What the hell is Android Things anyway? Here's a quick and dirty guide

So here’s the thing…

What the hell is Android Things anyway?
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In the beginning, Google created Android, which by today’s standards was formless and empty. Then Google said, “Let there be Chrome OS”, and there was Chrome OS. And yeah, it was pretty good. Then came Android Wear. Android TV. Next was Android Auto. Oh, and then Android Wear was renamed Wear OS, but otherwise it was much the same.

So yes, Google has quite a few flavours of Android under its belt, and this year it got another: Android Things.

But here’s the thing about Android Things: you’ve probably heard very little about it. In fact, when Google first announced it back in 2015 it went by the codename of Brillo, a nod to it being a scoured-down version of Android.

Read this: Android TV tips and tricks

Android Things is a lightweight version of Google’s operating system built for use with Internet of Things devices (hence the name). It’s designed to run in smart home devices from security cameras to thermostats, but can work with just 32MB of RAM. We told you it was lightweight.

Wait, what's wrong with the mainstream Android?

Security. It’s an area Android is famously poor at, but one that’s of the utmost concern when it comes to putting technology in our homes. With Android on smartphones, unless you own a Google Pixel, the OEM presents an obstacle between Google and the software on your handset.

That's because manufacturers usually their own "skin" on Android to make it their own. It’s why software updates can take so long to reach everyone, and more concerningly, why so many phones can be left waiting on important security patches.

Android Things is different. Here, Google has end-to-end control. If device makers don’t want to update their devices that’s fine, Google can deploy all of the updates itself directly. Google promises it will update devices with security and stability fixes for three years – all for free.

What the hell is Android Things anyway? Here's a quick and dirty guide

Android Things is… Google’s plan to own the smart home

At its core, Android Things is the same Android you have on your phone, just pared down to make it usable on very low-power hardware. But this is still the Android framework, and Things offers a way for manufacturers to leverage Google's AI, Assistant, Cloud and various APIs.

Android Things will behave like an invisible layer across your smart devices that ensures they all talk to one another, preventing security holes that could leak your personal data.

Because you know what else is bad for security? The Internet of Things we're using right now. It's a side effect of competing companies and standards, so Google's plan is to take the security problem out of the hands of device makers.

What the hell is Android Things anyway? Here's a quick and dirty guide

Android Things is… already running on Smart Displays

The first Android Things device to hit the market was the Lenovo Smart Display, and in our review we highlighted this as one of the best and worst features of the speaker. Best because it's super clean and mostly intuitive; worst because it still isn't fully baked. A lot of stuff is missing – Netflix is a big one, but Casting is generally malnourished – and there are parts that are clearly still under construction. But the way Google Assistant is woven into the visual elements is generally impressive – and something we look forward to seeing Google develop.

When will Android Things be available on other devices?

Android Things 1.0 officially rolled out in May this year, so it’s incredibly young. We expect to see a wave of devices running Android Things towards the end of the year/early 2019. It’s going to take time for developers to really dig into Android Things and get the most out of it. We wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the smart devices from Google’s homestead make it out first. Nest would be an obvious one, especially since it’s been absorbed by the Google Home division.

There are also more Smart Displays on the way, including the JBL Link View, which will all be powered by Android Things.

Android Things is… something you can build yourself

Along with the launch of Things 1.0, Google announced it was making available developer kits, which will get you a development board, Wi-Fi antenna, a display and more – basically everything you need to get building.

You can check out the starter kits on the Android Things website. You'll then want to download the Android Things Toolkit app on an Android device – especially if you're a first timer – which will walk you through the process of assembling and testing your creations. Good luck!

TAGGED    google    smart home

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