Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Android devices proliferate... outside of the U.S.

VIA Technologies Neo-ITX board is a $49 "Android PC"
While Google continues to have difficulty translating Android's smartphone success to other platforms in the U.S., namely in television set-top boxes (STBs) and tablets, electronics manufacturers in Taiwan are proliferating use of the free operating system in a wide variety of devices, most of which we are unlikely to see here any time soon. An Android-based personal computer anyone?

VIA Technologies has recently announced a fully-populated, Neo-ITX form factor (17cm x 8.5cm), motherboard which runs an "Optimized Android OS"... for only $49.  The "optimizations" add support for for keyboard and mouse input, which you can see in the video embedded below the break.

The processor for this "Android PC" (APC) is WonderMedia's PRIZM WM8750, which is based on a 800Mhz ARM1176JZF processor. This is essentially the same ARM core that Samsung used for their application processor in the iPhone 3G, so calling the VIA board a PC is stretching the definition a bit. VIA refers to the APC as "A bicycle for your mind". Think toddler's tricycle more than a Tour de France racing bike.

Nevertheless, the APC does offer a lot of PC-like features for its targeted, low-cost, market. WonderMedia claims compatibility with Microsoft's Windows-7 OS, and the WM8750 includes a DDR2/DDR3 DRAM interface, 1080p video interfaces for High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), Low-Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS), TV-out, Digital Video Out (DVO) and Video Graphics Array (VGA), along with Ethernet and Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 interfaces. The VIA board includes 2GB of NAND Flash, and 512KB of DDR3 SDRAM.

PCs just begin to scratch the surface of the variety of Android-based gadgets which are being developed by Taiwanese manufacturers. STBs were prominently on display at the 2012 CES, and you can find a number of them listed on the website. More unusual, is the Android Message Clock, pictured at right. This gadget is an alarm clock that users can control and program with an Android smartphone or tablet, via the Bluetooth connection. Parents of teenagers might appreciate this feature:
"If the family member did not get up, then you can tap smartphone/tablet Alarm or LED to ask the family member to get up, in order to avoid being late."
There are also Android music players, such as the potentially trademark-infringing Bonux iMusic Player, which employs a 667MHz ARM11 processor, running Android 2.1 with WiFI, Ethernet, and USB connectivity.

You can also find "The world’s first car Tablet PC", in a Double DIN form factor, to replace your car radio. The manufacturer of the IF-am113, Beauty Up Co. Ltd., (BEUP) says that users can install their own apps and content from an IF app store. The tablet detaches from the head unit, and includes USB, WiFi, and Bluetooth connectivity. A 1.0GHz Cortex A8 processor, with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, runs Google's latest Android version 4.0 - Ice Cream Sandwich.
Though no 3G connectivity is described by BEUP, they specify that the device enables hands-free calling. The tablet includes a GPS sensor, AM/FM radio tuner, and a 3Mega-pixel camera.

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