What was once Brillo is now Android Things and Android Things is finally at version 1.0. Google announced that its IoT device platform has graduated from a developer preview this week, after more than 100,000 downloads of the SDK, or software development kit.
I actually thought Google was primed to build its own smart home hub but that seems very unlikely now. Why? Because Android Things would be ideal for just that but it’s available to any hardware manufacturer using specific chips and boards. Google’s Android Things now supports the NXP i.MX8M, Qualcomm SDA212, Qualcomm SDA624, and MediaTek MT8516, for example.
And the SDK allows device makers to access many native Android functions. This is very different from Google’s WiFi and Chromecast products, which don’t have a ton of public APIs. Google essentially controls those devices as a result.
On the plus side though, Google is making a unified IoT platform with guaranteed updates to Android Things. When I spoke with Stacey, she was a bit disappointed to hear that those updates are only for three years. However, there will be options for device makers to extend that support. Yes, it’s less than the 10 years Microsoft is touting with Azure Sphere, but I think Android Things lends itself more to consumer devices, where the technology cycles are relatively quick. Updates will pushed over the air, hopefully automatically so that consumers don’t have to click a button in an app.
Of course, for Android Things to be considered successful, Google will need companies to actually use it. Lo and behold, LG and iHome are for smart speakers while the smart displays we saw at CES also use Android Things.
There will initially be three smart displays from Lenovo, LG and JBL, with availability expected in July. I was surprised to see Android Things in these devices because for all intents and purposes, they look like they run traditional Android based on the demos we saw in January. But this may help explain why we haven’t seen them for sale yet: Google needed to officially get Android Things out of developer preview mode before making these products available.
Note that you won’t see Android Things on devices that typically run Android. Google’s program policy for Android Things explicitly points this out: “You are prohibited from the commercialization of products built on Android Things whose form factor is defined as a Device Type by the Android CDD Device Types, such as handhelds, watches, televisions, automotives, and any other device categories defined in the future.”
Any other device type — for now — is good for Android Things so you may see in-wall displays, two-way video doorbells, routers and who knows what else run on Google’s IoT platform. We’ll have to see what hardware makers create or prototype. To that end, Google makes it pretty easy: You can manage up to 100 devices in the Android Things Console for non-commercial use. After that, a distribution agreement is needed.
From a platform perspective, I think Google has everything it needs in Android Things to keep hardware makers happy. And it has a broad brand reach as well as useful cloud services to provide or act upon data in the smart home. However, Google is a bit late to this game. we may need to give it 6 to 12 months to see if Android Things actually gains momentum.