Android: State of the Platform

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Where Android is going


From here on out in this State of the Platform address, we're diving deeper into the world of rumors and speculation. There are some products and trends that we know will be happening, others that have only been rumored, and still more that we certainly hope to see, but are far from confirmed. We are going to make this easier by (generally) following the same path that we took with the review of the past year; but, it should be noted that as we were in the middle of writing this, there were a couple of bombshell announcements that threw off what we were considering to be reasonable predictions for the coming year. First, Samsung and Google agreed on a global cross-licensing patent deal, and possible changes to Samsung's Android software customizations, which point to a much closer relationship between the two companies. Then, Google agreed to sell the Motorola devices division to Lenovo for $2.91 billion. Rest assured that those big deals will be included in the sections that support them. 

Now, on with the show!

Platform numbers


This is by far one of the more difficult things to predict when it comes to Android. There are so many devices in the wild that it can be hard to keep track of which devices will be getting what updates. Making it all even more difficult is the 18-month update provision in the Android Open Handset Alliance guidelines, which states that any device must be updated to the newest version of Android that is released within 18 months of its release. Unfortunately, the provision doesn't make any mention of when that update has to come, so it isn't uncommon to see forgotten devices getting updates to fairly old software. 

Emerging markets would love KitKat


That said, the big trend that we expect to see over the next year is a push in companies trying to capture share in emerging markets. Google obviously knew that emerging markets were the next big growth area for smartphones, which is why Android 4.4 included a number of optimizations to things like memory usage, which make Android run better on lower-spec devices. Emerging markets are areas where users can't afford top-of-the-line handsets, but Google wants Android makers to be able to offer high-quality options at low cost. We saw that blatantly with the release of the Motorola Moto G; but, as is always the question when it comes to Android, it is a matter of whether or not manufacturers get on board with Google's plan. 

Android: State of the Platform

In Google's perfect world, we could see a fair number of higher quality Android handsets running Android 4.4 on a Snapdragon 400 processor and aimed at emerging markets. If manufacturers come through on that, we could easily see Android 4.4 adoption outpace previous versions of Android. However, there is a very real possibility that Android makers will stick to the current game plan of releasing 2+ year old hardware and software with no real modifications to emerging markets in order to minimize development cost and keep device prices low. The only real pressure on Android makers to not take that path is if another platform like Windows Phone can continue to grow quickly in emerging markets, but competition is still getting going in those regions and the pressures aren't high enough to warrant real effort just yet. 

It is also possible that the Android 4.4 KitKat improvements will be used more in non-Google Android devices over the coming year. As we mentioned earlier, non-Google Androids made up about 25% of global device shipments in Q4 of 2013; and, the majority of non-Google Android devices are found in emerging markets like southeast Asia. The key to those markets is in low-cost devices, and Android KitKat could encourage a race to see who can build the best low-end device. If it does, makers like Xiaomi could be quick to adopt 4.4 to give their low-cost devices a bit of a performance boost. Of course, as mentioned earlier as well, Google doesn't add much value to the open source Android system, so those non-Google Android devices will still have to compete with devices that offer Google Play services. Even if Google Android devices don't look quite as good on the spec sheet, or don't run the newest version of Android, Google services could still win over users, unless manufacturers can add significant value in software as Xiaomi has done. 

Where Samsung goes....


Another interesting consideration is the new "sea change" in the relationship with Google and Samsung. The two sides are reportedly closer than ever after signing the global patent deal mentioned earlier. Additionally, there are reports that Samsung may have agreed to change some of its software customizations on Android, including modifying or removing the new Magazine UX and promoting Google Play content rather than its own content. If this is true, it isn't impossible to think that maybe Samsung will try to do things in a bit more Googley way. Samsung is by far the market leader around the globe, and where it goes, so does the ecosystem. If Samsung can push updates faster, or release Android 4.4 devices to emerging markets, it could cause a bigger shift in the platform numbers. 

However, that is all speculation right now, and we have no idea what will come from the newly close relationship between Samsung and Google, since the majority of the information on this relationship is just rumors. Still, most of the ecosystem is already on Android 4.1 or higher, so it's not like asking to see a repeat of the huge shift in 2013 from users on 2.x to the majority of the Android ecosystem being on Jelly Bean.  It is just a series of incremental updates for the platform, which should be faster to push out than the massive change that Android 4.x offered to both users and manufacturers. Usually Android manufacturers give us reason to be pessimistic when it comes to software updates, but this time we don't think it is unreasonable to expect 2014 to end up with a solid majority of the ecosystem on Android 4.4.

Android 5.0?


The Android platform won't only be seeing moves towards Android 4.4 though, because Google is undoubtedly working on another update to Android as we speak. The question is whether 2014 will continue the incremental updates for Android, or if it will bring a full version number update to Android 5.0. If we had to guess, we'd say that 2014 will be the year that we see Android 5.0 (Lemonhead?). It is possible that the summer will see an incremental update to Android 4.5 KitKat, but we'd guess that it is more likely to see the next version of Android be 5.0. 

Android: State of the Platform

The reason we are guessing that is because Google has tended to reserve the major version number changes for times when Android sees a visual overhaul or expansion to new form factors. Android 3.0 brought tablet optimizations, and Android 4.0 brought the Holo theme and the UI overhaul that has been the basis for Android ever since. Android 5.0 may not change the way Android looks on phones and tablets so much as it will likely bring visual optimizations for wearables and TVs; and, it is likely to bring official 64-bit optimizations to the Android system. 

It is no secret that wearables are expected to be the big push this year (as we'll talk about soon), and Android needs to be optimized for those devices. Google needs to be able to get Play services and the Play Store onto smartwatches, and also Google Glass. Glass is supposedly being released this year, and we've heard that when it does, its apps will be found in the Play Store. Right now Google Glass software is based on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich; and, there is no way that Google can release a consumer version of a flashy new device like that running the OS from almost two years ago. Glass may not launch with Android 5.0, but it should at least launch with 4.4 (assuming of course that Glass does launch this year, but again we're getting ahead of ourselves). 

Similarly, Google has consistently claimed that it has not abandoned Google TV. We tend to believe them, because Google TV is a good idea, but has suffered bad implementation. A big reason for the bad implementation of the product is that almost all Google TV devices are based on the long forgotten Android 3.2 Honeycomb, which was specifically designed for tablets. We expect Google to come back with a bang in the TV space, and Android 5.0 should be a big part of that. Also, because Google can't let Google TV wait too much longer, and Glass has been rumored for a summer release, we wouldn't be surprised to see Android 5.0 released this summer as well, but we're not holding our breath on that hope. 

Form factors


Wrist


Since we're a mobile tech website, we'll leave that last bit as the only real discussion of Google TV; and we'll also leave out the impending push of Android in home appliances and cars. Cars may be very mobile products, they don't quite fit into our purview of "mobile" here at PhoneArena as we tend to focus on devices you can wear or carry in a bag. What we do care much more about is that 2014 has already been labeled "The Year of the Wearable" by quite a few media outlets, and that is probably going to be an accurate label when all is said and done. Wearables like smartwatches, fitness bands, and various Google Glass competitors were found everywhere at CES earlier this month. But, that doesn't necessarily translate to big things for Android, because the majority of the wearables that we saw (and got excited about) were life-tracker bands that would only connect to your Android device, and not run Android itself. 

Android: State of the Platform

Google is almost certainly working on a version of Android that is designed to scale to wearables, and is rumored to be building its own smartwatch; the beginning of the work for that can be seen in the optimizations for lower-spec devices in Android 4.4. And, there are Android smartwatches on the way, with smaller company options like the Neptune Pine and the Omate TrueSmart. Samsung is almost certainly going to be announcing the Galaxy Gear 2 soon enough, and the hope is that Samsung has learned a lot from the beta test that was the first Galaxy Gear smartwatch. This could also be another point where the newly close relationship with Google could come into play again; because, while the first Galaxy Gear ran Android, it obviously didn't include the Google Play Store (since there are no smartwatch apps in said store). If Google and Samsung are working more closely together, it's not hard to imagine Google Play making an appearance on the Gear 2 at some point. It surely won't happen at launch, given that rumors say the Gear 2 will hit in the next couple of months, but the Gear 2 may be one of the first with the Play update when it is ready, or Google and Samsung may work together to get developers on board with smartwatch apps, since Samsung already has developers on hand for the Galaxy Gear. 

Glass


Of course, 2014 won't only be filled with wearables for your wrist, because it is also supposedly the year for the commercial launch of Google Glass. We say "supposedly" because Google Glass is one of those products that could easily be delayed and it wouldn't surprise anyone. But, Google has seemed pretty confident that the device will make its commercial release sometime this year; and, the company has been getting ready for wider use with the redesign to the hardware which now supports prescription glasses, and a deal with vision insurance provider VSP to subsidize the cost of compatible frames and train opticians in fitting users with Glass. 

Android: State of the Platform

The big question surrounding Glass is what the price will look like when it does make it to commercial release. Currently, it will cost users $1500 for a Google Glass; and, if you need prescription lenses, that will cost you an extra $225 for the frames plus the cost of the prescription lenses, which vary by how blind you are. The rumors have said that Google might not be able to get the cost of Glass down under $500 for the commercial release, which is expensive enough that even after it is released to the public, it wouldn't be much more than a larger beta program. 

There are a few Google Glass competitors in the works, but none has shown off hardware that is very appealing. Google Glass may be very noticeable and futuristic on your face, but at least it isn't big and clunky like some of the prototypes shown off by other manufacturers. And, even if a competitor can put out a device comparable to Glass in terms of looks, it is hard to imagine any company being able to offer the app support and system that Google has been cultivating for almost a year now. 

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43 Comments

1. ArtSim98

Posts: 3535; Member since: Dec 21, 2012

Michael! Your articles are so quality stuff!

11. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

Android is one of the powerful mobile OS around the world.

33. jael206

Posts: 147; Member since: Jul 18, 2012

Is there an option to "follow" authors here in PA? Coz I will really be one of the first subscribers for Michael H.. All his articles are interesting reads. I wonder why he still hasn't shown himself in front of the camera though.. C'mon man, do a video of your enlightening articles!

35. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

follow him on Google+

2. ihavenoname

Posts: 1693; Member since: Aug 18, 2013

Well written and unbiased article! Waiting for State of Platform: iOS.

3. alterecho

Posts: 1106; Member since: Feb 23, 2012

I'm waiting for WP. It will be a one line article (unless its a list of faults, in which case, it will be a 10 page article).

4. NokiaFTW

Posts: 2072; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

That will be a good thing for you since your phone won't lag while you read it.

6. ihavenoname

Posts: 1693; Member since: Aug 18, 2013

Yeah, with Android you can read numerous pages of articles without lag. Sorry that your phone can't...

7. WHoyton1

Posts: 1635; Member since: Feb 21, 2013

Fanboy alert!

18. papss unregistered

Again with directing the wrong person. You truly are thick minded

28. rodneyej1

Posts: 3576; Member since: Jul 06, 2013

The WP address should be interesting, especially with Nokia being involved the past few years... There's definitely been much more good than bad, and more progress than digress... Nevertheless, they are all fun to read!!!

5. ihavenoname

Posts: 1693; Member since: Aug 18, 2013

I'm not sure if 10 pages is enough... ;)

24. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2277; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

It's actually too little for the "fault" of Android.

9. Liveitup

Posts: 1798; Member since: Jan 07, 2014

It seems a lot of people have a lot to say about nothing except for hating sake. I do hope when it comes to Windows Phone platform that Phonearena has the decency and fairness to talk about how Microsoft Windows Phones changed UI design language from Skeuomorphism to Flat design language which both iOS and Android has since adopted. Also how Windows Phone first introduced deep OS level integration within smartphoneswhen the competition was basically app centric. Far as I can see all OS lacks something that the other has, I can list features that both iOS and Android basically copied from WP. Far as im concerned WP redefined the modern smartphone in many ways, hope Phonearena will be like (60 minutes) TV show and be neutral when writing about my platform of choice.

12. NokiaFTW

Posts: 2072; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

Completely agree with you. These Android and iOS fanboys keep forgetting how they're OSes are copying the flat and tile bases UI of Windows Phone. +1

36. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

wow, let me guess - you used to have an IlovemyIphone user name, right? Android's UI was out before Windows, sooooo.....once windows improves more, I will definitely consider buying a phone from Nokia.

39. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 884; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Of course, coz rectangle was invented by MS and is a patent of WP..

26. rodneyej1

Posts: 3576; Member since: Jul 06, 2013

Very good.. I agree with a lot you said.. Giving credit where credit is due.. Good job.. It seems that we have some sensible, and mature people here on PA... Some...

10. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

Lol dude. U r funny.

14. XperiaFanZone

Posts: 2277; Member since: Sep 21, 2012

Actually, Android has much more "faults" than ios and WP have. And this is a great article. Hope the same for the other two platforms.

42. livyatan

Posts: 867; Member since: Jun 19, 2013

Actually you have no idea what you are talking about. And why don't you change your name to LumiaFanZone or IphoneFanZone? I have a newsflash for you - Xperia means Sony with Android!

25. rodneyej1

Posts: 3576; Member since: Jul 06, 2013

You love WP...

8. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Don't have to wait for an iOS one, I think they wrote one in 2010 that is still relevant. Unless you want to read about the new lipstick they put on their pig...and then called it a new pig...that's always an interesting story.

13. ihavenoname

Posts: 1693; Member since: Aug 18, 2013

That's your opinion. I (and propably many others) would love to see iOS one. After all it's second most popular mobile OS.

23. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

You're right, I think they should skip iOS and move on to WP. iOS has nothing to offer at this point I think I just threw my iphone out of the window, oops

27. rodneyej1

Posts: 3576; Member since: Jul 06, 2013

All three are interesting to read.. It's technology history as far as I'm concerned, and it shouldn't have anything to do with what platform you do, or don't, like.. It's all cool to read about...

15. PBXtech

Posts: 1032; Member since: Oct 21, 2013

With Google and Samsung just signing a big agreement, I'd love to see a split screen option that's common on Samsung's newer phones to become part of the stock Android coding.

17. rihel_95

Posts: 305; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

That Google and Samsung deal might be about multi window in Google experience Android (stock), not only to debloat samsung if we are lucky.

22. alrightihatepickingusernames

Posts: 474; Member since: Dec 29, 2013

I've wanted it for a while now as well, it just makes so much sense, the only reason that it hasn't been on stock Android is probably because Samsung has a patent for it.

16. twens

Posts: 1163; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

Hmmm, funny how features of touch wiz that people refer to as gimmick is so much desired to be implemented as a stock feature in Android. Touchwiz may stutter once in a while but it's time people just give Sammy some credit. It has the most features of any skin one can find on Android. Samsung phones feel like w8 on a mobile device simple because there is nothing a Samsung phone can not do.

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