How Headless Android is Impacting Embedded Systems Development

Given the fact that Android is targetted towards the smartphone market, you wouldn't expect any significant interest in Android from the embedded market. However, making Android 'headless', and working with it on an embedded device has a variety of compelling use cases, and accordingly it is becomming ever more popular.

Does the thought of headless Android seem strange to you? Spooky even? What business would a little droid have, operating without a user interface? Are there headless Android apps all around you right now? There might be. In the future, there definitely will be. Here’s the scoop on this up and coming trend.

Karim J. Yaghmour , CEO of Opersys, says he didn’t start to realize the potential of headless Android until his customers started asking him if it was possible. He always just used Linux for embedded. Developing in Android, the king of interactive UIs, seemed counterintuitive – a solution looking for a problem. But it turns out that Android for embedded makes a lot of sense on two fronts.

One app, many devices

For some organizations, there’s a cost benefit in using Android. It means you need just one O/S for all your devices. That’s likely to be more and more attractive for enterprises that want to release apps for mobile but also have an eye toward increasing their footprint in the embedded space. With some tweaking, developers could learn to reuse some aspects of these interfaces for both headless and headful systems. Waste not, want not!

Pre-developed developers

Any developer who knows Android can technically code for the headless system as well. There simply isn’t an equivalent skill set in the embedded world. That’s because there is no one standard that everyone uses. Of course, developers would have to consider the constraints of the embedded system. The apps would have to be even more resource-conscious and maintenance-free than either server side or mobile apps.

Android and the competition

What does Android offer that embedded Linux doesn’t? It uses the same base O/S and Linux kernel, but the API is much richer. It’s already been built, so all developers have to do is leverage it. Since lots of developers know Android, there’s a deep and widespread talent pool for organizations to draw on for projects. With so many IT skills in short supply these days, it’s nice to know you don’t have to set aside as much bribe money to lure a developer away from a competing firm.

The #1 reason organizations are going to need those Android developers plugging away at headless solutions is because the marketplace demands it. According to Karim, the expansion of embedded tech and the low cost of boards has created a resurgence of DIY computer creation. Garages and basements all over the globe are teeming with enthusiasts (and a few geniuses) who want to build their own embedded devices just to show they can. Some of the headless apps they develop may eventually be stuff your organization will want to license for its own use.

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