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

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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.

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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.

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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.

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