Invasion of the Android Snatchers
Android — the mobile phone platform, not the AI-bearing robots — is the buzzword of the moment for netbook developers. Though the majority of the ultra-light devices are said to be utilizing a massively scaled down version of Windows XP — despite favoring Linux initially — the über-portable boxen are poised to be Googlified.
Taipei — or more accurately, Computex Taipei — is the hot place to be this week, at least if you're an Android-based netbook. The devices have been popping up like prairie dogs at the show, with Asus, Acer, and ECS, among others, debuting devices with the Google-born mobile OS. Acer is poised to be the first to market with an Android-based netbook — although Chinese firm Guangzhou Skytone Transmission Technologies describes their own Android-powered box as being in "final testing" — promising its Aspire One with Android in the third quarter of this year. The Acer machine, which features the same processor used in all Aspire One systems — the Intel Atom — boasts specs the appear to be fairly close to those offered by the existing Windows-based Aspires.
ECS, on the other hand, is offering its device, christened the T800 — Skynet look out — with an OMAP3 chip from Texas Instruments, in both 800MHz and 1GHz models, with what are reported as significant power savings over Atom-based machines. The company expects the machine to sell for $500 or less, and be available in the fourth quarter of 2009, though it will likely be marketed to vendors rather than the general public, as ECS is primarily a contract vendor.
Asus, on the other hand, is apparently putting its Android box on the back burner. Though Qualcomm — supplier of the Snapdragon chip being used — displayed an Android-based Eee at Computex, Asustek chairman Jonney Shih answered questions about the device with apologies for it having appeared, saying the company's decision was to not show the device. The company is said to be pushing the project aside due to limited engineering resources, and because the Android platform is "not mature." Reports, however, describe the machine exhibited as "polished," and unlike expectations for a prototype still in early development.
A delay may be a good thing, however, as something of a kerfluffle — but the kind of thing companies take quite seriously — developed over the device's exhibition. Qualcomm's display of the machine prompted reporters to direct questions about it to Asustek's chairman, after which an Asus spokesman told reporters that Qualcomm had displayed the device without Asus' permission. Qualcomm's VP of Business Development shot back that Asus had given Qualcomm the go-ahead on a display, provided that the only specifications revealed were those of the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. One expects that someone from Asus will clarify the matter — presumably an apology for having accused its own supplier of industrial espionage — before Qualcomm decides to tell Asus it can display its own device — without Qualcomm's chips.
On the subject of Linux-based netbooks (and at least in passing, Intel), Canonical — the corporate side of Ubuntu — announced today, at Computex of course, that it has contracted with Intel to provide a modified version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix for Intel's Classmate PC. The Classmate, intended for educational use, offers a number of features not found in the 'normal' netbook: both standard and tablet modes, with automatic adjustment between portrait and landscape, a touch screen which allows the user to rest their hand on it without affecting its use, a larger SSD/HDD along with additional memory, an of course, the current trend towards larger screens. Though, as Linux users can attest, the operating system is often derided as having poor hardware support, the version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix used on the Classmate will support all of its unique features. Jon Melamut, Canonical OEM Services General Manager: "Our goal has always been to take the best technology and make it available to everyone. Coupling our software with a fantastic, affordable education device like this is a concrete realisation of that ambition."
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.