The use of Android in embedded devices is heating up and along with that comes demand for developers skilled in embedded Android, say analysts and service providers within the embedded industry.
The impending demand isn’t immediately obvious; beyond smartphones and tablets, few products running embedded Android can be found on the market today. The automotive industry, where Android has been a staple of in-vehicle-infotainment systems, has so far seen the most prolific use. But that’s about to change.
Companies that have been experimenting with embedded Android for the past two to three years will finally soon begin releasing their products, said Jared Weiner, a senior analyst at VDC Research, which has done an annual survey of the embedded market since 2003. Android build systems have also greatly improved in that time period, making it easier and thus more likely for engineers to make the switch. And vendors have become more skilled at engineering and porting embedded Android services, he said.
“We might be close to the tipping point,” Weiner said. “It certainly seems like things are primed for the dominos to fall quickly.”
OEM-Approved and Ready
The Linux-based Android OS was designed specifically for phones and tablets but companies have increasingly been using, or considering using it, in other embedded products in recent years. Because of its custom design, it makes the most sense as an embedded operating system in connected devices that have a user interface, and most often, a touch screen.
Some 16 percent of embedded engineers surveyed said they are currently using Android as their operating system in UBM Tech’s 2013 Embedded Market Study. While 28 percent said they plan to use it in the next 12 months. By comparison, 27 percent were using embedded Linux and 20 percent were likely to use it in the next 12 months.
“We’re just at the start of Android in the embedded space,” said Jay Lyman, a senior analyst at 451 Research. “We may see a real fast growth of Android once it begins making some inroads. Android will be key where there’s a user interface and we’ll see more user interface technology with the ‘Internet of Things.”
Over the past 18 months, Wind River has seen strong growth in demand for embedded Android among its customers in the automotive, aerospace and defense, medical and industrial markets as well as in consumer devices, said Darshan Patel, director of open source platforms at Wind River. Companies that were once merely exploring the option through proof-of-concept designs are now launching real Android-based initiatives, he said.
“These areas that typically have more safety and security-focused devices are now feeling comfortable with open source software in general,” Patel said. “Linux has led the way and Android is piggybacking off of that.”
It’s a relatively hidden trend right now because these industries have much longer product cycles than the typical consumer device. But when they start rolling out, it will come quickly, he said.
“It’s just starting to change. It takes quite a bit of time to overcome inertia and what companies are using,” Lyman agreed. “It’s important that Android has earned trust and support from large OEMs, and not only handset makers, but their component suppliers.”
Embedded Android Training Recommended
Along with Android OS in all manner of devices -- from rugged handhelds to kiosks, treadmills and cars --comes the demand for skilled programmers to develop them.
“Embedded Android is another one of these places were there will be great demand for experience and expertise and that goes all across the Linux operating system because we do see it being used in quite an array of things,” Lyman said.
Embedded software and services companies such as Wind River, Enea and MontaVista have already begun gearing up for the change, developing Android-based platforms for their customers. And at least one, Wind River, employs engineers who are entirely devoted to embedded Android.
Because of its existing network within the embedded industry, Wind River is able to find developers with embedded Android experience, but it’s difficult, Patel said. So they look not only for trained engineers, but those willing and able to learn quickly.
The opportunity is ripe for developers who may know embedded Linux, for example, but haven’t done much yet with Android.
“(Embedded Android) is definitely something that can’t be ignored and should be explored by engineers,” Weiner said.
“From the survey data we’ve collected and interviews we’ve done, everything points to Android being a big presence going forward,” he said. “Getting engineers trained up to repurpose or use Android in a project that isn’t going to be a smartphone or a tablet is definitely a piece of the puzzle.
Editor’s Note: In recognition of the latest embedded industry trends, The Linux Foundation is offering a new embedded training course, "Inside Android: An Introduction to Android Internals." The next course will be held Nov. 18 - 22, 2013 in the Silicon Valley.