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Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)

The Year of the Android PC?

Keep an eye on Android, a rising star in the world of personal computing.

An interesting development is occurring in technology at the beginning of 2014. It’s called the Android PC. Whether this represents a significant shift in personal technology, or a blip that’s just a temporary disruption, is still to be seen. But the dynamics are quite interesting, the players notable and apparently acting with substantial intentionality, and the stakes are potentially very high. If Android PCs begin moving to the mainstream, they could soon have significant impact on our campuses.

This is ultimately a story of tech giants and their respective operating systems, in the context of a continuing competition to determine the future of personal computing. Android phones and tablets have been around for years now, and have seen great success. And of course, so have Microsoft with Windows and Apple with its iOS platform. Linux has made a run for market share, but has never broken out to be a mainstream player (and probably never will). Microsoft’s PC market share has hovered around 90-95 percent for years, depending upon the source cited — which is remarkable, given its missteps with Vista and, more recently, Windows 8, both of which have been held up as examples of how not to deliver a desktop or laptop OS. Microsoft paid heavily for these mistakes.

Apple’s Macintosh has continued to perform well, and estimates are that Macintosh personal computers currently hold about 5-10 percent of the PC market (depending upon sources as well). But an overarching point often missed is that both companies have lost considerable PC market share to tablets. For Microsoft, that also represents staggering losses for hardware partners, including Intel, Dell, HP, Lenovo and others. Citing research data from Gartner, Forbes recently reported that 2013 represented the worst decline in PC sales in history. While some portion of this is the steady migration to tablets by many users, the dismal sales of Windows 8 widely reported in the press have reportedly strained relations between Microsoft and traditional PC manufacturers.

Enter Android Personal Computers

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held each January marks the introduction of numerous technologies and devices positioned with the hope that they will be “game changers” for their makers. One of the interesting developments at this year’s CES was Android PCs. It would not have been surprising if Google had been primarily behind these, especially after the relatively successful launch of its Chromebook Android-based laptop. But the new line of Android PCs was featured by manufacturers including the aforementioned Dell, Lenovo, HP and others. What is perhaps equally interesting were the dual-boot PCs that included both the Windows 8 and Android operating systems — available at the user’s choice at startup. If published reports are true, that internally Microsoft employees are calling Windows 8 the “new Vista,” then these moves by established PC companies are hardly surprising. After all, how can they sell PCs given the negative response to Windows 8?

There are a number of reasons to believe that Android PCs may start to be adopted in all sectors, including the business enterprise. First is cost; for example, Lenovo’s 19.5-inch all-in-one multimedia PC is said to be slated for a price of around $450. As reported by ZDNet, PC makers have more freedom with Android and can probably realize more profit from Android-based PCs. Second, Android is showing up everywhere on numerous devices, from phones to cars and numerous others. Research firm Gartner projects that vendors will ship over one billion Android devices in 2014. In the Internet of Things, Android is already staking out quite a territory. Another strength is the large and thriving ecosystem of Android apps. As more software capabilities continue to evolve in the cloud, even advanced application software will be available through browsers. Finally, the inescapable fact is that today, everything is about being mobile. Android and Apple own this turf. Microsoft, although trying to get back into the smartphone game, is having little significant success.

I would be remiss not to mention the importance of enterprise acceptance to the future of any PC platform. And here again, Android is making headway via the efforts of HP. HP is reported to be positioning its Android PC for ready business enterprise acceptance by supplying a number of important features, including enhanced security, device management, a file-sharing capability and a Citrix receiver to support virtualized applications. Note that this is the same HP that, as of this writing, has just announced a sales campaign in which they feature, “Windows 7 – Back by popular demand!” Things are shifting so dramatically in the PC sector that I just read an article from the financial research firm Motley Fool in which they state, “HP is becoming Microsoft’s biggest enemy.”

As much as I’ve grown to expect change, some changes are still very surprising indeed.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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