Android on PCs may be a terrible idea, but that isn't stopping PC makers from trying it out in a desperate search for alternatives to Windows 8.
Next week, Acer is expected to double down on Android PCs by announcing an overpowered and underpriced all-in-one PC that will rock a fourth-generation "Haswell" Core processor.
The device has already popped up on some PC retailer sites, and Acer reportedly confirmed to CNET that the Haswell-powered AIO is the real deal. We'll update this report when we reach an Acer representative.
Spec reports are incomplete, but Acer's BDDA220HQL will purportedly feature a 3GHz Core i5 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB to 16GB of storage.
The PC is similar to an Android-based AIO the company already sells, the DA220HQL, which has a 21.5-inch 1080p display, a 1GHz OMAP 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM, and is priced just under $400 at Best Buy. The newer Haswell version is expected to cost a little over $400 and should make an appearance at the big Computex tech conference in Taiwan next week.
Android's PC issues
The supposed advantage of an Android PC is that you can get a cheaply priced, family-friendly computer using low-powered hardware that runs apps that users love, like Angry Birds, Facebook, and Twitter. PC makers also save on pricey Windows licensing costs since Android is free.
However, manufacturers must cut a deal with Google to use the search giant's logo or to preinstall its apps for services like Gmail and Maps.
Once you get past theoretical advantages and into the realities of an Android PC, however, its appeal begins to diminish. The first problem is the dearth of apps designed for large-screen devices.
"Any Android device over 8 inches will provide a lousy experience because of the lack of apps," says Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. "And this includes Acer's latest AIO. I simply don't understand why OEMs continue to bang their heads against the wall on this one before Google can attract more developers."
Some great tablet apps are available for Android, such as Flipboard and Google Earth. But for the most part Android's tablet/large screen device selection is terrible.
Many apps running on Android slates are simply upscaled versions of a smartphone app. It compares poorly to iOS platforms, which support most major apps in both smartphone and tablet versions, with designs for each form factor.
With a global market share exceeding 50 percent, Android may be able to improve its tablet selection in the coming months, but it already missed a golden opportunity to. "Google didn't emphasize or push this with developers at Google I/O," Moorhead says. "So I don't see a short-term fix [for Android's lack of tablet apps] on the way."
Missing Windows yet?
Even though Acer's AIO will have touch support, when using a PC sometimes only a mouse and keyboard will do. But Android has flaky support for external mice and keyboards, and is missing PC conventions such as right-click context menus.
And does anyone really want to run a PC without a proper desktop windowing system? Microsoft's full-screen approach with the Windows 8 modern UI hasn't won many fans, prompting the company to include a boot-to-desktop option in the upcoming Windows 8.1 refresh.
Finally, putting Android on a PC only serves to confuse the heck out of buyers. Google is already pushing Chrome OS as its low-priced Windows alternative, while Android is simply better suited for small-screen devices.
Nevertheless, Android shines a bright spot for at least one member of the PC industry: Intel appears to be gaining some ground with device makers.
Not only is the chip maker counting on seeing $200 laptops running Android later in 2013, Samsung is reportedly using a Clover Trail Intel Atom chip for an upcoming model of the Android-based Galaxy Tab 3.