Android: State of the Platform

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

Smartphones and tablets


2014 won't only be about new form factors, but those do look to be the more interesting area for the year. As mentioned earlier, mobile hardware and software has hit something of a plateau recently. Anything that you would conceivably want from a device is likely already available through the hardware, the platform, or the apps found on Android. There will obviously be advancements in hardware and software, but they are likely to be incremental in nature. But, there should still be some interesting trends to watch in 2014.

China cometh


Firstly, it should be very interesting to see what happens in terms of Chinese manufacturers making a more global push. The big news there is with Lenovo purchasing Motorola from Google for $2.91 billion. Lenovo has done well in southeast Asia, and Motorola has been growing well in North America, South America, is currently pushing into Europe, and has seen good demand for the Moto G even in India. Of course, that acquisition has a lot of regulatory hoops to jump before it becomes official both in the U.S. and in China; so, it is unlikely that we will see whatever Lenovorola will have to offer in 2014, 2015 is probably more reasonable.

Much more likely for this year is the expansion of Chinese powerhouse Xiaomi. Xiaomi is most well known outside of China as the makers of the MIUI custom ROM for Android, but this year the company is planning to expand globally and in doing so it may even begin to work with Google in offering Google Play services and Google Apps. Working with Google should be made easier since Xiaomi most notably hired Google's own Hugo Barra to be the VP of Xiaomi Global and organize the company's expansion, but the company has its own popular software, and getting Google Play access would take a lot of work to change MIUI from a fork back to a skinned version of Android. 

Android: State of the Platform


Xiaomi has been growing extremely fast in China, becoming the fifth largest manufacturer in the country just two years after releasing its first handset and three years after releasing the first version of MIUI. The company's MIUI App Store was also a huge success, generating 1 billion downloads in just 391 days, making it the second fastest app store to hit that mark, behind only Apple's App Store (288 days). Xiaomi started its expansion with a move into the Taiwanese market, and is planning to hit the Singapore market sometime in Q1 of this year. The plans for expansion past that aren't known, but it seems unlikely that the company will try to penetrate the competitive North American or European markets this year.

More likely, Xiaomi may attempt to expand into more emerging markets in southeast Asia, and maybe even target markets like Brazil or certain regions of Africa. Xiaomi has made a name for itself in China by offering higher quality handsets at very inexpensive prices, like the "Red Rice", which is a winning formula for emerging markets. We can't say for sure what the company will do, but it will be interesting to see how and where it expands, and whether or not it chooses to integrate Google Apps, or if it sticks with its own MIUI ecosystem. As mentioned, the MIUI App Store has grown incredibly fast, but it would need serious translation services to make the mostly Chinese apps ready for other markets, and with the work required there it may just be easier to go with Google.

Security


Not surprisingly, one of the biggest trends of the year is going to be security. Over the past year, critics of passwords have grown louder, and the hardware associated with moving security past passwords has only gotten stronger. Apple was the first to market with a fingerprint scanner, but it certainly won't be the last. Samsung and LG have both been widely rumored to include fingerprint scanners in the next set of flagship devices, and other manufacturers are likely going to follow suit. There have also been rumors about iris scanners, but those rumors have died down for now, though we wouldn't be surprised if someone (read: Samsung) put out something of a reference device with an iris scanner before the year is out.

Android: State of the Platform


The question then becomes about implementation of the hardware, and the software solutions behind that security feature. The way Apple did it was to include a secure element on the A7 chip itself which stores the fingerprint data, which locks it off from anything that Apple doesn't allow (which is almost everything at this point). But, the Android world is much different than the iOS world, because no one company can control Android the way Apple does iOS software and hardware. As is usually the issue when it comes to new hardware features in Android, there won't be an official standard solution from Google on how to implement a fingerprint scanner, so it will be up to manufacturers to sort that out. Additionally, because there won't be official support from Google, it is unclear if you'll be able to use a fingerprint scanner for everything you might want to, such as Play Store payments or NFC payment transactions. Time will have to tell on that.

Iteration


The rest of the changes expected in terms of mobile hardware are essentially nothing more than the standard evolution of devices. We've already seen flexible displays make an appearance, and they will undoubtedly become more common. Displays are also expected to push past the 1080p plateau and into the 2K/4K realm. We know that manufacturers are already working on bringing 64-bit processors to the platform, and Android is almost certainly working on the software optimizations needed. It is almost guaranteed that we will see the first mobile device with 4GB of RAM. And, there have been rumors of more intricate gesture systems using Leap Motion coming as soon as Q3 of 2014, although it is not yet clear if better gesture-tracking hardware will equate to a more valuable experience for the user. 

But, regardless of all of this expected change, the two spots that we hope to see the biggest changes are in batteries and cameras. Battery life is always hit-or-miss when it comes to Android devices that are smaller than 5.5-inches, and the culprit is usually that manufacturers are more interested in building a thin device with a 1080p display than one that can power the increasingly power hungry high-def displays that you find on handsets. We hope that more manufacturers focus more on ergonomics than thinness and use stacked batteries to offer better battery life.

Android cameras are also a point where there is plenty of room to grow. Samsung flagships and Sony flagships tend to have high-quality cameras, but many manufacturers are still stuck on the idea that more megapixels is the best way to improve camera quality. HTC gave it a shot with its UltraPixel camera, but the One was a commercial bust, so that didn't go very far. The reality that there are plenty of other ways to increase quality is becoming more well known though. Android devices are already pretty big in terms of screen size, which means there should be plenty of space inside those phones to offer bigger sensors with better image quality. 

It would also be nice to see more manufacturers experimenting with better materials. Every year there is hope that Samsung might finally realize that metals are viable options for building smartphones, but every year Samsung sticks with plastic (although it may try to trick you with its faux stitching and texture.) Very few Android handset makers put a lot of effort into using premium materials for devices, but we'd love to see more of that. And, especially after seeing the Moto X add wooden backs, we could definitely get down with more smartphones that use natural wood in mobile device cases. 

Google Play


This is by far the most difficult section to predict for the year ahead, so we're really not going to try very hard. There have been some rumors around in regards to various changes that we should see in terms of apps, but the majority of this section will focus more on what we want to see rather than what we expect to see. 

Starting off in the hardware section of Google Play, undoubtedly there will be a new Nexus 7 at some point this summer, and many are still holding out hope that a new Nexus 10 is on the way, but on the other hand, many have forgotten that the Nexus 10 is part of Google's lineup. There will likely be more Google Play edition devices, but Google already has the major hardware makers covered, so we'd expect the same names to be popping up. It seems unlikely that there will be GPe devices from Huawei, ZTE, or Xiaomi. However, don't be surprised if the Google Play hardware options expand this year to include wearables like Google Glass, a potential Google smartwatch, and maybe the new set of Google TVs as well. 

In terms of what we expect to see on the app side, the list is relatively small. We do know that YouTube will be getting a few major features soon with offline video playback, background playback (aka audio only playback), and the rumored YouTube music subscription service. The first two of those features should be pretty nice for the majority of users, but it is unclear how the subscription service will shake out, because it is essentially going to be a subscription for music videos, which have been free for quite a long time. Users don't often take well to services that had been free, but suddenly get a price tag slapped on it. Of course, we don't know how the service will work, which will have a big impact on how users react. The bits of code that we've seen point to paying a fee to remove ads from the videos and get "uninterrupted playback", which isn't a terrible idea, but the price of it will tell the tale. 

Android: State of the Platform


We know that Chrome Apps are on the way as well, but the usefulness of those apps is still somewhat up in the air. The more useful apps that you would find in Chrome tend to already have Android versions available in the Play Store that will have much more functionality than a Chrome app; and, the less useful Chrome apps are really nothing more than a website bookmark. The really interesting part of the Chrome apps push is that the apps will also be available in the iOS App Store, but that doesn't really affect Android at all, so it doesn't deserve mention in this piece.

Beyond those apps, it's hard to say what is going to happen, but there are a couple things we'd love to see happen with Google apps. It would be great if this were the year that Google Voice finally got MMS support (though it is highly unlikely); and, it would be great to see Google Keep get more sophisticated functionality in terms of note-taking abilities, as more of a to-do list, and maybe even as a read later app similar to Pocket. Unfortunately, Google Keep has only been getting minimal updates, and already seems to be on the road to being absorbed by Google Drive. For example, if you search for "Google Keep" in the Play Store, it isn't even the first result, Google Drive gets the top spot. That's pretty crazy.

Google Play Games is still growing, but there aren't many pieces of Android that Google has replaced with its own apps yet. The only real options there are the Camera app and the Clock app. As far as the Clock app, we would note that Google did purchase Timely recently, which could point to changes coming there, but there isn't exactly much need for a Google branded clock app. The Camera app is a more interesting idea though, because the camera data would be something Google would love to have (which is why auto-upload was made). A Google Camera could be somewhat similar to modifications that we've seen with the Samsung camera which can tag your friends, but it's unclear if Google wants to be that brazen with Google+ for little benefit. But, the Camera app is one that needs major work, and this could be the year that happens. 

Android: State of the Platform

There will also undoubtedly be changes to Google Now, but given how quickly and how expansive Google Now already is, it is a bit hard to imagine where it can go from here. It's possible it could start automatically reminding you to call friends that you haven't contacted in a while, but people would almost certainly feel uneasy about that sort of notification. Maybe 2014 is simply the year where Google Now gets more integrated with other Google services. For example, Google Now can already follow people, stories, or topics for you, but those results should also be pushed into Newsstand; or, Google Play Music automatically adds music that you might like, why not put a notification of that in Google Now? Google has also sort of forgotten about Google Goggles, but if you take a picture of something and have Goggles set to automatically find info, that info could be put in Google Now. 

The other changes that we hope to see in the app ecosystem for Android were essentially covered in the first half of this article: games and apps still have a tendency to be released on iOS first, especially games. Google Play has been growing quickly in terms of revenue to the point where it has actually been driving revenue growth for the entirety of Google, which is saying something. The more money available to developers in Google Play, the more those developers are going to see Android as a platform worthy of priority development resources. The market share is certainly there for Android, and the money is coming, so now it just needs a bit better developer support.

Conclusion


In the end, what will 2014 bring for Android? Android starts this year as the king of the mobile world, and it will more than likely finish the year in that same position, at least in terms of smartphones and tablets. The best bet for predictable major change is that the platform will start to get its footing in the burgeoning market of wearables; but, it's hard to say how big a role Android itself will play in the wearable game. Smartwatches running Android are certainly on the way, but Google Android isn't quite ready for that form factor. Google Glass might be on the way, but it is unlikely the device will be a consumer hit because of the general "creepiness" of the device from the average user's perspective, and what is likely to be a prohibitive a price point.

Beyond that, we certainly have a lot of educated guesses, and even some reliable rumors. It would make sense that 2014 is the year that we see Android 5.0, but when that might happen directly affects what the platform will look like over the course of the year. If Android 5.0 is announced at Google I/O and released in the summer, then we may see a much larger number of Android-powered smartwatches and (hopefully) new Google TVs in time for the holiday season, but those wouldn't have much of an impact on 2014 as a whole. If we don't see Android 5.0 until the fall, then all of those big changes will be pushed to 2015.

Still, Android is in a great position. The biggest device manufacturer (Samsung) is getting very chummy with Google, which should be good for the overall health of the ecosystem. The Android platform itself has matured to the point where any new features are just whipped cream on an already tasty dessert (to stick with the Android themes). The app ecosystem has everything you could possibly want. There are hardware options that can appeal to just about anyone. And, the platform is poised to be the leader in the next big growth area of emerging markets. As the saying goes, it's good to be the king.

In the next installment of State of the Platform, we'll be taking a look at Apple and iOS. We promise that it won't be quite as long as this installment. 

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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: 4063; 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: 1167; 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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