Computers used to be so simple. You turned them on, waited for the operating system to load, and then clicked your way around a few applications — many of which probably came pre-installed on the device — with a mouse or trackpad. Unless you were using virtualization software the device used just one operating system. They were easy to understand, easy to use, and relatively easy to explain to technological fuddy-duddies.
That’s starting to change, as PC manufacturers respond to the rise of touchscreens, mobile operating systems, and increasingly powerful hardware. They’re turning everything into a “tablet.” They’re adding acrobatic hinges that allow their devices to present their displays at odd angles, morphing between a tablet, a notebook, and everything in between with a few twists and snaps. And they’re starting to rely on Android, the mobile operating system that has made its way into everything from drones and videogame consoles to refrigerators and treadmills, to make those devices work.
You can see this with Asus’ Transformer AiO, an all-in-one desktop computer that can also function as an (enormous) Android-based tablet, or the Transformer Book Trio, a laptop that also runs both operating systems. Samsung yesterday announced the Ativ Q, a “slider” laptop that can run a virtualized version of Android within Windows 8. You are now able to buy multiple devices that utilize a much-maligned desktop operating system and the world’s most prevalent mobile platform in equal measure. Why? Well, because of the apps.
It’s become cliché to note that Windows doesn’t have as vibrant an ecosystem as Android or iOS, especially when you consider how many of those applications were built specifically for a touch-based interface. Even those applications that are built for touchscreens are largely ignored by many users who seem to be favoring the traditional desktop interface over Windows 8′s new touch-friendly design. Building Android into these devices allows manufacturers to sell products meant to offer a compelling reason to use a device’s touchscreen and, since the keyboard and trackpad are still attached, use Windows for applications that don’t rely on touch. (So, essentially, Microsoft Office and Web browsers.)
PC-makers aren’t the only ones trying to co-opt the Android ecosystem, however. Mobile platforms, such as BlackBerry 10 and Sailfish, are also building support for Android applications in to their platforms. Anything with a touchscreen and a relative dearth of applications — besides Microsoft itself, which is instead said to be offering up to $100,000 to developers in exchange for porting their apps to its platforms — is turning to Google’s platform for help. Android has become more than the free operating system for practically any device imaginable — it’s become an application layer that manufacturers and platform-makers alike can use to gain access to touch-ready software.
Now they just need to find a way to explain how relatively simple devices became acrobatic, touchscreen-equipped hybrids, convertibles, and sliders that can run multiple operating systems — and all kinds of interfaces, thanks to Windows 8′s blend of the traditional desktop and refreshed interface — with just a few taps. Maybe there’s an Android app for that.