Monday, June 11, 2012

The State of Android

With the ICS release our core objective as a company is to get all of the hardware vendors onto that platform.
- Eric Schmidt December ‘11

Almost all of our users are running iOS 5... now if you compare that to the competition. They released a dairy product, 4.0, about the same time as we released iOS 5. About 7% of their users are running it.

- Apple WWDC June ‘12

Those two quotes speak for themselves. Android has been on shaky ground lately. Its daily activations and market share growth have slowed in the last few months. Don’t get me wrong, they are both still on the up, but not nearly as fast as in the past. With this article, I just want to look at Android from a user’s standpoint.

Since its birth, Android has been a revolutionary mobile OS. It was published by a truly visionary company, Google. At a time when Macintosh vs Windows commercials were the norm, Microsoft and Apple were the only competitors in the computing world. Though Microsoft obviously won the desktop computing battle, Apple stood firm. When Apple released the iPhone, it seemed strange that Google, not Microsoft, was the first to really step up to try its hand against the steady fruit.

It had its faults, biggest of all being how ugly it was. But nonetheless, it drove its stake into the ground and quickly gained popularity. Following the footsteps of Apple’s previous competitor, Android was licensable software that could be sold to hardware makers. This would expand Android's market share faster than any other method. With that, Google decided to make it open source. But here is where we find Google’s first mistake with Android. Making Android open source opened the doors to something they couldn’t handle and was fertilization to the fragmentation flower.

With Google’s immense resources, updates for vanilla Android flowed. Unfortunately, they flowed into a dam called hardware manufacturers. They all had their own personalized flavors of Android that they had to mix with the vanilla each time it was updated. Pretty soon, Google realized the consequences of their open source child as updates were taking longer and longer to actually get to users. This pattern occurred over and over.

Fast forward to the present. Google now has in place guidelines for all manufacturers that attempt to bring fragmentation down. These guidelines have brought up the majority of devices to Android 2.2 and 2.3. The downside? 2.3 is 1.5 years old and 2.2 is 2 years old. Google’s most up to date flavor of Android, Android 4.0, has 7% market share as of June 1st, 2012. It was released 6 months ago and we can only hope that it has the 65% market share this time next year. But by that time, Android 5.0 will be out and we will be anticipating 6.0...

But it is not all doom and gloom. Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, is a beacon of hope for Android enthusiasts. A fresh new 'Holo' theme makes apps using standard ui elements b-e-a-utiful. And finally, some design guidelines to follow to have a unified look among Android. Hopefully that will deter some of the iOS look-a-like apps developers have been making. Google is also requiring smartphone makers to leave the themes unaltered. If they do not do this, those phones will not get access to the Play Market, a series determent.
Android is young. To add some humanity to it, Android is like a teenager. We all know how much we change in the four years between 14 and 18. Right now, Android looks like the hormone filled, acne covered teenager we all used to be. The only appealing thing about it is the fact that there are so many of them. Android has the edge over iOS in terms of market share, but lacks in looks and usability.  Android 4.0 looks like that young adult we all matured into. Its Holo theme is beautiful and the restraints Google has in place to make sure it stays beautiful are refreshing. But for now we have to deal with this mood-changing version of Android.

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