the processor.
It is not that there isn’t high-powered competition. Microsoft, the maker of the Windows OS used in nine out of every ten desktop computers, has Windows Embedded. However, device manufacturers would tell you that Windows Embedded has license fees that make it less attractive than Android. More than this, Windows Embedded is not as flexible as Android, which manufacturers can tweak for their own ends.
Another thing that cements the relationship between Android and the Internet of Things is the unwillingness of some other OS manufacturers to license their operating systems on other devices. A great example of this is Apple, which prohibits any third party from using its iOS operating system on any device.
An additional factor that strengthens the Android — Internet of Things “partnership” is that Android works well with other technologies that are needed to run IoT devices. Bluetooth Low Energy, short-range wireless connectivity, and the Cloud can all work with Android to make a device that consumes small amounts of power, collects and transmits data, and basically does whatever it needs to do. Further, the Android community has been making sure that enhancements to these technologies (as well as new ones) are almost immediately included in the OS.
Market research firm IDC thinks that the Internet of Things will grow into an $8.9-trillion industry with an installed base of 212 billion by 2020. All the data one could get from these stats is what motivates Google to get into the IoT space. It is paying off. Device manufacturers prefer Android because of its flexibility and low cost, and all other manufacturers are taking notice. This is called the network effect. The easiest way to make sure that your product is compatible with the rest of the IoT landscape is to use the same OS as the majority is using.
For the IoT, then, the future is Android, and with it, Google.