Recently, one of Google’s engineers tweeted how the upcoming Android Operating System(OS), Ice Cream Sandwich, would be able to use USB game pad peripherals and HDMI out — essentially making your phone into a game console.
Although technically Google’s release of their prior OS, Honeycomb, had support for USB host mode, this was mainly limited to transferring information from peripheral devices.
With the release of their Ice Cream Sandwich OS, also called Android 4.0, Google will robustly support USB host mode — enabling phones to use USB devices similar to a traditional computer.
This type of robust connectivity prompted me to contact Mobisante, makers of the much heralded smartphone ultrasound device, MobiUS. One of their biggest limitations has been the inability to have proper USB 2.0 host support to connect to smartphones, forcing them to use an outdated Windows Mobile 6.5 OS on a Toshiba smartphone.
So, why is USB 2.0 host support essential if you want to connect an ultrasound probe to a smart phone? At a basic level, the probe has to be able to draw power from the phone. And now, with the announcement of robust USB 2.0 support for Google’s new operating system, Mobisante told us they have big plans for Android smart phones.
We had a short exchange with their CEO, Sailesh Chutani, who is excited about these developments for the Android platform, and sees this as being a great harbinger for mHealth peripheral devices in general. He feels porting the peripheral device to the new Android OS from Windows Mobile will be relatively straightforward from a UI perspective, with some underlying hardware issues to resolve. He also told us why the iPhone and iPad won’t be able to support robust USB peripheral devices anytime soon.
Below are parts of the conversation:
iMedicalApps: What do you think about Android 4.0 and it’s robust support for USB 2.0 hosting?
Sailesh Chutani: The new release of Android does support USB 2.0 host, which makes it suitable for connecting peripherals such as ours. Essentially, Android starts to become a real computing platform a la Windows, which is great for mHealth companies.
iMedicalApps: Are you planning on bringing your Ultrasound Peripheral to Android phones?
Sailesh Chutani: Yes
iMedicalApps: How easy will it be to port your Ultrasound Peripheral, MobiUS to the new Android OS?
Sailesh Chutani: The User Interface is straightforward, but the underlying device drivers will take some work. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Android has started to match the competitive advantage of the Windows platform in the area of peripheral connectivity.
iMedicalApps: What are the current limitations with iOS (iPhone and iPad) for ultrasound peripherals?
Sailesh Chutani: We would love to be able to port to the iOS platform, but certain technical limitations prevent us from doing so. The major one is the lack of USB host support. This leaves an opening for the makers of Windows and Android based tablets/phones to differentiate and compete by supporting third-party peripherals, both broad as well as those targeted for specialized markets.
Related Post: New England Journal of Medicine review of mobile ultrasound devices