Google brings Android to appliances in quest to extend dominance beyond phones
Alphabet Inc's Google on Monday launched a spinoff of its Android operating system for home appliances and other machines, following mixed results with Android offshoots for cars, smartwatches and televisions.
'Android Things', which arrives as Google opens its annual conference for developers, could bring its Google Assistant virtual helper to refrigerators and robots and familiar designs to cash registers and vending machines.
"The goal is to enable them to be built faster, cheaper and more secure," said Venkat Rapaka, a product management director at Google.
Android derivatives aim to provide users with a consistent interface across devices, while Google and its business partners benefit from a standard way to distribute their applications.
Though Google does not charge hardware manufacturers for Android, it expects to generate a return as consumers use new gadgets to use search, watch videos on YouTube and buy content from its Play Store.
The Android operating system powers many of the world's smartphones and drives consumers to Google's cash-minting apps.
But Google has struggled to extend Android's dominance into other areas over the last four years, technology and financial analysts said.
"If you're charitable, you say it's early," said Richard Kramer of Arete Research. "If you're not, you say Android is irrelevant outside phones."
Android Automotive is not yet deeply embedded in any cars. Shipments of smartwatches with Google's Wear OS were outnumbered five-to-one by rival Apple Inc devices last year, according to research firm IDC. Four times as many smart TV shipments last year had Samsung's operating system as Android TV, according to IHS Markit.
In each category, Google's Android system posted less market share last year than manufacturer-customized Android variants, which are less fruitful for Google because they typically are not pre-loaded or compatible with its apps.
Android variants thrive in China, where Google does not operate.
Google also has been slowed by resistance from carmakers to hand over a key interface, smartwatches from consumer electronics brands that failed to attract mass appeal and TV software that manufacturers found too rigid, analysts said.
Google officials said the spinoffs have momentum. Activations of Wear OS devices rose 70 percent late last year compared to the year-earlier period. Android TV activations doubled last year compared to the year before, while vehicles with Android embedded should arrive next year, company officials told Reuters.
South Asia and Latin America are bright spots, they said. Android TV had "tremendous traction over the last year" from Asian cable and satellite operators seeking it for set-top boxes, said Google product management director Shalini Govil-Pai.
Android Automotive was gaining attention from Indian automakers and from Brazil, said Patrick Brady, a Google engineering vice president.
Android Things competes with Amazon.com Inc's Greengrass system and Microsoft's Windows IoT.
Google says it will guarantee three years of free security patches to hardware makers and paid extended options. It is also considering automated security scans of device makers' apps.
Health technology startup Byteflies, an Android Things tester, said it viewed the system's optional integration with Google's cloud computing service and the large Android developer community as big advantages.