October 21, 2013, 1:41 PM — What a long, strange trip it's been.
Actually, scratch that: While it feels like Android has been around forever, the open-source operating system that could has been gracing hardware for five scant years, celebrating its fifth birthday on Tuesday. And ever since HTC's G1 first hit T-Mobile in 2008, Android has managed to spread its wings far beyond mere phones and tablets.
From coffee makers to freakin' ninja robots just itching to sock you in the mouth, here are the most intriguing, eccentric, and downright weird places you'll find Android. Phones? Pfah. Phones are boring.
Fetching the milk: Also boring. Fetching the milk while pounding out Twitter blasts and futzing around with your Evernote to-do lists: Not so boring. Samsung certainly thinks Wi-Fi-enabled appliances are the way of the future, and it's hoping to speed up the revolution with Smart Fridges that include custom, Android-powered LCD touchscreens.
Don't start drooling just yet. The cheapest of Samsung's Android fridges starts at a not-so-mouthwatering $2,700.
Android washing machine
Everybody does laundry, but nobody enjoys doing laundry. Enter Samsung once again.
The company's $1,600 WF457ARGSGR/AA front-loading washing machine may rock king-size capacity and fancy-schmancy modes, but it's the washer's surprising Android inclusion that's the true star of the show. The appliance's controls come courtesy of an 8-inch, Android-powered touchscreen. You can use Samsung's SMART Washer/Dryer app to manage your dirty laundry from afar. It'll even notify you when the load's done.
An Android camera? Who ever thought of such a wack... Wait a minute. Maybe an Android camera isn't so crazy--smartphone pics do kind of suck, and an Android camera would make it easier to slap high-resolution food images on Instagram. It's like two gadgets in one!
Does reality match the multi-device hybrid theory? Check out TechHive's review of the Samsung Galaxy GC110 to find out if Android cameras are more "all-in-none" or "all-in-one."
Android coffee maker
At least Android cameras are actual things
A few years ago, an intriguing design for an Android coffee brewer made the rounds. More than a mere French Press, the so-called "Appresso" would theoretically dock your smartphone to charge it, play tunes through integrated speakers, and make recommendations based on your tastes and moods. Designers In-oh Yoo & Bong-yup Song even envisioned QR code-clad K-cups that you could scan for details about your coffee, or music suggestions that matched the blend. Seriously.
The Appresso never made it past the design stages. Caffeine addiction remains analog to this day.
Sentinels from The Matrix
Oh wait, that's just the Nexus Q, Google's, um, forward-looking collaborative music player. Whew! People aren't fleshy batteries just yet.
Killer ninja master
YET. Witness the smiling, Android-powered face of future Skynets: RT Corporation's V-sido x RIC Ninja Master. Focus on the downward-pointing eyebrows rather than the grin, because this robot--which gets marching orders from its Android tablet brains--was designed to punch you in the face. And if you try to flee, the Ninja Master's bipedal legs will help it chase you down and beat you to a pulp.
Fortunately, this amusing monstrosity has yet to become self-aware. Meatbags like you and me have to control the robot manually, with one person punching in front of a motion sensor to guide the Ninja Master's arms, and another controlling the legs via an app.
Ninja Master's a game, not a futuristic battle bot. Think of it more as Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots meets Real Steel rather than the beginning stages of a killer robot army--at least for now. Here's a video of the Android-powered Muhammed Ali in action.
Not all squawk boxes are controlled by proprietary, streamlined software like Roku or Apple TV's respective solutions. The K91 Smart TV that Lenovo showed at CES 2012 runs Android 4.0, opening up your big screen to the gajillions of Android apps.
Alas, the allure of running QuickOffice on your TV turned out to be not so alluring, and the K91 was never released outside of China. But you can convert any HDTV into a member of the Android army with a 'smart stick' like the $60 RikoMagic MK802 II. (Those aren't so good for actual TV watching, though.)
Your local convenience store
7-11 is a weird place to find Android, but thanks to Google's partnership with KitKat for Android 4.4, a chocolatey version of the cute little Android guy can be found next to Crunch bars and Butterfingers--at least on the candy's wrapper.
3D digital picture frame
Nikon's NF-300i isn't your average digital picture frame. This Wi-Fi-enabled bad boy leans on Android to bring 3D stereoscopic pictures to Japanese peepers, and it's free. Well, technically. Nikon will send you one if you sign up for a My Picturetown 3D membership, which stores your pictures in the cloud and converts them to 3D. Here's the catch: A My Picturetown 3D subscription will set you back the equivalent of $200 per year.
Maybe this is one technology that should have stayed stupid.
The future of printing?
In 2010, HP took a walk on the wild side with the HP PhotoSmart eStation, a pretty decent printer that stood out because its touchscreen controls were plopped on a 7-inch Android 2.1 tablet--a tablet that could be detached and used as a separate slate or e-reader. Android printers have yet to take off, though. (Maybe the sluggish TouchSmart UI HP tossed on the device had something to do with it.)
Universal remote, and I mean universal
Conspin's $350 Andi-One was pitched as a universal TV remote, but Android 2.1 helped this hardware do much more. Beyond controlling up to 50 devices via RF, infra-red, and Wi-Fi, the Andi-One ran more than 100,00 Android apps, controlled your HTPC's keyboard and mouse, browsed the Web, juggled email, and more. You could even use it as a basic VoIP handset.
The jack of all trades approach doesn't appear to have worked, though. Andi-One's webpage lies dead as a doorknob.
Retail point-of-sale units
Android is expanding into the business sector, too. The small footprint and low power needs of Google's operating system is perfect for simple digital signage boxes, and retailers can even buy Android-powered point-of-sale systems for handling transactions. Let's hope they're a bit more hardened than your average Android smartphone.
The Android of the future
Yes, Android is more than your average mobile OS. But Android is still a relative newcomer with a vast sea of possibilities lying ahead. Just imagine...