Remember Android Things? No? We don't blame you.

Google makes many operating systems: Android powers smartphones and tablets; Wear OS powers wearables like smartwatches; Chrome OS powers laptops and other computers; Android TV powers set-top boxes and televisions; and Android Things, which was designed to all kinds of Internet of Things devices, from smart displays to kitchen appliances. However, Google has begun to refocus Android Things.

Here's everything you need to know.

What is Android Things?

Android Things was meant to power all smart devices and IoT gadgets. Announced in 2016, it could run on products like connected speakers, smart thermostats, security cameras, routers, and so on. The idea is that, with Android Things, it would be easier for companies to start shipping IoT hardware, because they'd be using the same Android developer tools they already know.

In a nut shell, it was designed to be a stripped-down version of Android, aimed at nearly every type of internet-connected gadget you could imagine. However, via a blog post in February 2019, Google announced Android Things would exclusively begin to focus on smart speakers and smart displays. That’s much more narrow than all Internet of Things devices, which Google had envisioned from the get go.

Plus, Google has recently began touting Google Assistant over Android Things for smart devices. In January, Google announced Google Assistant Connect, a way to add Assistant into all sorts of devices, from e-readers to appliances. 

So, what is Brillo then?

Android Things, the basis of the operating system, isn't exactly new. It's a rebrand. A few years ago, Google announced Brillo, an Android-based OS for smart devices and IoT gadgets, but it never did much with the OS. Android Things is basically a successor to Brillo. It's also an update that allows development to be accomplished with “the same developer tools as standard Android", whereas Brillo didn't offer that.

Brillo didn't catch on because developers likely found it difficult to jump in and work on a new product. Now, because they have access to the same familiar tools, the hope is they can quickly get up to speed.

When will Android Things be available?

Google released the first SDK preview of Android Things in 2016. Then, in May 2018, Google announced that Android Things hit its official 1.0 release, which means we were supposed to be getting closer to devices being made available with Android Things on board. However, at this moment, it seems to have only arrived on a small number of speakers and displays.

When will the first Android Things devices arrive?

Google said the first devices would include speakers from LG and iHome, as well as smart displays from LG, Lenovo, and JBL.

Anything else you should know?

Don't think of Android Things as Android or Wear OS, which you plainly see running on a phone or watch, respectively. Android Things is an OS that works in the background but isn't visible. It allows smart devices to handle their own tasks rather than let servers do the processing. Because it is capable of more complex tasks, it's ideal for complex smart devices like printers and locks, rather than basic power outlets.

Also, Android Things devices will be able to integrate with Android and iOS devices through Weave, a communications system that Google launched alongside Brillo. That protocol will also enable Android Things devices to have access to Google Assistant.

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