Can Android desktops disrupt the PC market?

Summary:At CES 2014, it was the year Android desktops began to gain momentum.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Yes

or

No

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Best Argument: Yes

65%
35%

Audience Favored: Yes (65%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Bye Windows, hi Android

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Of course Android-based PCs can replace Windows! Have you really looked at Windows 8.x's adoption numbers ? Microsoft defenders like to spin them, but the bottom line is that neither consumers nor enterprises are buying it.

That leaves an opening for another desktop system. That system can be Android . It's already popular. It's already the dominant operating system on both tablets and smartphones And, unlike Windows 8.x's Metro interface, Android interface works just fine on PCs.

You don't have to believe me. Lenovo and HP believe users want Android on the desktop. You know, the world's number one and number two PC manufacturers. Two other companies you may have heard of, AMD and Intel, also see a future for Android on the PC .  Last, but not least, there's this little business named Google backing up Android.

Does Microsoft have any PC friends left? I don't think so. With Surface, Microsoft has annoyed the hell out of its partners

With Windows wounded and Android's already the top operating system on two of the big three personal computing platforms, why can't Android be number one not all three?

It can happen.

Android is no PC saviour

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Sales of desktop and notebook systems are plummeting as consumers choose to spend their money on smartphones and tablets, so PC OEMs have to come up with ways to make PCs sexy again. And one idea that some OEMs are trying is replacing Windows with ... Android.

Yes, Android. The same Android operating system that powers hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets.

No one has explained the theory behind this to me, but I think it goes something like this. People aren't buying Windows-powered PC, but they are buying smartphones and tablets by the millions. Many of these devices are powered by Android, so the reason that people aren't buying PCs much be down to the fact that they aren't running Android. So, all you need to do to sell PCs is put Android on them.

Hmmm, while I'm all for innovation, I really don't think that this is going to amount to much, and it certainly won't disrupt the PC market.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome

    Glad you can join us for our Great Debate.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    I'm ready

    Are you Adrian?

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Let's begin

    I hope you're prepared Steven.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Why Android?

    What are the strengths of using Android on a desktop?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Applications, Applications, Applications

    Remember Ballmer bounding around like a berserk beach ball shouting, "Developers! Developers! Developers!" I do. Here's Android's answer for 2014, "Applications! Applications! Applications!"

    Sure Windows 7 and older have a ton of applications.... but Windows 8.x native apps have been slower to appear. When the first Android PC ships it's going to have far more applications ready to run than any previous challenger to Windows and, given Window 8.x's glacially slow roll-out of apps that can make full of its Metro interface, the desktop application playing field will be more even than it ever has before.

    After all at the end of the day, users really don't care about operating systems. They care about playing their games and working with their apps . HP and Lenovo and to a lesser extent, AMD and Intel are both betting that the hundreds of millions of Android tablets and smartphone apps users will jump at the chance to use their apps on a desktop. I wouldn't bet against them.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    It's a small leap - sideways

    Are there many? Apart from being different to Windows/OS X, and perhaps being somewhat less prone to malware, I really don't see much strength to using the platform on the desktop, especially considering that it would be a small leap sideways for OEMs to make friendlier versions of Linux.
     
    While it is the job of the other side to sing the praises of the platform on the desktop, might I suggest that novelty is perhaps strength, in that it is something different for consumers to play with? But as we've seen before, this is an advantage that rapidly wears off as people get bored or find themselves wanting to do real work.
     
    Android was never designed for the big screen, and making it suited to desktop use will result in the same sorts of horrible compromises that Microsoft made to Windows to make it ready for tablets.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Why not?

    What are the weaknesses?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It's fighting the tide

    The only true weakness I see is Windows' massive installed base. But with XP's end-of-support only months away, and little enthusiasm for "upgrading" to Windows 8.x, this is the best time in a generation for a Windows replacement to make an appearance.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    It doesn't fit the space

    One of the biggest weaknesses to running Android on the desktop is the same weakness that plagues the platform on tablets – the lack of good apps that make use of the increased screen space. On the whole, many Android apps for tablets feel like they are little more than scaled-up versions of the smartphone app, with little or no thought given to how the app should make better use of the extra screen real estate.
     
    Another problem is one that will face OEMs, and that is how will they brand Android on the desktop is such a way as to not cause confusion? Hijacking the Android brand means bringing a whole bunch of user expectations with it, and I don't think the platform needs that sort of pressure.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The Android movement

    Why do you think PC makers are gravitating to Android for use in desktops?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    PC sales are plummeting

    It was a lousy year for PC sales . Windows 8's sales are in the toilet . Last, but by no means least, Microsoft is now competing directly with its former hardware partners with the Surface family. So, what's a computer company to do? Look for something different.

    Chromebooks are gaining popularity quickly but its cloud-based desktop model leaves little room for OEMs to differentiate themselves from one another. Android gives the OEMs a chance to offer a more customized, traditional fat-client desktop. And, again, Android already has hundreds of millions of users that love it

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    One word – desperation

    The bottom line is that the bottom has fallen out of the PC industry and all the players are looking for a way to squeeze as much cash as they can from the PCs. It's not like the likes of Intel, AMD, and the myriad of manufacturers are going to pack up shop and call it a day on PCs. Instead, they're trying to innovate.

    And turning to Android is one such innovation. The problem is that there's no proven market for Android-powered PCs and from what I can see there's no demand from either enterprise or consumers. That should be a big worry to any OEM pinning its hopes on Android reboot PC sales.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Software's appeal

    Do you expect PC makers to add their own value added software that would land consumer and enterprise appeal?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Quality over quantity

    For better or worse, that's exactly what they'll do. I just hope they don't include too much clayware   OK, let's be real, they will. Clayware is profitable both on PCs and smartphones. But they could, and should offer, good programs for both consumers and enterprises as well. It will be an easy way for each vendor to offer a better, distinctive user-experience.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Crapware and bloat

    Through bundled software, aka crapware? Since smartphone and tablet OEMs can't help themselves piling bloat into Android installations, and PC OEMs are already infamous for kludging up systems with the stuff, I'm certain we'll see "value added software." Whether it will add any real value remains to be seen.
     
    Given past OEM performance, I'm not hopeful.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Android-Chrome OS marriage?

    What do you think Google will do with Android, Chrome OS? Should they merge?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    When -- not if

    Android is a Linux-based operating system that uses Dalvik run-time engine for its apps. Chrome OS is a Linux-based  operating system that uses the Chrome Web browser for its Web-based apps. There is no technical reason why they two couldn't be merged tomorrow, especially on Chrome OS's native PC platform. Android and Chrome OS will merge . The only question is when.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Chrome OS fan club

    While I might seem down on Android on the desktop –- and in case anyone is still unsure of my position on the matter -- I happen to be quite a big fan of Google's Chrome OS. Why? Because Chrome OS is great for those people or situations where there's decent web access and limited time or desire to futz about with the OS.

    Chrome OS is the best "fire and forget" operating systems out there, transparently taking care of updates and backing up while at the same time seeming quite impervious to malware. While Microsoft, quite predictably, wants to focus on the downsides of Chrome OS, I don't find its reliance on a web connection or the lack of rich apps that much of an issue. In fact, I think the fresh approach removes many of the downsides that Windows –- mostly due to legacy -– has dragged into modern computing.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Against all odds

    Does the combination of Chromebooks and Android on PCs really challenge Microsoft's Windows dominance?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    The time is right

    I think the combination has the potential to disrupt the Windows PC market. It's 2014. This isn't a Wintel world anymore. Indeed, Intel is one of the companies supporting Android PCs.
    There's never been a better time for Windows competitors. Backed not just by Google, but by all major PC OEMs and chip manufacturers, Windows may finally be facing a rival that can take it on.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    A thorn in Microsoft's side -- not a threat

    Chromebooks are clearly enough of a challenge for Microsoft to acknowledge and attack the platform through its Scroogled campaign. While it's not a challenge to Microsoft today, it could very well be a big thorn it the company's side over the next decade.
     
    As to whether Android will offer a challenge, I'm skeptical.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Profit margins

    How do you think profit margins fit into the Android equation for PC makers?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It's all about the money

    It's the real reason. I don't think any of these companies really care that much about which operating system is technically better. They owe it to their stockholders to find profits and low-cost Android PCs in a declining Windows PC market gives them a fighting chance to avoid red-ink.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    The cost of a Windows license is key

    Android-powered PCs are certainly cheaper for OEMs to produce because they don't need to pay for a Windows license, but Microsoft will still get its cut -– albeit a smaller cut -– through patent licensing deals.
     
    But money saved on Windows licenses only means anything if the OEMs can actually sell these PCs. If not, they'll sit on shelves until mushrooms grow out of them, only to sell when they're part of a fire sale.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Android's real cost

    Do you really consider Android to be free to PC makers? Or are there back-door costs to consider?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    It's never free

    For an OEM, no operating system is "free." You have to get it to work effectively with your hardware, you have to market it to an audience of skeptical Windows users, and you have to get your support staff trained up on it. The list goes on forever. That said, it's no more than the same costs they face with every major Windows update.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Hidden costs

    I see a few costs extra to consider:

    •  Microsoft patent license deals – deals struck for smartphones and tablets might not apply to PCs, and Microsoft might demand a bigger cut.
    •  Support – People phoning up to ask why Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop won't run on their new Android-powered PC.
    •  Returns – I'd expect higher than average levels both of buyer's remorse resulting in more returns.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The mobile factor

    One of the arguments behind Android powered PCs is that mobile computing is really driving usage and design decisions. Do you agree?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Windows failure

    I don't buy this one, except in so much as it gives Android PCs an audience that already knows and likes the operating system. It just so happens that the most popular and exciting operating systems today are mobile. Had Windows 8'x, which tried to bridge the gap between smartphones, tablets, and PCs, been successful we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Windows 8 drove in the wrong direction

    There's no doubt that mobile computing is influencing design decisions – just look at what Microsoft did to Windows 8 in an attempt to be relevant. And mobile is certainly an increasing factor when it comes to usage. That said, I'm not sure that they way to capitalize on the popularity of mobile is to smash together the two worlds. This is what Microsoft did with Windows 8 and this is what Microsoft now has to undo with Windows 8.1 and Windows 9.
     
    By extension, I don't think that sticking Android on a PC is going to help PC sales any more than sticking Windows 8 or Linux on them would. PC sales are partly in the dirt because the dominance of the PC is waning, and if anything is going to slow down – or maybe even turn that around – it's going to have to be a solution based on what people want.
     
    Android on a PC is not such a solution.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Do apps matter?

    How important is Google's App ecosystem to making Android a success on PCs?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Yes

    It's very important. With the Google Plays store and Google's own top-notch apps, Android comes with the whole range of apps—from games to home apps to business office software—at a click of an icon. Other would be Windows competitors, with the arguable exception of Apple with the Mac, have never had so many high-quality apps or such an easy way for users to find and install them.

    This, more so than any other technical factor, may prove Android's winning card in the desktop operating system game.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    No

    Short answer: No.

    Slightly longer answer: Probably not.

    Slightly longer answer still: I don't think Android-powered PCs will get as far as needing a helping hand from Google's App ecosystem. I think the idea will fall by the wayside well before that.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Android test run

    Do you think consumers will give Android PCs a spin? Why or why not?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    Yes, it's easy to learn

    I do. They already know Android. There's nothing new, difficult, or scary about it. They can boot-up an Android PC, load it with their favorite apps, and in ten-minutes they're ready to go to work. Some will still want Windows... but then Windows 8.x isn't the Windows they know. If anything I think Android may prove an easier sell than Windows in this market-segment.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Stretching the dollar

    No doubt some will, but the question is can OEMs sell enough to make this viable? And right now I really can't see that. The problem facing PCs as far as consumers go is that they're spoiled for choice as to what to spend their money on. Not only are there tablets and smartphones, but there are new game consoles, and a myriad of other shiny things all calling for their money like sirens. The way I see it, Android-powered PCs are going to have to bring something really special to the table if they are going to be tempting to the average consumer.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Enterprise fit?

    What about enterprises?

    Posted by Larry Dignan

    A hard sell

    This will be a harder sell. I think enterprises are more likely to look to Chromebooks since many business apps are software-as-a-service (SaaS) these days and lend themselves well to the Chromebook's Web-browser interface.

    I can see companies placing Android PCs in trial projects and compare it to Windows 8. Eventually, they may also move to Android PCs in significant numbers but it will take longer. I see some businesses standardizing on Windows 7 until January 14, 2020, when its extended support life comes to an end, or Chrome OS.

    That said, I think it's possible that Android PCs will play a role in SMBs, which no longer trust Windows and are wary of Chrome OS's pure cloud play application play.

    Of course, if Android takes off like a rocket on consumer PCs, all bets are off. No one saw businesses dumping their Blackberries for iPhone or tablets finally breaking out of their niche market with the advent of the iPad. The BYOD movement may carry Android into the big business workplace, but I think it's too early to say if that will prove to be the case.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Yes

    Maybe later

    Enterprise is cautious at the best of times, and I wouldn't expect any real enterprise interest in Android on desktop systems for a few years. I wouldn't want to be the person signing off on buying a truckload of Android-powered PCs. Far better to by Chromebooks and the new all-in-one Chromebase systems than bet on this little experiment.

    Unless there are some really compelling reasons for enterprise to embrace Android PCs –- and right now I can't see any –- then I see that sector sticking with Windows.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks...

    ...for joining us for this week's debate. I think you'll agree that Steven and Adrian really know their stuff. Are you going to try out an Android PC? Closing arguments will be posted on Wednesday and my final decision will appear on Thursday. Check out the comments, add yours, and don't forget to vote.

    Posted by Larry Dignan

Closing Statements

2016: The State of the Desktop

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Here's what I see happening:

First, Windows is still number one. That installed base isn't going away anytime soon. Microsoft won't be happy though because the vast majority of people won't be Windows 8.x or Windows 9, they'll be running Windows 7.

The number two operating system, with a double-digit market share, is going to be Android/Chrome OS. By then I think Google will have merged them. Even if Google hasn't, between the two platforms, they'll still have surpassed Mac OS as the second place desktop operating system by a wide margin.

If Google keeps them split, I see Chrome OS as number two. Anyone can use it and as more and more line-of-business software becomes Web-based software-as-a-service (SaaS). Businesses will find Chromebook's low price and cost of maintenance irresistible.

In the meantime, Android is going to become popular with home and SOHO users. It's going to enable all those users who love Android on their tablets and smartphones to enjoy the same apps on their desktops.

Microsoft, which has been content  to tax Android via unproven patent agreements , will start suing desktop Android vendors for patent violations. If you can't beat them in the marketplace, they'll try suing them out instead.

By this time, it will become clear that Windows really is on the way out. It's not gone yet, it will still be important in 2020, but the days when Microsoft could call the shots in the PC industry will be done.

A novelty to confuse buyers

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

It seems that the majority of ZDNet readers who voted as part of this debate believe that the Android operating system has the potential to disrupt the PC market. While I don't share that view, and have laid down my case as to why, part of me hopes that the readers are right and that Android can indeed get people buying PCs again. After all, there are a lot of industries – and by extension, employees who work for them – that rely on the PC industry to tick along.

My biggest fear when it comes to PC OEMs loading Android onto desktop systems is that it is a move that will confuse buyers and further taint the market. Android is a mobile platform, and unless OEMs can come up with innovative reasons as to why a PC needs to run Android, it becomes little more than a novelty. And that's not going to do Android or the PC market any good.

Made the case for Android

Larry Dignan

Well, Adrian and Steven agreed on one thing: PC makers will try damn near anything to get sales going. In that context, it's no wonder that Android PCs are getting some attention. The big question is whether Android-powered PCs can disrupt.

Steven gets the win for making the Android case, but Adrian made a lot of solid points. I don't see Android PCs taking over the world, but they can certainly be a pain to Microsoft. 

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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