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I am wondering if Android could grow beyond mobile devices and go on PC too. I know Samsung has Dex, and Google has ChromeOS. But do you think the Android project is compatible with the PC ecosystem?

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There have been several distributions of Android for x86 PC hardware. None of them have achieved a lot of market share. They include:

The difficulty with running Android on x86 PC-based hardware is the vast diversity of PC hardware. Android was put together for mobile devices, with the expectation that device manufacturers would customise it for each device and supply appropriate device drivers. Doing that for all the combinations of PC hardware out there is not practical.

The customisation is not mandatory, although almost all 'phone manufacturers want to do it. They think it builds brand loyalty; I find it makes using unfamiliar 'phones much more confusing.

However, the device drivers are required: Android is not set up to allow download and installation of device drivers the way Windows and Linux are. That's one of the prices it pays for not needing management and system administration in the way that Linux and Windows do.

Laptop manufacturers could provide Android for their laptop configurations - I had a mini-laptop that dual-booted Windows 7 and Android in 2011-12 - but rarely seem to see it as worth the cost.

There's a current oddity in the Lenovo Thinkbook Plus Gen 5 which is a combination Windows laptop and Android tablet, as a literal 2-in-1 device. The keyboard unit is an Intel-based Windows 11 system; the screen is an ARM-based Android tablet that can serve as the laptop's display. I doubt this will inspire a trend, but it's interesting.

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  • Thanks, that's some food for thoughts. Now, maybe this is a separate question, but then wouldn't it be possible to create a more generic version of Android that needs less customizations ? My point is that for the sake of the application base on Android it could be great to port it on PC. That may be easier if later Android goes on RISC V, I guess
    – trya2l
    Commented May 12 at 10:12
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    @trya2l: See amended answer. Commented May 12 at 11:18
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    Linux doesn't need to download drivers the way Windows does either, it's pretty hands-off unless you have some really unusual device (or a GPU) and you need to install the driver manually (often through the package manager). AFAIU: Android works the same way if compiled with reasonable build flags, and if desired GPU drivers for both major GPU manufacturers could be included in the base image if they exist. Hardware support is not the reason.
    – ave
    Commented May 13 at 8:21
  • I'll second @ave - Android is based on Linux, so all that infrastructure for using kernel modules surely is already in place. Modern desktop Linux distros already ship with support for ungodly amounts of hardware out of the box. Maybe except for telephony, GPS, accelerometers and other smartphone-specific hardware (which would not be of concern on a PC anyways) hardware support should be straight-forward.
    – AnoE
    Commented May 13 at 9:25
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    @Gábor: Are those dual-bootable devices, or two separate computers? The latter is what I thought odd about the Lenovo. Commented May 13 at 21:46
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Other answers explain well the most known Android-on-x86 projects. I think it fails in the reason, why it has not a bigger penetration.

Android uses a Linux kernel and everything works on Android PC-s as would work on Linux. There is practically no problem with the hardware support.

The real answer is that today people don't install an OS to their own machines.

They buy a laptop in the store with a preinstalled OS, and/or they buy a phone with preinstalled Android. In their view, they have bought a laptop and/or they have bought a phone. They could switch the OS only hardly, after collecting some experience, but most importantly, they can not imagine, why would they need that. That is the reason.

A commoner does not see an Android. Your mother wouldn't say, "my Android wants to restart due to an update", she will say "my phone wants to restart due to an update" (likelier she just won't say anything and click "ok" as a reflex and then go drink a coffee). She does not see an Android, she sees a phone.

Same is for PCs. People buy and use PCs, mostly laptops. In their view, they use their laptops and not the preinstalled OS. Many of them don't even know, what is an OS. They see their laptop.

Things would be hugely different if people would need to pay separately for an OS as they buy their laptop, and buy separately Android and a phone.

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  • > Your mother won't say, "my android wants to restart due to an update", she will say "my phone wants to restart due to an update" - I find it tends to go the other way, the less tech-savvy will refer to their phones by the brand ("my Samsung", or even "my iPhone" even if they run Android!), and they'll refer to their laptops as Windows or even Microsoft even if the issue has nothing to do with the OS. But it's true that they don't care about the intricacies of what OS they're running or what that might mean.
    – Bob
    Commented May 12 at 7:24
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    I am not savvy on this but I think expanding on There is practically nothing problem with the hardware support would add weight as that seems to be the thrust of the other answer which you say is fake information +1
    – beeshyams
    Commented May 12 at 8:08
  • I don't think buying the OS and hardware separately would help with this. There's still the problem of needing Android device drivers for the vast variety of PC hardware, and the problem that Android is not set up to install device drivers into an installed OS. The system design sacrifices that - and a lot of other configurability that PC Linux and Windows have - to avoid the need for system management skills. You can't expect everyone to learn those skills, and the need for them on PCs is why so many people have switched to phones. Commented May 12 at 11:25
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    "The real answer is that today people don't install an OS to his own machines." is right in a way, but doesn't go far enough IMO - those that do install their own OS do so because they want a level of choice and flexibility that Android doesn't offer, rather than the simplicity it does
    – Chris H
    Commented May 12 at 11:41
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    @AnoE that market is largely taken up by Chromebooks. The one I had was just too old for official Android support, but there were some unofficial workarounds. It made a nice Linux machine except every update broke Crouton (the chroot tool needed to run much Linux stuff on there) and I never gt a bare metal install working
    – Chris H
    Commented May 13 at 12:32
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What's "a PC" or "the PC ecosystem"?

If a PC is a device with a CPU, RAM, storage, a screen, and input methods, then there are plenty of tablets which fit the bill. They really are PCs with a little bit of dedicated hardware (see below on why this is important).

There are actually quite a few devices out there which can be ordered with either Android or Windows (or sometimes Linux), especially in the Digital Signage and IHM worlds.

Add a keyboard to your tablet, and you're quite close to a laptop.

But many generic PCs lack a few things which are standard on tablets and phones, and which are really part of the tablet/phone experience, for instance:

  • A touch screen, with multi-touch. Many applications are really a pain to use if you can't pinch to zoom for instance. While there are alternatives, the experience just isn't the same.
  • The ability to switch between landscape and portrait. Some apps only support one of the two modes, and being constrained to only one orientation is problematic.

Also, while people have been talking about the merging of the tablet and PC experiences for a long time, and Windows has tried to do this for quite some time (and the result has been mostly terrible), like the guys at Apple, I feel they are different experiences which require different interfaces. For instance:

  • On a device where the touch screen is the main interface, you need large buttons and other UI elements so that you can use them with your fingers. But that feels weird when you use the device with a mouse (you suddenly have these huge UI elements all over).
  • On a device where the mouse (or touchpad, but with a pointer) is the main interface, you want to be able to optimize the amount of content you can display, and you'll use smaller UI elements.

So if you want a tablet: use a tablet. If you want a PC: use a PC. But trying to have a device that is both at the same time is nearly always a weird compromise.

Even in the same ecosystem (e.g. Android), you can see the same kind of issue between tablets and phones: while the line is sometimes blurry, most apps just can't be exactly the same (just scaled) for both. You need to optimise each version for the specific class of device and its use case if you really want to get something nice, and not something meh on both or good on one but bad on the other.

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As Android is based on a (modified) Linux kernel, it can run within a container on a fairly standard Linux distribution such as Fedora or Ubuntu.

A working example of this is Waydroid which, to quote https://waydro.id/,

A container-based approach to boot a full Android system on a regular GNU/Linux system like Ubuntu.

It allows an Android OS such as LineageOS (with or without Gapps) to run quite happily on any x86 hardware which is supported by the host OS (the host OS deals with all the hardware drivers), and an ARM translation library can be installed so that ARM only apps can be run. (As only a small number of apps provide an x86 option).

Compatibility is pretty good. I haven't yet found an app which doesn't work due to the platform, with the only problem being LineageOS itself, as some apps don't like running on a rooted system.

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Oh, this question brings me back. I remember owning a netbook (Remember those?) more than a decade ago that ran a custom Android distribution on an x86 chipset.

From what I remember it was awful, compatibility with existing Android apps was extremely rare. However, I do remember managing to root it so I could install Doom 2 using a bash terminal.

So it was possible back then but barely useable, no clue if anyone has done more work into making Android useable on desktops nowadays.

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