Andromium: Mobile Desktop Future
Andromium is a Kickstarter project that has been gaining a lot of buzz lately due to its promise of “democratizing computers”. Building on the unsuccessful attempts to create a pocket-sized desktop computer that came before it, Andromium claims to have the resources and infrastructure to shoot for the stars and nail the dream of many 90’s geeky children and teenagers. Andromium could be a revolutionary blurring of the line between “smartphone” and “computer that takes calls”, and could both overtake the personal computing market, or expand it to global sectors in desperate need of this compulsory technology of the 21st century.
Andromium is not your typical garage start-up from Silicon Valley college kids, either. The team consists of some highly trained software engineers, designers and marketers, to ensure that if the project could take off, it will. Just how good is the team? Well, Gordon Zheng is the person that was in charge of building the OS, and he has an impressive track record – and having previously been a Senior Engineer at Google must definitely have something to do with how polished the project looks.
So while on paper this sounds like something that could just be another phantom Kickstarter of those many that come and go harvesting a few thousand dollars before disappearing in vapor, Andromium shatters this possibility with a trained team, good backing, and demonstrations that seem to confirm that they are indeed doing their job right. Let’s take a deeper look at their project.
“Today’s smartphones have power”
The Andromium team makes this obvious observation in their opening to the Kickstarter. And it is not a secret nor a joke. Take NASA’s case. You’d think sending a fine piece of engineering to the Moon would require equally fine computers to design the mission and guide it through the massive distances, safe and sound.
NASA used IBM System/360 Model 75 computers for the job (many of them) each occupying tremendous amounts of space. They had great processing power for the time, as you would expect would be necessary for a purpose of such scope. NASA’s computers were stressed with hundreds of thousands of arithmetic operations every second. This super computer handled 16-bit and 32-bit binary integers. Its memory was measured in the megabytes, and just a few at that. Then there’s the Apollo’s Guidance Computer, over 30 kilos heavy in a 27,000 cubic centimetres… that’s the volume of over 310 iPhone 6’s. The computer also operated at 0.043MHz, yet the CPU of an iPhone 6 reaches 1.4Ghz without breaking a sweat… That’s 32,558 times the frequency of said guidance computer. And the iPhone’s RAM is 1GB, past the megabyte range – and this year, we’ll have 4GB Android phones. These ancient computers could cost upwards of 3 million dollars. Basically, if you bring your phone to the past you’d have a lot of money in your hands.
Andromium claims that Snapdragon processors are faster than the number one supercomputer of 1996. While this is a dubious claim (as ASCI Red broke the teraflop barrier), they are right in saying that our smartphones are more than capable of running desktop operating systems (with some tweaks, of course) just fine, even phones of a few years back. And while current SoC’s have yet to hit the teraflop, they still beat a lot of popular or significant supercomputers of the past, like the 1975 Cray-1, or the world-famous Deep Blue chess machine.
In their demo’s, you can see them running multiple HD videos at once on a Galaxy Note 3 without any frameloss or perceptible lag or delay. While you can do something similar with Samsung’s multi-window, Andromium is remarkably light-weight in its size and in its operation and this shows in the demo walkthroughs we’ve seen so far, with remarkable performance for an unreleased product. If my watch can emulate Windows 95 at all, I’d say the mobile desktop is more than capable of being a reality.
How is this done?
Simple, all you’ll need is the 30MB application (which will be available in the Google Playstore), your smartphone (although not all will be supported), and either the hardware dock they are producing, a third-party supported dock, or depending on your phone, chromecast.
The process will be as easy as pairing or plugging your device to a monitor or TV and have Andromium start and take over your phone. There you’ll be greeted with a very clean interface (with a pointer that is currently a little too chunky) that resembles that of Windows 7 in both design and functionality.
This interface is more of a re-skinning of your homescreen than a complete OS, but Andromium does bring its own framework to the table. While you could technically achieve the Andromium interface with a custom launcher, the rest of the functionality has a lot more deeper tweaking than almost anything you can download on the Playstore today, specially something designed for non-power-users.
The UI will allow you to have multiple overlaying windows that you can maximize, minimize, and resize at will. You can browse the web (and the browser will automatically fool pages into thinking you are on an actual desktop for a traditional experience), use many of the built-in Andromium applications, and just about everything you are also able to do on regular Android, as all your Android apps will be executable as a layer on your Andromium OS. So if you finally want to watch youtube while browsing the internet on your Android, you can do so! But on a monitor.
Andromium features support for keyboard and mouse, either through USB, wireless USB or bluetooth. This is essential for a full-desktop experience. It also supports game controllers if you want to use the platform for gaming, and in case you need external speakers, that’s also supported.
The software will be compatible with popular phones, and is designed around the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S series. The monitor you plug it into must be 1080p (both 60hz and 30hz are supported).
Something to note is that your phone will still retain full functionality when you connect it to a monitor and run Andromium, so you won’t miss on any push notifications, calls or text messages.
This isn’t new, though
As we previously mentioned, there were unsuccessful attempts at creating a “mobile desktop”, with big-names falling under their own weight. Motorola’s “Webtop” and the Ubuntu Edge come to mind. The latter was a phone that would run… Ubuntu. It also had a crowdfunding campaign. But you just need to go to that website to see where the difference between Ubuntu Edge and Andromium lays: Canonical (project creators) set the project goal for $32 million…
It did raise money at a fast rate, with more than $3 million funded in just 24 hours… But in the end, the project was not fully funded. They raised $12.8 million, and so it perished. We still have Ubuntu on phones, sort of… just not Ubuntu Edge.
But it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that Ubuntu needed $32 million, while Andromium has its goal set for 320 times less than that. And this is why Andromium might just become the victor in the battle for the first true PC-phone, and one that won’t be limited to one phone brand or model.
One of the biggest struggles third-world countries face is that big percentages of their population have yet to meet globalization first-hand. The internet has undoubtedly changed our individual lives, but it has also changed the way the world as a whole and as a system functions. And technology was a “first come, first serve” factor for the development of many of today’s leading nations and their societies.
Early adopters of computing, such as Great Britain (arguably the fathers of computer science) and the United States gained the needs and tools to advance their technological supremacy over the rest of the world. But their power goes beyond death by Atom Bombs and life by modern medicine – the internet brought down the barriers of knowledge to many eager learners. It became the modern Library of Alexandria, and with Google pushing to digitalize virtually every book ever published, the gates of knowledge could be open to everyone with a smartphone.
Then you’ve got the rise of affordable-but-good budget phones started by Motorola, and Google’s Project Ara which aims for the remaining 5 billion without smartphones… Andromium fits right in with this vision of a global community united by the knowledge that resides on the internet, with every living human having access to the works of the great thinkers of all time.
Pessimists would argue that despite unlimited access to the infinite knowledge mankind can produce, the majority would willingly stay in bliss ignorance and dismiss the sea of information at their fingertips. I find myself in this pessimism sometimes. But the opportunity is worth fighting for. True justice, true equality lays not just in the unachievable notion of equal opportunity, as we are all different entities with varying degrees of abilities – an undeniable and unchangeable fact of life. It lays in bringing societies equal tools to achieve the merits they either rightfully deserve, or knowingly refuse. And with intelligence, fostered by knowledge, being one of the primary factors that determine a society’s health, power, technology and ultimately happiness and progress… what would be a better tool to try and achieve global equality than giving everyone an equal shot at all of recorded human knowledge?
With the internet being as polarized as it is right now, the mere word “equality” can set a forum ablaze with debate. But that’s not a reason to not realise that projects like Google’s, or Andromium’s, or Motorola’s can potentially benefit everyone living today, and in the future. Leaving all prejudice aside, Andromium has a noble vision. None of us can determine exactly how much of their activism is honest. Nonetheless, the end of the means should be the focus, but not without careful monitoring of the actors and processes.
Where does the project stand?
The OS itself is functional and ready to see a public beta, coming in late January. As of right now, the Andromium dock has been finalized too, is functional and ready to enter large-scale production. The rest of the project is also developed enough to be available to users. They will also release an SDK in mid 2015 to allow developers to make their own Andromium apps specifically designed for the project.
As of the writing this article, 62% of their kickstarter goal is funded. Kickstarter projects are funded “only” if the goal is fully pledged, and the project has a couple more days to reach the needed capital. I can’t talk for all of XDA, but I see Andromium as not just a great opportunity for Android, but a much needed step forward in computing. While it might not be the first attempt, and could not be the final platform, it could bring to life a concept that has been dreamed of in technology since its infancy.