The Dark Android Laptop May Become A Reality

richd-android-chromeos-mergeThis is something I’ve wanted for a while. Not necessarily as a Dark Android Project-styled device, but back a couple of years ago when I thought that social media outreach somehow mattered, this would have been a dream. I’m talking about an Android-based laptop (and even at the time, they sort of already existed, and you could always just connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to a tablet, which works very well). The advantage that an Android laptop would have had as far as social media is that you could really “go to town” on Instagram. There was this idea a couple of years ago that Instagram was this outreach/marketing boon–before all of the scam artists made “online classes” on how to spam the shit out of hapless techno-weenies with it–but the problem is that with Instagram you can’t really put a linkable URL in a picture’s comment section (you can put one–only one–on your account section), and you can’t really type out a long diatribe to push what you want to push to people if you’re just using a touchscreen keyboard…so bottom line, an Android laptop would have made this whole process a lot easier (including the ability to quickly edit pictures “on device”). What I was really hoping to do wasn’t scammy marketing via Instagram, I wanted to try creating an “Instagram blog”, much like I do on this website, but on the most popular and most accessible social media platform in the world (I’m aware, again, that there were plenty of ways that could have done without Android laptop).

But I’m not interested in any of that anymore. As much as I can help, I don’t like to rely on a third party service (especially one owned by Facebook) for building my business infrastructure, especially one that isn’t open-source from stem to stern. I am, however, still intrigued by the idea of an Android-based laptop. And it looks like they are going to become a lot more common in the very near future, since Alphabet/Google is looking to build a “desktop/laptop-friendly” version of Android in 2016.

For a little bit of recent history, Android-based laptops aren’t really anything new. In fact, one of my recent hardware picks on my science and tech podcast–Sovryn Tech–was an offering from HP, their 14-inch Slatebook. This actually had a great design, and pretty good specs for when it was announced (even though it’s now behind on Android versions, stuck at 4.3, as I understand it), but I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this laptop even today. But the Slatebook is a rarity, and I’m hoping the above mentioned news will turn that fact around.

The reveal of Google’s own Pixel C tablet–which comes with a keyboard, completely copying Microsoft’s Surface line–surprised the world when they found that it wasn’t running ChromeOS (like other Pixel-branded devices), but Android. It would seem the Pixel C is the Trojan Horse for Google’s new foray into desktop/laptop computing. And again, I don’t think making Android more desktop/laptop friendly is a crazy idea, especially considering that it is now the most used operating system on the planet.

But before I go further into speculating what’s behind this new Android push, I want to say why I think Android desktop/laptops are a good idea. First, a lot of new computers are coming with touchscreens (much to my chagrin), yet try as OS programmers may, no previously traditional OS works really well with touch and offers a large app selection to work with at the same time. So combine the ability to handle touch inputs and being somewhat open (Android’s being based on Linux), it becomes an attractive alternative to other operating systems. Second, the ease-of-use of Android is a fact. Combine that with a massive selection of apps, including many that are based around the ease-of-use of security protocols/options like PGP, Tor, I2P, and encrypted messaging, and you potentially have a very layman-friendly, quick to setup, and easy to use privacy and anonymity laptop–everything that the Dark Android Project is trying to create for people. Thirdly, desktop OS environments give you that extra edge for productivity and getting things done, so having a version of Android that concentrates on that is a win. And the setup of a full laptop would make connecting external hard drives, gaming controllers, and other peripherals that connect via a laptops standard USB ports creates a slew of new opportunities for Android and Dark Android. So having all of this in a single-piece portable package is an exciting prospect, to say the least, and opens up a world of possibilities.

However, as to what this Android alteration will look like, and how it will operate in the end is up for debate. And that’s where some problems could come in.

Apparently, at Google HQ, this new version of Android is being called “Google OS”. While this may hint at what many are theorizing is a possible joining of ChromeOS with Android (and that is still possible, despite what Google claims to the contrary), it may also hint at something potentially more problematic when it comes to Dark Android, and when it comes to Android being a largely open operating system. I say this because this whole new bag from Google may end up with Android becoming a fundamentally different operating system than we know, as in, it may not even be technically Android anymore, leaving AOSP and custom ROMs in the dust as far as future developments of the platform.

Yes, I’m saying that inside of a year or two, there may no longer be what we recognize as the operating system known as Android. Or at least it won’t be what most people will be running on their mobile devices, or newly minted laptops.

You may think that this will just allow Cyanogen, Inc. and others to take up the charge for Android after Google (theoretically) abandons it for their new “Google OS”, and maybe it will. But you’d be forgetting about the real thing that Google actually controls when it comes to Android…and it’s not the operating system itself. It’s the Google Play Store. It’s all the apps. And if the Google Play Store no longer works with any device not running “Google OS”, then all of those devices running “just ol’ Android” from other companies are pretty much meaningless to the average person as far as usability. Because for most, the operating system doesn’t matter. The apps do.

That said, I could see Google’s saying goodbye to Android and going with a new “Google OS” could be an advantage for Android to become an open source “dark horse” operating system for mobile, allowing people to have actual control of their software and hardware. But it’s also entirely possible that it’ll bring the open source mobile movement back to square one, with developers and users losing the open controls and options that Android at present allows for.

But this is all speculation on my part (and anyone else’s, really). It’s just as possible that Google will just be making a desktop-friendly version of Android, and Google will stick with Android forever, not making so drastic a departure as some are imagining, and just creating an Android desktop UI (not unlike Windows 10 Mobile does with Continuum). And if that’s the case, I think it’s a win, especially if these features get built into AOSP. Having Android-based laptops could go a long way towards getting people used to using encryption apps, and learning to use a set of best practices no matter what device they’re using, be it a desktop/laptop, or a tablet or smartphone.

Carpe lucem!