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"Predictions" that need to stop in 2012 - Part 2: Google, Android & "fragmentation"

The CES engines haven't revved up to speed yet, so we thought that now might be a good time for "predictions" on what the coming year will have for us in terms of Google. We're not really the clairvoyant types, so we'd rather just mention the things we all know will happen and talk about why we don't need to hear any more about it. We'll also toss in some things that we'd really really like to see, but have no idea whether they will happen or not. Last time, we talked about Apple's iOS devices, which will perpetually be the engine of the mobile tech rumor machine, regardless of our musings. This time around, we wanted to talk about Google, Android, and the Android manufacturing partners. Of course, one big trouble facing this article is that analysts don't really waste much time by talking about things that are essentially common sense when it comes to Android, so we'll also be spending a fair bit more time on broad trends in the Android ecosystem.  

Google

Let's start off with the reason Android exists: Google. Google is a huge company and has a number of mobile products, but ultimately, all of these products run through Android at some point. Also, despite the continued push to acquire Motorola, Google is not yet a hardware company, so most of the predictions must come in the fuzzy software side of things, which for various reasons is far more difficult to pin down than hardware. Mainly, the issue is that hardware often has a defined evolutionary path - CPUs get faster/more cores, storage gets larger, screens get more resolution, etc - whereas software is more the representation of the personality leading the company. Apple was led for a long time by Steve Jobs, and his personality still permeates the company. This leads to a tightly controlled and integrated software ecosystem from desktop to mobile to the cloud. 

Google had been led by the committee of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt for a long time, which led to a vast collection of products without a real cohesion to them all, not to mention a number of products that had duplicate functionality. Since Larry Page has taken over as CEO, we've seen far more focus and integration come to Google products. Unnecessary products have been killed, and through Google+ we've seen more integration and design unification across Google products, and no doubt this will continue. To that point, 2012 seems to be shaping up to be a year of integration and polish for Google. 

The integration will continue, but what we really need to see on Android is the polish for that integration. Android 4.0 has taken a huge leap forward in polishing the Android UI and giving a consistent experience, but Android still has some niggling problems with various Google services that need to be fixed. For example, if YouTube is going to be the one-stop video shop for Google, there needs to be an option to resume a video from mobile to desktop or visa versa. This is a standard feature of streaming video systems like Netflix and Hulu, so it needs to be part of YouTube. The fact that it doesn't exist keeps people away from watching longer videos and movies on YouTube, and reinforces the idea that YouTube is for short-form content. Similarly, Google Voice still needs MMS support. Google+ still needs to fix the problem that should never have existed to begin: properly posting links shared from mobile. Google Docs needs to finish the transition into being Google Drive. And, there are plenty of other small issues with each mobile product that need to be fixed. 

We don't want to harp on it much, but just one quick note on the Nexus tablet, since we've already covered the idea that the Nexus will "cannibalize" other Android tablet sales: we don't need any more "predictions" that it will launch in Q2 of 2012, or at the end of spring, or beginning of summer, or whatever. The Nexus tablet will be launched in time for Google I/O on June 27th, that's all we need to know on that. Some hard specs, price, and manufacturer would be nice, though. 

Android

However, niggling problems are not the real reason we're here. It's Android. And, the number one prediction that we never want to hear anymore is anything to do with "fragmentation". "Fragmentation" is a negative marketing word used by Apple to denigrate the Android system, but it is the completely wrong word to describe the issue, and makes it sound far worse than it is. The Android ecosystem is not fragmented; it is inconsistent at worst, and unique at best. 

The idea that Android is fragmented insinuates that there is some sort of "complete" Android that could exist, if only... and that's where the idea dies, in that "if only", because the "if only" always ends with a suggestion that Google be more like Apple. If only Google would control the ecosystem more. If only Google would enforce stricter rules on Android. If only... Why does it end that way? Because "fragmentation" is a negative marketing word created by Apple. Both the CEO of Motorola and Eric Schmidt himself have tried pushing a change of terminology for Android by saying it is "differentiated", but that skews too far on the positive end.

Android's problem is inconsistency, which of course is just the opposite of saying that Android's strength is its uniqueness, which is why the idea is one in the same. At its worst, Android is the system on a cheap knockoff device with no access to Google apps or the Android Market, or it's a terrible manufacturer UI that hurts the user experience and delays OS updates. At its best, Android is whatever you want it to be. If you want the more candy-coated Apple-like simplicity, there are Samsung devices. If you want a curated ecosystem, there is Amazon. If you want glittery animations and crisp visuals, there are HTC devices. If you want something a bit more robotic, utilitarian, or businesslike, there are Motorola devices. If you just want Android, pure and true, there are Google Nexus devices. 

But, underneath all of that, it is essentially the same system that runs all the same apps. And, those apps are the last bastion for those who would decry Android as "fragmented", because with Google requiring all Android 4.0 devices to carry the Holo theme, developers can make sure that their apps use that theme and therefore have a consistent feel across devices, regardless of the manufacturer UI. And, once the apps are consistent, what exactly will the "fragmentation" argument be? That not all Android devices are running the same OS version. Well, here's the dirty secret: people are lazy, so no OS on any device has every user running the same version. But, that doesn't matter because the apps still work. 

Tablets, tablets everywhere. If CES has proven nothing else so far, it's shown that we need to prepare for the coming onslaught of Android tablets. This will be the year where there will be a tablet available at every price point, and every size. We've seen tablets for under $200, and we've seen tablets at every form factor from 5" all the way to a seemingly ridiculous 13.3". And, of course, where there are Android tablets, analysts will be beating each other with pipes to be the first one to call a certain tablet the "iPad killer" or be the first to announce that this will be the year that Android tablets finally start making a real dent in the iPad's dominance, but we don't want to hear it. 

Firstly, the idea of an "iPad killer" is just as absurd as that of an "iPhone killer", because both devices have huge and very loyal fanbases, and because Apple is a quality company that has been very well run. No device can "kill" the iPhone or iPad because there will always be people lining up to buy those devices, not because of the quality of the device, but because of the quality of the ecosystem that Apple has built. An iPad or iPhone "killer" would need to also be an iTunes killer, and an iCloud killer in addition to somehow creating a device with as much cultural resonance. It would somehow need to capture the limited imagination of the mass media and be able to be explained on its own terms to a non-tech savvy local TV audience, which means you'd have to be able to explain it without comparing it to an Apple device. 

We don't want to hear about the tablet war overall not because it won't eventually be true that Android will take away Apple's majority share, but because it's already started to happen. Android has already taken 30% of the tablet market from the iPad, which is a sizable chunk. The latest reports put the iPad's "dominance" of the tablet market somewhere closer to what would more appropriately be called a "majority share" of around 65%. There will no doubt be arguments over whether or not the Amazon Kindle Fire should be held up as part of the Android tablet market share because it isn't a Googlefied tablet, but a forked ecosystem separate from the Google mass of Android, but of course that argument misses the point as well. 

Android is not a singular thing, but a collection. Android is like a continent, let's use Asia as an example. Google Android would be Russia, a huge portion of Asia, but not the entire thing, because there are many smaller countries which are also part of the whole. Google's Android is Russia, the dominant land mass of Asia, non-Google Android devices are China, still a large section, but not the majority by a long shot, and still connected to the mainland. We'll say that Amazon is Japan, an insulated nation not really connected to the mainland, but sharing similar cultural traits. That's the way Android works, that's what it is because that's what Google wanted to create. Some may not like it, but that doesn't change the fact of what it is. 

The only other topic that we expect to hear more about than we care to is the repetition of numbers showing whether iOS or Android are gaining market share overall. It just doesn't matter. Android and iOS are dominating the smartphone and tablet landscape, and have been for a few years now. So, the continuation of that trend just isn't interesting to anyone except for fanboys who want to use it to prove that iPhone is "the best" because it's the best selling smartphone, or that Android is "the best" because it has the overall market share. Android and iOS are the top dogs and both are extremely successful. That's old hat. But, you know what's more interesting than rehashing those numbers of the titans clashing? The underdogs that could make a run in 2012, which will bring us to:

Part 3: Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and the rest of the competitors
And, of course if you missed it, definitely check out Part 1: Apple

54 Comments
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posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:10 16

1. ilia1986 (unregistered)


An excellent article, Michael. Truly well spoken. You have not left a stone unturned - or should I say - untouched.

I would also like to add that people who have an Android device - and want Google to be more like Apple - are akin to those who come to a premium restaurant, only to be dissapointed that it doesn't serve McRoyal with fries.

That said - the very idea of people *desiring* that their freedom regarding mobile operating system control and customization - be taken away, or limited in one way or another - is quite a disturbing phenomenon, really.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:55 13

7. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


It just goes to show that customers often don't know what they really want.

Thanks for the comment!

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 10:00

49. pattypatterson (Posts: 48; Member since: 28 May 2010)


what the heck is a Mcroyal???

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 16:27 2

51. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Euro version of the Quarter Pounder. Haven't you ever seen Pulp Fiction?

posted on 14 Jan 2012, 08:12

52. atheisticemetic (Posts: 377; Member since: 18 Dec 2011)


say what again?! i dare ya!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:35 9

2. audiblenarcotic (Posts: 108; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


Michael,

Your articles are always very well written, informative, and usually from a very neutral standpoint. That being said, it's always a pleasure to read them and get your perspective on things happening in the industry. Keep up the great work.

A.I.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:55 6

8. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:37 4

3. ayephoner (Posts: 837; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)


I found a few details that I wanted to nitpick, but won't. All in all, I completely agree with what you've written.

I missed pt1, which I assume is on iOS. You might want to link it. Again, great job!!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:56 2

9. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Added the link, sorry about that. Thanks for pointing it out though!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:38 2

4. Arpad (Posts: 39; Member since: 05 Jan 2012)


Nice read! I am anticipating the (doom of) BlackBerry part.
Apple still have the momentum from 4s. Wonder how long it will keep it in 2012?

I wonder can the current Android OS have more then 1Gb memory? I have not seen any phone or tablet having more. Or it can but there is no need for it atm?

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:57 5

10. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I haven't heard about any limitation as far as the amount of RAM Android can handle, but there have been rumors of devices with 1.5 or 2 Gb of RAM on the way this year.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 19:36 1

33. ningaman999 (Posts: 13; Member since: 27 Dec 2011)


Not only that but there is a problem that sometimes, usually Samsung it shows 833 Mb Ram compared to 1 Gb or 323 compared 1/2 Gb. Is there any explanation for this? Because the bigger the number, the more it could lose.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 08:36

44. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


As far as I know, there's no way to check how much RAM you have on your device, at least not without an app from the Market. Are you sure you're not looking at the Internal storage? That would explain the disparity, because storage drives always are listed at larger than the actual usable space.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 19:25

46. ningaman999 (Posts: 13; Member since: 27 Dec 2011)


For Samsung devices you hold down the home key to open the task manager, and in the top you can click in the Ram category and it tells you how much you are using/how much you have. For my Samsung Captivate it says x/329 Mb, for the Galaxy S II I see in videos x/ 833 Mb.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 22:09 1

48. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Good point. I have looked at that in the running apps menu tons of times, I can't believe I never really paid attention. I'm not sure how that works, because you're right, my Galaxy Nexus claims I have 695MB of RAM (when adding the used and free), when it should add up to 1Gb.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 14:12

50. thephoneguy92 (Posts: 191; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)


The phones actually do have 1Gb of RAM like they say, but when you factor in the needed apps/bloatware you get down to the actual RAM you have available, and that's where the discrepancy comes in

posted on 23 Mar 2012, 22:57

54. corrifa (Posts: 34; Member since: 28 Sep 2011)


The other RAM that isn't shown from the 1gb is reserved for the OS so it wont crash itself or run out of memory for itself.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:09 5

14. remixfa (Posts: 13906; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


there is no limitation. its lack of a need. memory isnt free. If it making it 1.5gb of memory doesnt really affect performance more than 1gb of memory does, then why spend the cost? Michael is right though, there are rumors (aka SGS3) of phones coming with 1.5gigs and higher this year... but they also acompany the quad core chips.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:46 4

5. DROIDX0430 (Posts: 409; Member since: 24 Nov 2010)


Wow! I am speechless. Well spoken article!!! Best article I've read on PA!!! and like I said before in a posting about Nokia and WP7....Android needs to polish the UI.....make sure the apps works across all versions of Android...froyo, gingerbread and icecream...not catching up...I remember when I first got the Thunderbolt..My Verizon app would not even work, NFL App would not even work...Google Talk doesn't work on anything less than Gingerbread 2.3.4...Google + bugs everywhere--just got fixed on the Flagship Nexus phone--how could that phone even be released as a pure Google phone and not even have a Google app properly working on it....the Verizon branding on the back--not Nexus material----and to date the most EXPENSIVE Google phone ever released.....

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:59 7

11. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


To be fair, all of your criticisms with the Nexus are specific to Verizon. The international version has the Google branding front and center, and it was also very cheap, even free on many carriers in Europe.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:04 3

12. ilia1986 (unregistered)


Also - as a person who has both a username and a profile picture related to Android - you should know that the problem of having only 2.1\2.2\2.3 version of the OS - can easily be negated by installing a custom rom.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:14 3

15. remixfa (Posts: 13906; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


i stil dont see the problem. 99.999% of android apps work on 2.1 and up. There are fewer and fewer phones on 2.1 and most of those phones will be coming up for renewal soon if they are not already, so 2.1 is on its way out the door. As far as I know there isnt a single app that is compatible with 2.2 that isnt compatible with 2.3 which make up the vast majority of phones (everything not nexus). By the time ICS updates roll out to current devices the ICS app incompatibilities should be solved.

Im glad you touched on fragmentation. Its a joke issue. Im still wondering why not one single issue on apple's fragmentation has ever been written on this site though. yet we get monthly updates on android "fragmentation". Apple's policy of "point the finger at everyone and yell so no one looks at me" obviously works as most people dont believe apple has a frag issue.. which is worse than android's by far.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:30 1

18. DROIDX0430 (Posts: 409; Member since: 24 Nov 2010)


#12 you must be talking about me...So I will lead to why...the latest release of lte phones on VW have lead to many returns...customs ROMS and other builds void the warranty...So I learned my lesson to just deal with it!!!!!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 15:26 2

26. ilia1986 (unregistered)


Switch carrier. If you say that there is a high return rate - because of a carrier related problem - just go to AT&T\Tmo\Sprint.

"To deal with it" is never the best solution.

posted on 14 Jan 2012, 08:17

53. atheisticemetic (Posts: 377; Member since: 18 Dec 2011)


or he could get a new phone and not switch to a junk carrier.

Verizon might be an elitist company (as they know they're the best), however if I'm going to pay for a cellphone I want it to work.

having had sprint, tmobile, and ATT I can assure you Verizon is worth the money. Sprint doesnt send text messages properly.

ATT has awful customer service and has limited 4g.

Tmobile....i wont talk about tmobile ;)

In his case I dont think he should "just deal with it" (manufacturer warranty enough times to get a new device), however switching carriers is an awful idea

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 13:46 5

6. darac (Posts: 2156; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Michael, you should be a ceo of some great tech company. Google should hire you on a high position at least :p

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:07 4

13. fraydoe (Posts: 57; Member since: 27 Dec 2011)


First of all, you've done another great article Michael, I do believe that you have great potential and actually should maybe expand your abilities to say, a tech or phone magazine?

Second of all, as an iPhone owner, I do believe Android users are more fascinated with what is under the hood while Apple users are gawking at the outside. However the possibilities and functionality with each are pretty much equal.

I also do not think that Apple users desire to be limited, but rather have things simplistically presented to them, hence the very small learning curve of apple products.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:30 4

17. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Yeah, that matches pretty much with what I've said before: Android is for tinkerers, and Apple is for those who can't be bothered. I may love Android, but I certainly know better than to suggest that my wife or sister get an Android when they would be far happier with an iPhone.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:29 5

16. Sniggly (Posts: 7033; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


Another excellent article, Michael. I'm happy that you tackled the fragmentation issue so brutally head on.

I'd like to add my own thoughts, repeated from a post I wrote about a year ago. I wrote that "fragmentation," in the sense of different UIs, phone sizes, designs, and price points, is the result of Android's ecosystem being the embodiment of a free market economy. Yes, there will be some crap phones, but customers usually move away from them once they learn that the phones are crap and move on to something better. Now sometimes this can be an iPhone, but many times if they're shown that they can get a QUALITY Android device they will pick that up too, for the same price or less than an iPhone.

There was more to my original post, but I have to forgo typing it for now, as I need to eat and get ready for work.

Keep writing MOAR articles, Michael!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:33 3

19. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


You have a good point, and it completely embodies my argument that "fragmentation" is simply a bad word to describe what we're seeing. There is no such thing as "fragmentation" with the different UIs, sizes, form factors, and prices, that is a simple matter of differentiation (to use Google's new buzzword) and choice. Saying that is "fragmentation" connotes that there is something bad in that system, when there isn't.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:34 5

20. Musty18591 (Posts: 17; Member since: 11 Jan 2012)


Man, u were the reason i used to enter this until i decided to register and im glad that this will b my first comment
GR88888 article indeed u r the best writer about technology and i am more than glad to Read every one u write ....
sorry about my english but i am iraqi :) keep up the good work ....

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:41 3

22. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks! Pretty sure you're the first Iraqi fan I've had, so that's pretty cool.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:39 1

21. SlimSoulja86 (Posts: 642; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)


I also gatta say, the best article i've ever read on PA, good job Michael. If I could, I'd give you an Award for this

Good Job

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 14:43 1

23. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 15:09 2

24. networkdood (Posts: 6267; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


I went to Android because it provides choice for the consumer. I was on a custom ROM TILT I, win 6.5, and I had to decide on Apple or Android ow wait for WIN 7. Android won me over because of the varied choices and models it allows. And, yes, I am a tinkerer.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 15:10 3

25. bolaG (Posts: 468; Member since: 15 Aug 2011)


Good Article Michael, Very informative and enlightining to me. I like how you always step back from having a "fanboy" voice and now your purpose and audience very well.

Keep it up.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 15:37 2

27. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


thanks!

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 16:00

28. gallitoking (Posts: 4690; Member since: 17 May 2011)


great article Michael.. as always very informative and neutral... extra thanks for doing Apple 1st... and sorry to hear that you have an Android phone.. sorry had to trow it in there... lol...

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 16:28 7

29. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I tried the iPhone, had the 3G for almost a year, but ultimately, I got bored with it. Everything I do on the web is Google, so Android works really well for me. And, when I get bored with it, I grab a custom ROM.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 20:37 1

35. Sackboy117 (Posts: 178; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


With that being said, there was no point in trying the iPhone 4 or 4S, since their basically the same UI, right?

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 00:48 2

36. ilia1986 (unregistered)


Precisely.

Especially when Siri is ported to older devices via JB.

The only reason I don't get bored of my iPhone 4 is because of the huge amount of games for it. That said - I could have bought a PSP, and a Nokia phone with some e-mail\internet access - say a C7 - and my usage wouldn't be any different. In fact it would probably be more delightful since the PSP has physical buttons on it, and the C7 can at least have widgets on it's homescreens.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 08:42 3

45. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I always try the new iPhones when they come out, but it still has the same problems for me, which is a lack of customization. Being able to set a wallpaper isn't enough. I love my widgets in Android, I love the easy sharing menu between apps. I love the deep integration with Google, because as I said, I use all Google web services. And, I like the idea that if I get bored, I can install a launcher alternative and put a skin on it, or install a custom ROM with a completely different feel to it. Not to mention, I love the enormous screen on the Nexus.

I sincerely doubt the iPhone will ever become the kind of device that I personally want to use, but I'll give it a try whenever there's a new one out.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 17:00 2

30. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)


wow.. amazing read micheal...!!!!! wonderfull. thanks a lot for this amazing piece. i will have to delete something to bookmark this article.
+1 for you.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 19:00 2

32. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2673; Member since: 26 May 2011)


Thanks!

but... question: did you just type +1, or did you actually +1 the article and share it?

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 20:19 1

47. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)


i actually +1 the article. again thanx for a great read.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 17:35 2

31. putes (Posts: 38; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)


I am tired of the fragmentation discussion because the reality is that users don't care. They do care about choice. Choice in phone size, manufacturer, options, skins, speed and most importantly, price. Android openess enables these choices unlike Apple iOS which is basically no choice. With apple you get a fictitious Utopian world control by a dictator. Apple also has issues with OS versions (or fragmentation). After all, Siri was not ported to iPhone 4. What's up with that? I guess iPhone 4 is fragmented from iPhone 4S.

posted on 11 Jan 2012, 20:13 2

34. Jarahawk (Posts: 43; Member since: 04 Dec 2011)


Awesome article. It really brought things into focus for me. Thanks!

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 02:41 2

39. chapizzo (Posts: 116; Member since: 13 Sep 2011)


Nice work Michael. Now i see what the fragmentation talk is about, and its total BS.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 02:54 1

41. XiphiasGladius (Posts: 801; Member since: 21 Aug 2011)


Nice article once again, educates a noob like me. Your the main reason I open up phonearena.com first than any other websites. . .

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