There is a lot of buzz about Android at the moment. Indeed, I have written about it here, as has my colleague Scott. A lot of the discussion is around the topic of the new Android-powered smart phones that seem to appear on a daily basis. Just about every handset manufacturer seems to have jumped on the bandwagon. I have no problem with this. Far from it. I really like my Android phone and would encourage anyone to look at what is available. Although Google seem to be strongly focussed on dominating the mobile handset market, I think that the application of Android in other areas, beyond mobile, is much more interesting …
Android is more than an operating system; it is a software platform for building connected devices. It can also be seen as a means of making Linux easier to use for embedded applications. Linux offers significant benefits to the developer of non-hard real time embedded systems as a result of the very wide range of supporting software components - drivers and middleware - that are readily available. Android inherits these benefits.
Here are some possible Android applications that come to my mind:
- Home entertainment. There was a time when “home entertainment” consisted of watching broadcast TV and the odd tape on a VCR and listening to CDs. Nowadays, the possibilities are much more sophisticated. A home entertainment system needs to marshal media from multiple sources, displaying and retaining it as required. This can be done with a variety of devices, which need to handle numerous media formats, perform effortless wireless connectivity and offer a friendly and attractive user interface. This is all readily accommodated by Android.
- Medical systems. A modern hospital is bristling with electronics and this equipment must align with the priorities of the health professionals. They are very focussed on the safety and wellbeing of their patients. The instruments must perform with total reliability and their user interfaces must be designed to enable them to be set up correctly and minimize any possibility of operator error. Connectivity between multiple instruments is an increasing requirement; numerous trailing cables are an obstacle to cleanliness, so wireless communication is a great option. Again, this is playing to Android’s strengths.
- Electronic books. Although I have a lifelong affection for “real” books, I can see that the wide acceptance of e-books, at least as a handy alternative, is not far away. I am very attracted by being able to carry my entire library onto a plane without exceeding hand baggage allowances. An e-reader needs to provide two types of functionality: an easy means to browse and read the documents; Internet connectivity to allow new books, updates etc. to be obtained easily. Such a device also needs to be very power efficient to enable extended battery life. Suitably engineered, Android is, again, a perfect fit to these needs.
At Mentor Graphics, we are interested in Android from several perspectives. A key facet, which customers are finding attractive and is a real enabler for applications like those I have discussed, is Inflexion UI. This product enables the developer to rapidly develop a rich user interface for an Android-based device. This helps differentiate their product and make it easier to use [and sometimes safer as well]. It is particularly attractive when a family of products is supported by the same base software and each member of the family may have different display size and other UI capabilities.