Today’s organizations must innovate on connected, remote digital products. Edge devices are a necessity for brands to offer new customer experiences, streamline operations and prepare for the post COVID world. But, traditional approaches to edge development and operations can result in sluggish innovation. 

Eighty-two percent of organizations agree they need to quickly launch new, smart products to maintain or grow market position, according to a recent study by QT and Forrester. But, more than two-thirds of organizations have experienced significant edge innovation challenges  – including a lack of iteration in their current development process or spending too much time maintaining existing products. Across industries, organizations are struggling to disrupt instead of being disrupted, to keep up with the latest wave of products for smart fitness, home automation, contactless payment, and more.  

When slow product development is combined with other industry pressures – including fragmented IoT operating systems (OS) and the semiconductor shortage –  the result is a challenging ecosystem.

Edge innovation is an imperative for today’s brands to survive disruption. But, rapidly improving and launching new products isn’t possible without a streamlined approach to development and operations. The edge ecosystem demands a universal front end for development and operations, and an increasing amount of evidence shows that Android is the future of the intelligent edge.

What is an Intelligent Edge Device?

Edge devices are any piece of hardware that provides an entry point into an enterprise network. The edge is a distributed computing model, rather than a category of technology, and the edge includes all types of connected things – ATMs,  kiosks, point-of-sale devices, enterprise phones and tablets, and much more.

Not all edge devices are intelligent, however. The intelligent edge is a subset of edge computing, generally defined as devices that gather and analyze data in close proximity to end users. Intelligent edge devices are a powerful tool for faster and more responsive end user experiences, on smart home fitness equipment, retail kiosks, and contactless payment kiosks, plus countless other emerging technologies.

Why Does the IoT Operating System Matter?

All computing devices need an operating system (OS) to function. The OS manages the hardware, software, and allocates resources for processing, memory and storage.  Edge devices require an OS to run applications, connect to the cloud, and transfer data.

All edge operating systems have a few factors in common, including the strict requirement that they must:

  • Embed a system within an internet-connected device
  • Manage device applications
  • Process and store memory and data

However, not all IoT OS are created equal. Android is the best OS for many emerging and future edge use cases, but not all. Typically, Android is the ideal choice for fixed-purpose devices, specialized systems, or rich user-interfaces. The Android OS fits a surprising number of intelligent edge use cases, especially ones that involve applications or a touchscreen.

Why Android is THE OS for Intelligent Edge

Android is Stable and Interoperable

There were a total of 620 IoT platforms available in 2020 – including 610 platforms who collectively had just 42% market share. There’s an absolute ton of IoT operating systems designed for highly-specific use cases or low-end devices. Many of these uncommon IOT use cases can create immense challenges for integration and interoperability.

Android is inherently interoperable – there’s no shortage of Android APIs available in Kotlin and Java, plus additional API libraries to extend Android functionality to specific app use cases. The Android OS is rare among IoT operating systems in the sense that it’s stable and comparatively simple to integrate.

Android Has the Largest Developer Community

Android is an open developer ecosystem with an active global community. There’s no cost to get started as an Android developer, unlike other broadly-adopted mobile OS. Many aspiring developers first get started with Android in their teens. 

At least 6 million developers worldwide are exclusively focused on Android out of 26.4 million mobile developers in total, which means the talent pool for Android devs is twice as large as ioS and countless times larger than many IoT operating systems.

As brands look to accelerate edge product innovation, the Android dev ecosystem is a huge benefit in a time of talent shortages and burnout. Seventy-nine percent of tech leaders say that developer burnout has negatively impacted their ability to deliver digital products. Switching to Android cannot solve all of the organizational and cultural challenges to edge innovation, but it can provide access to a deeper talent pool.

Android is an Open Ecosystem with Diverse Hardware Options

Nearly 72 percent of consumer smartphones worldwide run on Android. The remarkable rise of Android adoption is at least partially attributable to the fact it’s an open-source, Linux-based platform. Google’s decision to provide access to the Android source code has allowed device-makers globally to customize the operating system to both traditional and non-traditional device use cases and multiple device architectures. 

While Android isn’t the only IoT OS with an open source community, it has an incredibly large and active open-source community. And, these vibrant communities offer benefits to more than just community participants – often, active open source communities have downstream benefits for commercial adopters.

Dave Neary of Redhat writes that open source communities are linked to faster, more impactful, and secure development projects within enterprise settings since it gives innovators the opportunity to engage with the community at an affordable cost, especially compared to enterprise products developed within a closed ecosystem.

The Android open source community has also sparked a vibrant ecosystem of OEMs and independent software vendors who have built vertical solutions on Android. This gives enterprises a richer ability to pick ready-made solutions for intelligent edge and reduces the risk of vendor lock-in.

Android is Usable and Accessible

Over 2 billion consumers worldwide use Android, which means the majority of connected consumers worldwide are familiar with the operating system. Android interfaces are remarkably easy-to-use and intuitive for most end users. Employees or customers generally don’t need extensive training on how to use an Android UI, which can reduce the burden of support and training for enterprise edge applications. 

Android also has remarkable usability for accessible design use cases, including native OS features such as TalkBack, Explore by Touch, and accessibility settings for developers to modify device display and sound. This allows Android innovators like Birdsong to create a customized , highly-accessible UI for Android edge devices with large, intuitive icons and custom navigation experiences.

Android is Remarkably Scalable

Scalability references the capability of a system or process to handle a growing workload. Android is inherently scalable for development and operations, and has the potential to scale to a growing number of IoT use cases that involve data capture, transmission, or processing at the edge. Since Android is both widely-available and highly-popular, it is frequently compatible with sensor hardware and common sensor data transfer protocols (such as MQTT and XMPP).

Speed Up Intelligent Edge Innovation with Android

Organizations who hope to compete on edge innovation cannot rely on traditional approaches to development. Native development for rare IoT libraries can be difficult to scale to new platforms, and lead to a dangerous cycle of developer burnout and resource-intensive device operations. It’s time for brands to rethink the product life cycle for intelligent edge devices to adopt new approaches that support iterative improvement. Investing in flexible platforms, such as commercial-ready builds of the Android OS, can centralize efforts across embedded devices and lead to faster edge innovation.