Google yesterday announced a new service called Android Things, described as a minimal version of the Android operating system that is widely used in digital signage, on media players and in some display manufacturers’ system on chip displays.
The intention for Android Things is IoT devices like smart appliances and personal assistants – the latter which could have a role for smaller, perhaps shelf-edge and countertop interactive displays.
There is already a $200 8-inch Lenovo smart screen on the market that could, at least in theory, serve such a purpose. It has a Qualcomm processor inside and can do things like field Google Assistant questions (like a Google Home does), play YouTube videos, look up directions, start video calls with Google Duo (think remote expert help for products), and perform other basic tasks.
The hardware already supported includes the widely used Raspberry Pi. If you are technical, you can nerd out on the details here.
I’m not at all sure I’d advocate using consumer-intended devices for far heavier use in commercial environments, but it gets done all the time. I think consumer devices are often the way companies discover why commercial versions exist.
But the core idea of a lean OS for special purpose devices seems to make some sense, and I could see some companies – particularly ones outside the conventional digital signage ecosystem – trying this out. Google already references a Montreal company, Mirego, that has done a “network of large photo displays driven by public photo booths in downtown Montreal.”
Couldn’t find the actual project, though.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.