One of the nicer aspects to CES is that it doesn’t focus just on cellular phones and tablets like many of the other events that we cover. Of course, we’re not “Home Appliances Now”, we’re “Pocketnow”, so much of what is announced and displayed at the show isn’t all that relevant to our audience. Sometimes, however, those worlds collide, and when they do, the result is either magnificent — or disastrous. In either case, it’s fun to watch!
If you’ve listened to any of the episodes of our podcast, Pocketnow Weekly, you’ll probably be familiar with all the banter between Michael, Tony, and I around “smart appliances”. (If you haven’t started listening to the podcast, you’re missing out!) In some of those episodes Michael muses about his smart toaster powered by Open WebOS and Tony longs for the day when he has Android running on his dishwasher. Sure, it’s said in jest (I think), but then we came up with a practical use for a “smarter” appliance when we talked about eight scenarios where NFC could make sense. In one of those cases, a smart washing machine could set a timer on your NFC-enabled smartphone to remind you to switch loads. To do that, the appliance would have to have some level of intelligence and the ability to dynamically communicate via NFC — in short, it would need an operating system of some sort to do it.
Writing an OS from scratch is no easy task, but adapting an existing one is an attractive concept. iOS and Windows Phone are pretty closed-source, and we’re probably not going to see any major or minor appliances running OSes from either of those. Android, on the other hand, is an option. It’s open-source, Linux-based, and already runs on smartphones, tablets, cameras, and TV set-top boxes and dongles.
On display at CES 2013 you’ll find a pocket projector from Royal Philips Electronics NV called PicoPix. Across the hall is a refrigerator line from LG called Smart Thinq. At another booth is Parrot SA’s Asteroid car stereo system. What do they have in common? They’re all powered by Android. There are even rumors of an Android-powered Rice Cooker on the show floor. We’re finally starting to see Michael’s and Tony’s sarcastic dream come true!
“Android is sitting pretty in this space to take more share from the incumbents,” said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. “The fundamental advantage with Android is that the vendor can take a bigger chunk of the software and own it.”
It’s only going to get bigger. A while back Google released the Android Development Kit (ADK) to start developers thinking about how to extend the capabilities of Android-powered devices to appliances and home automation systems. It looks manufacturers took the hint and the age of the smart appliance may finally be upon us. Since they’re powered by Android, we hope they’ll play nicely with our smartphones and tablets. Time will tell. In the meantime, Tony and Michael are kicking themselves for not taking out patents.