Google seeks to automate the home

Google made a bunch of announcements at its Google I/O keynote today. It showed off the next version of Android, called “Ice Cream Sandwich”; it announced its Music Beta, a service which looks a lot like Amazon’s Cloud Player, in which you upload your music collection to the cloud; it announced movie rentals.

The most intriguing announcements though were about how Android devices will be able to connect to other devices in future. The Open Accessory API lets manufacturers create devices which talk to Android over USB, and in future over Bluetooth, in a standard manner. The idea is that if you have an Android-compatible device – Google demoed an exercise bike – you can attach your smartphone and do some clever stuff, such as controlling it, analysing its data, or whatever is appropriate.

A related idea is called Android@Home. Google has developed a new lightweight wireless protocol which will let manufacturers create household devices that can communicate with Android:

We previewed an initiative called Android@Home, which allows Android apps to discover, connect and communicate with appliances and devices in your home.

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The automated home is a grand concept where almost any device, from a light to a coffee maker to a fridge or a door becomes available to control and program. However, the examples Google gave were not exciting: playing a CD by waving it at a player, coding an alarm clock to turn the light on gradually. Big deal.

It is not really a new concept. Sun had ideas to develop Java as a universal runtime and language to automate the home. Microsoft has similar thoughts, maybe using the .NET Micro Framework. So far none of these efforts have come to much – will Google’s initiative be different?

Probably not; but there is something else going on here. I travel a bit, and it is now common to find an iPod dock in your hotel room. If you have an Ipod or iPhone you just plug in and go; if you have a non-Apple device, you are out of luck. That is a kind of pressure exerted on every guest, a hint that they might be better off with an Apple device.

Google wants to do the same for a variety of other devices, but with respect to Android. Here is a refrigerator, and by the way, if you have an Android device you can do this other clever stuff like, I don’t know, alerting you if the temperature goes too high, or letting you peek at the contents from your smartphone so you can see if you need to buy milk.

Same with the Open Accessory API. If Google can sign up enough manufacturers, it will be increasingly difficult for non-Android devices to compete.

That said, we did not hear much about Google TV at today’s keynote. Why? Because it has flopped; a reminder that not all Google’s efforts succeed.

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