On Wednesday, the Google Android team released the x86 version of Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" to the open source community. The software is incomplete -- for example, it's missing support for Ethernet and cameras -- but it will open the door for hardware makers to pre-install Android instead of Microsoft Windows on laptops and desktops in 2012.
No hardware makers have yet announced Intel or AMD powered PCs running Android 4.0, but I wouldn't be surprised to see several companies quickly jump on the bandwagon in early 2012. The top candidates are Dell, Acer, and ASUS. Dell and Acer could be keen because they try to make machines as low-cost as possible and there's no licensing fee for Android, unlike Windows, so that would shave about $50 off the cost of a PC. ASUS could be a candidate because the company favors innovative, forward-looking PCs and it already has a strong Android product line, including the Eee Pad Transformer (below), the most laptop-like Android device already in the market.
An Android-powered PC would have a few things going for it. We've already talked about the cost factor. Android also has over half a million apps on the platform, although most of those are optimized for a smartphone screen. But, with the rise of Android tablets in 2011, there is an increasing number of excellent apps that are optimized for tablets with 1280x800 resolution, which will also work great for a laptop.
Google itself is still lukewarm about the idea, so don't look for much support from Mountain View. The company has consistently said that Chromebooks are its play in the PC space, but the fact that Chromebooks haven't sold well are probably part of what has motivated the company to release Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" on x86. Google is dipping its toe in the water. We'll see if OEMs run with the idea and prove that there's market interest in Android PCs. If they do, look for Google to get a lot more serious about it.
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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.