A new Kickstarter-born startup by the name of Jide Tech launched a mini-PC that uses a beautiful custom version of Android, perfectly optimized for the PC form factor. The company seems to be years ahead of Google -- which hasn't shown great interest to build more PC-like features into Android so far.
Android On PCs
Android on PCs hasn't had much success, mainly because nobody has given it an honest try. Most of the attempts we've seen so far were at best slight modifications of the tablet interface (itself not that different from the phone interface) put on a much larger screen, while still working as if it were a tablet.
However, it's not the OEMs that should invest their money into making Android a success on PCs, but Google. Android is Google's most successful product yet, actively used by more than a billion users, and it's also the company's best chance to ever pose a serious threat to Windows on the desktop.
Google doesn't seem willing to engage in such a vision yet, though. Instead, it prefers to limp along in the market with Chromebooks; although they may keep growing in popularity, it doesn't seem to happen particularly fast. It could be a decade before Google reaches something like 20 percent market share, and that's probably an optimistic outlook for Chrome OS.
Adding some Android apps to Chromebooks is not going to change things that much. Google is trying to add Android apps to Chrome OS one by one. It's an OS where they don't feel quite like at home, and at this rate it's going to take forever to match the richness of the mobile Android's ecosystem of apps.
It would make much more sense to simply optimize a custom version of Android -- the way Google has already done for TVs, smartwatches, the auto industry, and even the IoT market -- for PCs, rather than try to integrate Android apps into a browser-based operating system.
Android is known by so many people, and it's much easier to see how they could want to upgrade to a more "full-blown" version of the operating system that allows them to be much more productive than on a phone.
Being productive is key here. Although we're doing so many more things today on our phones than we did 10 years ago, smartphones still have their hard limitations, given their small screens and touch keyboards.
The reason the previous attempts to put Android on a PC have failed so far is because they weren't making users that much more productive than they were on their phones. Plus, the interface was completely inadequate for a desktop environment.
While it's still not clear whether Google will even bring a multi-window system to Android M (the code seems to exist, but it hasn't been announced as a feature yet), Jide Tech launched a sub-$100 64-bit PC that runs a custom Lollipop-based version of Android, fully optimized for the desktop environment. Interestingly enough, the company is comprised of three former Google engineers.
Inside the Remix OS, as it is called, you can run multiple apps at the same time, be they spreadsheets, chat apps, browsers and whatever else you want, just as you would on a competing PC desktop OS. The best part is everything looks as it should. It has pretty material design aesthetics, supports multiple windows running at the same time (as a desktop OS should), and it even has a taskbar and a start button.
The lack of a start button has caused Microsoft great headaches since the launch of Windows 8, which showed how important it was for many users. It also wasn't until Chrome OS adopted a start button and a taskbar that it started to feel like it could actually become a real alternative to Windows or Mac OS X, for those who don't do much else than use the Internet on their PCs.
The advantage of an Android-based PC OS is that it can access over 1.5 million apps from day one, unlike Chrome OS, for which developers have to compile their apps one at a time.
Many Android apps won't look like they were designed for a desktop environment when run inside the Remix OS, but you can run tablet apps that go full screen, or phone apps that make just as much sense on the desktop as they do on a phone (as it is the case with chat applications, for instance).
The Remix Mini PC costs as little as $30 on Kickstarter, yet it still offers hardware powerful enough to run a more efficient mobile OS such as Android (compared to most desktop operating systems).
It comes with a quad-core 1.2 GHz 64-bit Cortex-A53 CPU from Allwinner, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and it supports 4k video decoding and 4k HDMI output. It also has a headphone minijack, an HDMI 1.4 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, 80211 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.
The whole system consumes less than 10W of power and can boot with a single tap on the top of the device.
The Remix Mini can be upgraded to 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage for $40 (Early Bird) or $50 (Standard offer), depending which is still available by the time you check out Jide Tech's Kickstarter campaign page.
The campaign's goal was $50,000, and less than three days later it's already at $377,606, with 42 days to go. The more successful the $30 Remix Mini and the Remix OS become, the higher the chance that Google could eventually start taking the idea of a PC-optimized version of Android seriously itself and start working on it -- or perhaps even acquire the Jide Tech company for its head start and expertise.