Google announced the nebulous Android Things platform several years ago to power various smart devices as part of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). Now, Google says it’s rethinking the scale of Android Things. The platform will focus exclusively on smart displays and speakers rather than small, low-power devices like sensors, lights, and cameras.
Android Things was in development for years before any products reached the market — it was a rebrand of Google’s Project Brillo platform. Android Things hit v1.0 last year, just in time for Assistant smart displays to begin launching. Although, Google’s own Home Hub smart display doesn’t even use Android Things.
There is definitely an appetite in the market for something like Android Things, so the pivot is probably more about the limitations of Android Things than a lack of interest from partners. Currently, IoT devices are running various operating systems with no plan for security updates or ongoing support. This could be a massive headache as botnets like Mirai continue to target these devices.
On the surface, Android Things would be a great way to improve the IoT ecosystem. It’s a managed platform, so Google handles the security updates on its end. Hardware makers can install an app layer on top of the base OS to perform whatever functions they need. The updates just happen as needed without the vendor’s involvement.
The real problem for Android Things is that Google never managed to make it efficient enough to run on low-spec IoT hardware. The cheapest System on Module (SoM) in a consumer Things device runs a Snapdragon 212 with 1GB of RAM. That’s overkill for a smart plug or lightbulb and would make them prohibitively expensive. Google’s Home Hub with its custom software implementation is cheaper than many Android Things displays because it’s running on more modest hardware.
According to Google, Android Things will only work on the Snapdragon 212 and 624 SoMs going forward. The MediaTek and NXP i.MX8M platforms won’t be available for use in a consumer device. There are still developer kits for these SoMs, but it would appear there’s no upgrade path to production-ready hardware — there are apparently more than 100 non-commercial Android Things devices on these SoMs. Any companies planning to make anything other than a speaker or display with Android Things will have to look elsewhere.
- How to Preserve Your Privacy on Android Without Tearing Your Hair Out
- Copying the iPhone X Notch on Android Is Lazy and Stupid
- 25 Best Android Tips to Make Your Phone More Useful