The state of Android
It all started in Palo Alto, California back in 2003 – a little company named Android, Inc. was founded by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White. The purpose of the venture was to create “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”, and was originally aimed at digital cameras. That market proved not to be large enough, so the focus shifted to smartphones that could compete against Microsoft’s and Symbian’s offerings.
Google acquired Android, Inc. in 2005 and speculation began to swirl that the search engine and email giant was getting ready to offer a “Google Phone” (with free cellular service, no less) to the masses. That didn’t happen. Instead we got an open-sourced mobile operating system that’s at the center of many, many devices – and not just limited to cell phones.
Where is Android today? Let’s take a look at “the state of Android”.
Today Android runs on devices built by Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, and dozens of others around the world. It supports resolutions from very small to very large. It runs on both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware, with apps that don’t have to be rewritten or recompiled by their developer for the more advanced chips.
Sizes of Android-powered phones vary from small and pocketable to huge “phablets” that are pushing the definition and straining our pockets.
OEMs began building tablets around the same time Apple’s iPad hit the shelves. Google was quick to respond with a (horrible) version of Android designed for tablets: Android 3.0 Honeycomb. That was years ago. Today we have lots of tablets, but they all seem to be just big phones – without the phone.
The hardware is powerful, the screens are great, but we really need an OS and apps that are designed to be used the way that we use tablets. (This goes for the iPad, too.)
Part of this challenge will have to be answered by Google, but developers need to find creative ways to design their applications to take full advantage of the additional screen size and the unique ways that we use tablets (physical keyboards, stylus input, mice, etc.).
Android powers a few types of wearables from watches to “glasses” and even virtual reality hardware. Android Wear (the variant of the Android operating system that powers some of these wearables) is still in its infancy.
More powerful than basic health monitors and fitness trackers, Android wearables are more tightly integrated with smartphones and tablets to present timely information – and allow limited interaction without requiring you to pull your phone out.
Keep your eye on this segment of the market. We expect exciting and new things to be arriving all the time!
It started with the ill-fated Nexus Q, a big ball (that Google ended up giving away for free) which connected to your TV and stereo, and ultimately gave way to what we now know as Chromecast.
Chromecast is an Internet connected streaming stick that connects to a monitor and allows compatible devices to “cast” video, audio, pictures, and even the entire screen from a handheld device to a big screen – all wirelessly.
My family “cut the cable” a few years ago, relying on a desktop computer connected to our TV via HDMI for all our video needs. Now our Chromecast has replaced it.
We watch movies from our NAS and Netflix, YouTube videos, Pandora and Google Music, and so much more, all without the overhead of a dedicated media server. At US$35, Chromecast is a no-brainer.
But Google didn’t stop there. After an initial foray into the set top box market with Google TV, the company regrouped, canceling support in June 2014 and releasing the Nexus Player and “Android TV”. Android TV brings all the abilities of Chromecast without the requirement of a “host” device to cast content from – but still allows you to do that, if you’d like. It operates as a standalone device, and even has a dedicated remote control and optional gamepad.
One of the many uses of Android, thanks to its rich app capabilities and integrated geo-location services, is the ability to function as a GPS navigation system. Companies like TomTom and Garmin have seen the popularity of their dedicated devices fall drastically now that virtually every smartphone on the market today can function very similarly.
There’s so much more that can be integrated once we start talking about cars. Automatic and others have created “dongles” to talk to your car’s computer and send that information via Bluetooth or WiFi Direct to your smartphone, enabling apps to do all sorts of amazing things. A car with this setup can tell you what your fuel efficiency is, if you’re braking too hard or accelerating too quickly, and can even call for help if you’re involved in a collision. Android Auto integrates even more tightly into your in-car experience.
By replacing your in-vehicle entertainment system, in addition to all those features, your media can be played, stored, and called upon using your voice. Calls can be handled through the hands-free system. You can even be routed around road-construction or other delays dynamically.
There are only a few head units that take advantage of Android Auto today, but watch for that to expand over the coming months.
Apple still runs Mac OS on its laptops and desktop computers. Microsoft is trying to unify its operating systems across platforms.
Google’s current offering in this space is called Chromebook. No, it’s not Android, but it’s a close sibling. Now it’s got a “big brother” called Chromebit which turns a monitor (or TV), keyboard, and mouse into a full-fledged computer.
These devices run an operating system that’s based around the Chrome web browser, but is including more elements that are familiar to users of Android every passing day. It’s even possible to run some Android apps on them. It probably won’t be long before the laptop and desktop computer space are filled with something that’s indistinguishable from Android proper.
Android is a mature operating system that’s outgrown its humble beginnings. It’s expanded from phones and tablets to almost every niche in our lives.
From the perspective of breadth, Android is doing better than any of its closest competitors – with no hints of slowing down.
It’s still early in 2015, and the state of Android is very, very strong!