Refocusing: Google’s Android Things is not much of a thing anymore

Google may not be throwing in the towel on Android Things, but it’s at least neatly folding the towel and setting it on the ground. In a blog post today, Google said that it’s refocusing Android Things — its Android-based platform for smart devices — exclusively on smart speakers and smart displays. That’s a much narrower scope than the all-encompassing Internet of Things platform that Google had initially dreamed up.

When Android Things was first announced in December 2016, Google envisioned it as an operating system that would let developers code for a whole world of smart devices using the tools they already knew from coding for Android phones. At the time, that included speakers and displays, but also more experimental gadgets, like small robots, art installations, a projector, a 3D printer, and more. Google’s initial vision was to connect everything with various IoT tools

But it took two years for Android Things to actually ship, and it seems to have only arrived on a small number of speakers and displays.

On top of that, Google has recently put a bigger emphasis on using Google Assistant rather than Android Things as the connective tissue for smart devices. In January, Google announced Google Assistant Connect, a way to build Assistant into all kinds of devices, from simple e-paper displays to connected dishwashers. Google may not run the core of those devices, but its software still enables the same types of connectivity.

Google’s original ambitions for a smart device platform were actually even bigger. Android Things was itself a reinvention of a platform called Brillo, announced in 2015, that was described as the “underlying operating system for the internet of things.” It was an “Android-derived” OS meant to simplify development of all kinds of smart gadgets and IoT integrations.

“You can imagine a farmer managing the entire farm from a smartphone, the security cameras, the sensors, the irrigation equipment. All of them can be connected so that it works better together,” then-Android chief (and now-CEO) Sundar Pichai said back in 2015. Brillo and other Google-made tools were supposed to make that happen.

So Google’s Android IoT ambitions seem to have gone from “everything” to “consumer smart devices” to just “speakers and smart displays.”

That said, Android Things has delivered a growing wave of Google Assistant-enabled screens, like this one from Lenovo, which are important in Google’s play for the smart home market. But it’s far smaller than what Google had initially envisioned.

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