Android laptop: If you build it, they won't come

Android laptop: If you build it, they won't come

Summary: Word of a 14-inch laptop running Android by HP has leaked and some are excited about it. Not this guy, who finds no benefits from a laptop with Google's touch OS.


ZDNet's Matt Miller has reported that laptop giant HP is readying a 14-inch notebook running Android. This report is the result of a leak, as is often the case. Reasons justifying such an Android laptop are flying all over the web, but this writer just doesn't see the point behind it.

HP Slatebook
(Image: HP)

A touching situation

I like Android, especially on tablets. It is a well-designed OS that integrates touch operation throughout the user experience (UX). It helps that there are thousands of apps for Android, all of them written to take full advantage of that small touch screen.

Thinking hard about a laptop running Android, I am hard pressed to find a single use for one. Such a laptop would need a touch screen or there would be no good fit with Android. A laptop without touch would be totally pointless. Even with a touch screen (as the rumored HP will have), it's not clear how useful that will be on a large laptop.

It's not all about the apps

The Android laptop serves no purpose that Chromebooks don't already serve.

Those excited about the prospect of an Android laptop are quick to mention all those apps in the Google Play store. I'm not sure how long that excitement will last once those apps, designed for phones or small tablets, start running on the bigger laptop screen, especially a 14-inch display like the rumored HP notebook will have. Many apps written for the smartphone display don't look good on a seven- or eight-inch tablet. I can't fathom them on a 14-inch display stuck in landscape.

Like Android OS, apps written for it have touch operation integrated into the very core of the app. They are not written to be operated by mouse and keyboard, a necessity for a pleasant laptop experience.

Been done, but better

There have been Android tablets around for years that have laptop dock options that turn them into laptops. The Asus Transformer product line is a favorite of mine. These work as well as Android apps allow in a laptop form.

See related: ASUS Transformer Prime: Perfect for business trips (review) | ASUS Transformer Prime revisited: Still best Android tablet | The iPad is everywhere, Android tablets not so muchSix clicks: Great tips and tricks for Android

There's a significant difference between these hybrids and a laptop. The former are tablets first that can be used occassionally as a laptop. The Android laptops on the way don't have the tablet first design. They don't have the tablet at all. That leaves the user stuck in the less-than-optimal laptop configuration, something Android is not designed to handle.

Go Chrome or go home

The Android laptop serves no purpose that Chromebooks don't already serve. The latter has distinct advantages, being designed for the laptop form. Chrome OS uses every aspect of the notebook hardware. It can work with touch screens or without equally as well.

The vast selection of Android apps are not available to the Chromebook, but they are not needed. Chrome OS is based on the full Chrome web browser, so it can handle anything Android does with apps, often better.

The Chromebook browser is a full implementation of the desktop browser. That's what makes Chrome OS a viable option for some users. That's not the case with the Android version of Chrome. It comes close, but it's not as good as the full version.

The Android Chrome shortcomings will be particularly troublesome for the enterprise looking to deploy very cheap laptops. Companies using browser-based applications or intranet access may find that less than ideal with the Android Chrome browser.

Chrome OS is designed to display everything properly on any size laptop screen. That's perfectly fitting for a screen 14 inches or larger, a huge advantage over Android.

Then there's the state of Android updates, or lack thereof. While Chromebooks always have the latest and greatest version of Chrome OS, that won't be the case with Android laptops. They will be waiting for OS updates just as long as smartphones and tablets. That's not good for laptops, especially those for use in the enterprise. Imagine BYOD programs where different Android laptops all run different versions of the OS. There will be support nightmares keeping IT personnel up at nights.

Dirt cheap is the natural order

Chromebooks haven't set the buying public on fire, but given the cheap prices they have been steadily selling. The thought of getting a laptop with any OS on it with decent hardware for about $200 is compelling to some laptop shoppers.

Android laptops are going to face the same situation as the Chromebook. Prospective buyers are not likely to take a chance that an Android laptop will meet their needs unless the price is cheap enough to be worth the risk. Odds are a $400 model is not going to open many wallets, even with a name brand like HP on the lid.

We don't need no stinking Android laptop

It makes little sense to put an OS designed for small touch screens on bigger laptops, with or without touch operation. Android was not produced for laptop hardware, and most importantly neither were the apps. Just because something can be done is not justification for doing it.

I like Android, Chrome, iOS, and Windows. My issue is not with Android. Putting it on a form it's not designed for, however, leaves me cold.

Android enthusiasts may be giddy at the thought of laptops running their favorite OS. That may not last when they try them. There's no way the UX will be as good as it is on phones and tablets. It's a solution to a problem nobody has.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Laptops

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Blastphemy!

    Thou shalt be cast from the gates of the city and ye shall be chased by a torch bearing mob to the ends of the earth!

    Meanwhile, I'm going to look in the pantry and see if Orville has something for me to munch on.
    • If you don't build it, they cannot come

      Most users are simply unaware of the leading edge of any tech.
      Android development is a lot further along than most people realise.
      Android is more than sufficient for most laptop usage.
      If you look around, what you see is people trying to use their tablets as laptops with keyboard covers, so a tablet OS in a touchscreen laptop is bang on target for those even if they hate to admit it.
      • I agree

        People are constantly trying to force tables, both apples and droids to be the pc they can't lug around.

        Google need to stop diluting the waters - chrome os can litterally be implimented as a couple or even one android app.
        • Re: If you don't build it, they cannot come

          The author is a moron. He thinks that OSes are designed for screen sizes.
          Tim Jordan
  • TL;DR

    We don't need Chrome OS. Android is mature enough to make next step. From smartphones, game consoles and tablets to PC.
    Chrome OS is a big flop, no one cares about it.
    • That will come as a big surprise... all the companies switching from Windows to Chrome and Chromebooks, particularly seeing a boost now with Microsoft ending XP support and the world being reluctant to move to Windows 8. If you want to talk about a flop, Windows 8 is it.

      Not that Microsoft couldn't fix that problem - they could:

      a) Learn that "Windows Stigma" was why the iPad was really successful. Simplify Windows - don't keep trying to add layers and wizards and bloat and confusion and a tablet UI when most people are on a desktop or laptop.

      b) Make a true Mobile OS. Rename Windows Phone back to Windows Mobile already, and make compatible phones and tablets, like everyone else. People are voting with their wallets that THAT is what they want, they are actively rejecting Windows phones because no one wants a "phone only" OS.

      c) And that means stop trying to sell "Windows on a tablet" for the 12th or whatever failed year. It failed before the iPad came out because of 'Windows Stigma', it failed even after the iPad came out, and it's even failed after Windows 8 came out. Let's simplify it for you, Microsoft...

      ** People use laptops and desktops to work. Power machines. They want capability, compatibility, and also reliability. Windows 8 doesn't score more than a yawn in all three.

      ** People use phones as mobile devices, for an endless list of who-knows-what-I'll-need on the road and on the streets. They want apps. And developers won't develop apps for a platform that has less than 5% marketshare. So you need to start giving people what they want (ie. conform to the paradigm where people are voting with their wallets today!)

      **People use tablets as casual computing devices. They want simple, familiar. Using a phone OS (and increasing the number of users of your app ecosystem certainly encourages developers to develop for it) makes the most sense here. Full-blown "Windows on a tablet" is not something history has EVER found significant numbers of willing consumers for. And opening a wannabe-Apple-store at my local mall doesn't look like it's helping. There's reasons (^^^^^) why your marketshare is still sub-5% in mobile, and trying to make your desktop OS fit desktop, laptop, AND mobile doesn't help mobile adoption or desktop adoption.

      Just ask Barking and Dagenham, among many.
      • yawn...

        So a tablet platform (windows tablets) that is outselling chromebooks is a failure, but chromebooks aren't? Nuff said really...
      • short sighted ABMers and the Hate Wagon

        They hated XP when it came out, but they moved there.
        They hated Vista when it came out, but they moved there.
        They hated Windows 7 when it came out, but they moved there.
        They now hate Windows 8.......
        • Umm

          Some of us never even touched Vista so speak for urself. As for W8 well that will never happen either. Maybe W9 but I suspect me and the world will have moved on from Windows completely by then.
          • If you haven't touched Vista

            you have been computing in a hate bubble of your own.
            There was a period of a few years where every laptop sold came with Vista.
            Vista wasn't rubbish, it just needed a beefy machine to run it well.
            All the beast gaming laptops like the XPS M1730, Toshiba X200 of that era all ran Vista and pretty much needed Vista to run the SLI graphics as Windows 7 won't support SLI on those setups.
            Trying to talk down Windows 8 as if nobody is using it is just ridiculous.
            The Asus T100 outsold all other laptops and desktops combined in my local store when it launched and it was because it was a great device FOR Windows 8.
          • No bubble

            I have touched Vista once. Bought a laptop in 2007 with Vista took it back same day because you couldn't game and the WiFi card's drivers were "iffy". Yeah i bought a "broken" laptop from best buy. Broken because driver support for the WiFi card was abysmal. Used Windows 2003 server,XP,Open Suse Linux, and Red hat at work. We use Win7 at work. I have personally never seen vista since 2007 on any machine i have come across.
          • 3% marketshare

            And now we know who the 3% are!
          • LOL

            Hate bubble that's a good one. I can't help it if the customers that came into your store were too stupid to know that those Vista boxes could be upgraded to XP. Speaks volumes to your customer service though.

            So Asus T100 comment ignored.
          • ...

            Vista had some issues, especially around networking but it was still an improvement over XP.
        • Not really

          Everyone loved Windows 7 when it came out. Consumers pretty much loved XP, it was the Windows 2000 users (like me) complaining about XP -- and we were a very small minority. Vista, sure, there was lots to complain about. And no, people did not move to Vista -- notice the 30% or so of the Windows installed base that's still on XP? Vista did half as well as Windows 7, Windows 8 has yet to do even that well.

          The lesson isn't, as you suggest, that Microsoft can shovel any crap they like to the user and the user will eventually give in. Rather, when Microsoft actually considers the user, they sell lots of copies of Windows. When they're empire building and ignoring users, much less so.

          For one, Microsoft software engineers are, in fact, software engineers. They use computers in a certain way, but they don't really understand how I'm going to use the system as a hardware developer, as a video editor, as a recording engineer, and they don't really understand how novices use the system. The only cure for this in a single system is making something flexible -- not forcing one guy's bad ideas about touch interfaces onto every desktop user. When Microsoft once again starts to admit that they don't understand every user's use of Windows, they can once again start to make a better Windows.
          • And they will

            I'm sure windows 9 will be much better. Contrary to popular belief they do listen to customer feedback.
          • XP was nothing to complain about

            for 2000 users. You could turn off the Fisher Price interface and the "new" start menu, and it would be just like 2000 with a more capable core.
        • Hated?

          I hated vista, loved Windows 7, really dislike Windows 8 though the new upgrade is a significant improvement. XP was way way better than millenium and significantly better than 98.
          • lol...

            ...etch-a-sketch was better than millennium ffs!

        • ABM

          ....but now we have an alternative!