Where Will Android Go Next?

When it comes to its new mobile operating system, Android, Google’s dreams go beyond just mobile phones. Indeed, the company is hoping that the open-source version of the software will eventually find its way into a panoply of devices.
Google (s goog) today announced that the open-source version of its mobile OS is now available for anyone to download and use for their devices — even to improve upon Android itself. Its availability comes a day ahead of the launch of T-Mobile’s G-1 handset. (Read my review.) And it marks the first step towards making Android a ubiquitous platform.
Or at least that’s what Google hopes.
With the availability of Android to the open-source community, consumers will soon start to see more applications like location-based travel tools, games and social networking offerings being made available to them directly; cheaper and faster phones at lower costs; and a better mobile web experience through 3G networks with richer screens.The easy access to the mobile platform will not only allow handset makers to download the code, but to build devices around it. Those not looking to build a device from scratch will be able to take the code and modify it to give their devices more of a unique flavor.
“Now OEMs and ODMs who are interested in building Android-based handsets can do so without our involvement,” Rich Miner, Google’s group manager for mobile platforms, told us earlier today. Some of these equipment makers are going to expand the role of Android beyond handsets.
Over the last few weeks I have learned that numerous companies are tinkering with Android in an attempt to get the OS to power a whole slew of gadgets — everything from set-top boxes to navigation systems to mobile Internet devices to smart picture frames. For instance, Motorola (s mot), a big player in the set-top box business, has designs on building an Android-based set-top box.
Motorola may not be alone. I have also heard from fairly reliable sources that two very large PC makers are experimenting with Android-based Internet devices. And when I asked Miner about the potential directions Android could take, he said he’s had many conversations with equipment makers.
The growing interest in Android, which is built upon the Linux kernel, is perfectly understandable. It’s not just an operating system, but comes with middleware and key applications, making it a complete environment that can be modified for other users. It has a robust web browser (based on WebKit), the ability to handle 2D and 3D graphics, and is able to read all sorts of audio, video and image files. As a result it can be extended into any number of consumer electronic devices that needed a robust software system.
Google is taking Android very seriously, and is working on getting a groundswell built for it. For instance, it has started talking with leading universities – MIT, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon – to develop teaching programs around the OS, ones in which students would be given lessons in Android UI, for example, or taught about the uses of Android as an embedded environment.
While its potential might not seem that obvious today -– after all, Android is currently available on one device from one carrier -– it’s hard not to get excited about it.