02
Jan
andy_eating_world1

Looking Back: Andy Conquers The World (And Then Some)

What a whirlwind year for Android. Although the T-Mobile G1 - the first Android handset - dropped way back in October of 2008, it arguably took until 2010 for Android to become feasible for the mainstream. In fact, when the Nexus One was released in early January, it was widely hailed as being the first true Android competitor to the iPhone, in no small part due to the advancements made with Éclair.

From there, Android took off: Eric Schmidt announced in May that over 100,000 Android handsets were being activated daily. By June, the number was up to 160,000. And just a few weeks ago, we passed 300,000 activations per day - an absolutely staggering figure.

Android_King_of_World

The amazing variety and versatility of Android is undoubtedly the biggest contributor to its success. You can find Android handsets within any price range, on virtually every network, using just about every network technology, in the world. Are you a Sprint user looking for a high-end Android device with a keyboard? Hello, Samsung Epic 4G. Or perhaps a you're an O2 customer looking for a free phone? Meet the HTC Desire.

But the versatility of Android stretches beyond cell phones alone. Today it can be found powering an amazing variety of consumer electronics:

  • Home phones
  • Netbooks
  • Printers
  • Digital photo frames
  • E-Readers
  • Appliances
  • TV's & Google TV (i.e. Logitech Revue)
  • Home audio devices
  • Media players
  • Tablets

The list spans hundreds of devices, and goes on and on - and it's only getting longer. Which brings us to...

Looking Forward: Where Android is Headed in 2011

Tablets: The New Netbook

cardboard_andy_tab

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that 2011 will be the year of the tablet. Hell, you could even argue that 2010 was - although most of the ones we've seen thus far are generally crap, at least out of the box. So let me clarify: 2011 will be the year of quality tablets - the type that work well without any end-user tomfoolery (and perhaps... a Nexus tablet?). We'll also see more low-quality, buggy, and poorly supported tablets - but let's just all agree right now to steer clear of those, mkay?

What will make the tablets so much better than what we've seen so far? Well, for starters...

Dual-Core CPUs For Everyone!

tegra2_android

It's no secret that Tegra 2 is coming in a big way. Not only is it the reference chip for Honeycomb, but nearly every upcoming high-end phone and tablet looks to be packing nVidia's dual-core CPU. Even Samsung, who successfully developed their own single-core CPU (Hummingbird) will be switching to Tegra 2 for their dual-cores.

I wouldn't expect dual-core mobile CPUs to reach budget consumer hardware by the end of 2011, but I do expect to see phones with the wunderchip drop to $0 during sales or as the handset ages.

One issue to consider is that adding cores is only half the battle - the software has to be able to take advantage of the extra core, and in phones especially, it has to do so efficiently. When multi-core CPU's hit the PC market, it took years for mainstream support. Even today, many consumer applications aren't yet optimized for multiple cores. Still, I wouldn't expect the process to be nearly so long and difficult with Android for two main reasons:

  1. Android's development moves much faster than Windows'. Multi-core support has long been in the works, and the support can be pushed out to all devices in a comparatively short time frame.
  2. Now that PCs, laptops, and servers have been rocking multi-core CPUs for years, developers have more experience and/or support for writing code to properly take advantage of said hardware. (Not to mention, the apps are generally much simpler than computer programs are, and the developers are more often smaller indies, so there's less bureaucratic crap slowing things down.)

But dual-core CPUs are only half the big news. The other half?

Honeycomb (and Beyond)

to_honeycomb

What do we know about Honeycomb? Well, that really depends on your definition of "know" - thus far we're mainly running on rumors. Perhaps the most touted (at least, by the layman) change with Honeycomb is the UI. So far we've got a general idea of what to expect thanks to the leaked music player and various "sneak-peak" style demoes.

Other than that, as mentioned above, we'll be seeing dual-core support baked in to the OS. There have also been rumors of an Android music store.

Even with the UI improvements that are rumored to be coming in Honeycomb, we'll still continue to see...

Manufacturer UIs: Stayin' Alive!

motoblur_stayin_alive

Oh, oh, oh, oh, stayin' aliiiiiiiiiiive...

Love them or hate them, they won't go away. With Android continuing to grow and take market share, manufacturers need custom UIs to separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes this works out for the better, and sometimes for the worse. In both cases though, general consumers don't seem to mind: the HTC EVO 4G (Sense UI) was sold out for weeks (if not months) after release, and Samsung has sold nearly 10 million Galaxy S (TouchWiz UI) devices. (Nerdier types seem to prefer vanilla Android, but they're the minority.)

The biggest downside to custom UIs is undoubtedly...

Fragmentation Sucks. Does Google Have a Solution?

fragmentation

Keep in mind that 2.2 has been out for more than 7 months.

Manufacturer UIs are so highly integrated into the Android OS that every time Google releases an update for Android, manufacturers and carriers have to manually work the changes in around their existing customizations, sometimes rewriting code in the process. The process isn't simple: manufacturers have a number of devices, running all kinds of hardware, and each device requires a back-and-forth cycle of testing and fixing builds.

The result: updates for some devices take months, and when they finally do roll out, there's a good chance they're already out of date. In other words, fragmentation.

I can't tell if this is fueled by naïve optimism, but I can't help but think (hope?) Google is working on some sort of solution to the problem. There are certainly some possibilities for how it can be done, but Google has to walk a fine line between allowing carriers and manufacturers to do their own thing and quality control.

Obviously, there's plenty of blame to go around. The carriers need time to work on the code as well, but that's dependent on manufacturers, who typically receive the bulk of the blame for slow updates. But hey, everybody loves a slow update cycle.

willy_wonka

We've heard from a lot of people who are awfully upset with Samsung's slow update cycle. Consequently, many consumers are less than satisfied with their experience with Samsung, and it's not hard to imagine that this will come back to bite Samsung in the butt. Inversely, HTC has been doing a respectable job of getting updates out the door. That reputation, coupled with the consistently high-quality hardware and design, will likely continue to pay off for the company in 2011.

Conclusion

So there you have it: some speculation, some rumor, some fact - there's really a little bit of everything here. Now you know what we see as the high points of the last year, and what's coming for 2011. What do you see? Sound off below - let the world know what you think.

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • Kane

    Google somehow fixing, or rather alleviating, fragmentation is my #1 hope this year. I think as the OS is more mature now, every incremental upgrade will not be as hard for manufacturers and carriers to merge their code with.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      I agree, and I think that the slower upgrade cycle will help a lot too.

  • Hov

    A correction: Motorola Droid did not come with Motoblur. The Droid 2 came with Motoblur.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      Whoops, what a stupid mistake to make on my part. Fixed, thank you very much!

  • TareX

    Loved the Dual-core part.

    Something else I'm looking forward to is Glasses-free 3D Androids showing up this year. We know HTC is planning one (more at the MWC), and that Sharp produced one already.

    I think there's a decent possibility that we'll see a Nexus 3D next year...

    • Aaron Gingrich

      Thanks :). I take it you're a big 3D fan then? I've yet to see any glasses-free 3D displays in the flesh, but personally, I'm not sure I'm sold on them. Movies, sure - it allows you to be more immersed... but in phones? Seems like more of a novelty to me.

      • Kane

        Plus you'd have to look at it at a certain angle, at least with the current tech. Could be fun still though, but then that would only add to the fragmentation.

        • three_pineapples

          I think you're confusing software fragmentation with hardware fragmentation.

          Hardware "fragmentation" is not a bad thing. Developers can target their apps to specific hardware, and make sure it only shows up for those phones.

          Software fragmentation is the bad one. This is because the small changes made by manufacturers and carriers come back and bite developers because suddenly their app doesn't behave correctly on 3 specific phone models. At this point they have the fun time of trying to get a hold of said phone (or someone willing to help with said phone) and try and find the cause of the bug, and introduce a phone specific solution. This is very annoying, but I don't quite see how it can be fixed given the open source nature of android...

        • Aaron Gingrich

          @three_pineapples: how is he confusing the two? An extra layer of software would be needed to drive the 3D aspect of the display (the hardware). If I understand what he's getting at, he's saying that would be an extra layer of software that would need to be modified for each update.

      • http://nihondroid.blogspot.com Chokkan

        My wife has the 3D Android phone from Sharp. The effect is 'cool' but it isn't a feature I really care about, and I don't think she uses it that much. It is totally a novelty at the moment.

  • Aj

    I'm just pumped to get some gingerbread on my evo, whether it be via htc or cm7 in the next week or two. Gotta feeling cm7 will drop sooner rather than later.

  • ohGrowUp

    "And just a few weeks ago, we passed 300,000 activations per day – an absolutely staggering figure."

    Who exactly is "we"? You're just a fanboy site. Having worked for a wireless carrier, the amount of returns during the trial periods is even more staggering and unreported than the amount of activations per day. Sustained use should be the focus here, not simple activations. Activate deez nuts, it still won't matter if you return them in a week.

  • Mike B

    Salvage has already released a very stable stock gb rom that has everything but 4g, you should give it a try I have been using it on my evo since the 23rd. Flawless.

  • Steve

    I cannot speak in regards to other HTC phones, but many of us with MyTouch Slides are STILL waiting for 2.2, even though we were told it was "coming soon" in June.

    • Mike B

      Go to xda and update your own device, as tmobile is apparently slow on many upgrades