Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest technology company, is reportedly “studying” Google’s open-source operating system Android, which has been gaining traction within the mobile community.
An HP spokeswoman released a statement to Reuters after a Wall Street Journal report quoted Satjiv Chahil, a vice president of HP’s PC division, as saying the company is “assessing” Android’s application and benefits.
“We want to assess the capabilities that Android might present for the computer and communications industries,” a spokeswoman told Reuters in response. She said HP is studying Android to “understand all of the OS choices in the marketplace that might be used by our competitors, or that might possibly be of value to our customers too.” However, she declined to offer any indication as to when or how HP might produce Android-outfitted products.
While a move to Android would signal a shift toward open-source software and present a threat to Microsoft’s dominant Windows operating system, the software giant knows Vista, the current incarnation of the platform, is too large to run on netbooks, which operate like notebooks but are smaller and less powerful. In response, Microsoft made an older version of Windows, XP OS, available on netbooks, though Reuters reports Microsoft will sell a version of its forthcoming Windows 7 operating system specially tailored for netbooks.
HP has been quietly exploring alternative software options since at least September, when the company acknowledged it had assembled a group of engineers to develop software that will let customers bypass certain features of Vista. HP has also dabbled in Linux, an open-source operating system, with its Mini 1000 Mi Edition netbook. By using free software like Linux (upon which Android is based), HP can avoid paying the considerable licensing fees to Microsoft, which in turn allows the company to drive down the cost of its netbooks.
Netbooks are widely considered to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise contracting electronics economy, due to their low price and ease of portability. In 2008, research firm IDC reported sales of 11 million netbooks, up from just 182,000 the year before. As the economy has worsened, consumers have looked to affordable (most netbooks run between $300 and $600) netbooks as a favorable alternative to notebooks. Some analysts predict that by switching to free, open-source operating systems like Android, netbook prices could fall to $200 by the end of the year.
Google’s Android platform last made headlines at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, where mobile network operator Vodafone announced it would be releasing the second “Google Phone,” the HTC Magic, a smartphone powered by Android. The exclusive contract between handset maker HTC and Vodafone marks the second occasion an Android phone has been announced, the first being the G1, launched in September 2008 by HTC and offered exclusively by operator T-Mobile.