Google stays mum on Android laptop plans

Two laptops based on the OS made an appearance at Computex, but Google exec declined to discuss what steps the company is taking to adapt the smartphone OS for laptops

While two laptops based on Google's Android operating system made an appearance ahead of the annual Computex exhibition in Taipei, a senior executive at the search engine company declined to discuss what steps the company is taking to adapt the smartphone OS for laptops.

"We are keenly aware of the opportunities that Android has for multiple devices -- netbooks being one of them -- so we are not blind to it, but I can't discuss whether we have engineering backing behind it," said Daniel Alegre, Google's vice president of Asia-Pacific sales and operations, speaking to reporters after a press conference at the company's office in Taipei.

[ At Computex Qualcomm showed off an Eee PC "smartbook" running the Android OS. | Discover the top-rated IT products as rated by the InfoWorld Test Center. ]

During an earlier question and answer session with reporters, Alegre declined to comment on when the first Android-based laptops will hit the market, citing non-disclosure agreements with other companies.

Based on the open-source Linux operating system, Android was originally intended for use on smartphones, like High-Tech Computer's G1 handset. The popularity of Android led some to experiment with the operating system on other devices, a task made easier by its use of a Linux kernel.

Two Android-based laptops were shown off at a Qualcomm press conference held in Taipei to showcase its Snapdragon processor, which uses an Arm core like those found in smartphones instead of the x86 cores used in PC chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. One of the Android-based laptops was an unannounced version of Asustek Computer's Eee PC, while the other was a prototype by contract hardware maker Compal Electronics.

In both cases, the laptops were running the same version of Android designed for smartphones, allowing users to surf the Web and watch video files. Only the Compal prototype showed an effort to customize the OS for the laptop with a Compal-designed home screen, suggesting this may be the approach hardware makers take to adapt Android for laptops.

Small laptops based on Snapdragon are expected to offer up to 10 hours of battery life with a constant connection to cellular networks. They will start hitting the market before the end of this year, raising the possibility that Android-based laptops could appear at the same time.

Android could be a good fit for these systems, provided hardware makers do the necessary work to adapt them to use on laptops' larger screen sizes. The operating system was released by Google as an open platform that would spur developers to create new and innovative mobile applications. Google doesn't profit directly from Android, but it believes that greater use of mobile Internet applications will lead users to create more content that it can index for its search engine, which means it can sell more advertising.

Asked about the lack of customization of Android for the prototype laptops based on Snapdragon, Luis Pineda, Qualcomm's senior vice president of marketing and product management, said hardware makers will design home screens for these laptops that will give users access to different functions and applications.

"Beneath the interface and the home screen is Linux, but the user doesn't even know," Pineda said, citing the iPhone, which uses a MacOS X kernel beneath its touch interface.

(Owen Fletcher, in Taipei, contributed to this article.)

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