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Google Phases out Android Things

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Google recently announced phasing out its Android Things IoT platform. New projects will not be accepted after January 5, 2021, and the Android Things console will be turned down for all projects in 2022.

Google’s discreet announcement took the form of one sentence and a link to a FAQ page for further information:

The Android Things console will stop supporting new projects on January 5, 2021, and will be turned down for all existing projects on January 5, 2022.

The FAQ page detailed:

In February 2019, we announced an update regarding commercial use of the Android Things platform for device makers. Following in line with those updates, we are turning down the Android Things Console for non-commercial use. Beginning January 5, 2021, the console will no longer allow the creation of new projects using NXP i.MX7D and Raspberry Pi 3B.

Android Things has been used in smart displays and smart speakers, including Lenovo Smart Display, Samsung’s JBL, and LG WK9 smart display.

Several reasons have been advanced to explain the fallout of Android Things. While Google promoted Android Things as a platform for smart displays, it did not use it in its own hardware. Google’s smart displays are leveraging instead a modified version of the Google Cast platform.

Android Things’s hardware requirements have been considered by some to be onerous. Android Things supported three boards: the Intel Edison, the NXP Pico i.MX6UL and the Raspberry Pi 3. It required at least 512MB of RAM, with most boards shipping at least 1GB of RAM. Gary Sims explained in an article:

Android uses the Linux kernel at its core and Linux is a full multi-tasking operating system with virtual memory support. This means that Android Things needs a processor that supports virtual memory, in other words, a processor with a full MMU. […] The reason I mention this is that there are lots of IoT products that use microcontrollers and therefore have less memory, less flash storage, use less power, and use less complex operating systems. By opting to use Android and Linux then Google is aiming at a particular segment of the IoT market and is automatically excluding itself from the other segments.

More substantial device specs negatively impact the economics of the IoT product. The Moddable IoT platform allows developers to run a JavaScript engine on devices that may cost around $1 and host as little as 32KB RAM. Peter Hoddie, co-founder of Moddable, explained in an interview with InfoQ the benefits of embedded software that can run on inexpensive devices:

Our focus on low-end microcontrollers is one example of that focus on the product owner. We want to see great software – secure, reliable, easy-to-use software – on every device. That isn’t going to happen if the product requires a hundred dollars worth of hardware to run the software.

Harry Fairhead, author of the book Raspberry Pi IoT In C, alluded to performance issues:

The big problem was that the Things team interpreted security to mean that user-space software shouldn’t have direct access to GPIO lines and memory. This effectively made Things very slow - even flashing a few LEDs directly was a tough challenge.

Android Things is a now-deprecated Android-based embedded operating system platform by Google, announced at Google I/O 2015, and launched in 2018. In 2019, Android Things dropped support for low-power hardware and refocused on smartphone-class devices.

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