Android started out as a mobile operating system, but in Google's eyes, it's going to become a platform for developers to build things that aren't even imaginable today.
Google took a big step toward enabling this future reality Tuesday with the unveiling of its Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK), which connects a virtually limitless array of hardware accessories with Android mobile devices using a new Google API. But this isn't just software: In the ADK, Google is also giving developers an implementation of an Android USB accessory that's based on the Arduino open-source electronics prototyping platform.
The Android ADK works with Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' and 3.0 'Honeycomb' and currently supports USB devices, but support for Bluetooth is on the way. "With the Android ADK, we're welcoming hardware developers into the Android community and giving them a path to build Android accessories easily," Joe Britt, engineering director at Google, said Tuesday in a keynote at Google's I/O conference.
For Google, Android's evolution into hardware has major implications for developers. "Android was always meant to go beyond mobile, and we want to enable developers to write applications for new a class of hardware -- and create their own hardware," Andy Rubin, Google's Android chief, said in a Q&A at I/O.
There are currently more than 300 Android devices on the market worldwide, but Android device fragmentation has put a crimp on Google's ability to build a market for Android accessories. Google believes developers are champing at the bit to build new devices that work with Android OS, and the company is offering guidance on how to go about doing this.
One example is Android@Home, a forthcoming Google initiative that enables Android applications to connect and communicate with home appliances, including non-Wi-Fi connected devices like thermostats and dishwashers.
"We'd like to think of your entire home as an accessory," Britt said.
During the keynote, Google gave a demo in which home lighting can be controlled and adjusted with an Android tablet. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the opportunities Android developers will be able to tap into in the home, according to Google.
"You could build an alarm clock application that ramps up the lights in a room or play music," Britt said. "Game developers can make games more immersive. It could also be used to control irrigation in a real world Farmville app -- if you don't win the game then your garden dies."
Google also showed a preview of Project Tungsten, in which wireless speakers running Android pull music directly from Google's new cloud based music service and stream it to locations in the home. Another feature uses near field communications (NFC) technology to rip songs from a CD and store them the cloud when a user touches a CD jewel case to an Android equipped speaker.
"This is a combination of cloud services, software and devices. For developers, this allows for a whole new universe of applications," said Britt.