- A Look Back To 2011
- Last Year's Predictions
- Android Owned 2011
- A Look Forward to 2012
- Danger 2.0 - The Android Hardware Division
- Motorola: The Ultimate Weapon Against OEM Apathy
- Motorola Turns Into A Model OEM
- The Two Most Innovative Android Companies Combine Forces
- Complete Failure In The Set Top Box Market
- Jelly Bean Will Blow Our Minds
- A Major Upgrade To Voice Actions
- UI Scaling For External Displays
- Google TV Merges With Android
- Intel CPUs Will Melt Your Eyeballs And Your Battery
- The Facebook Phone
- The Long Shot: Google Robots!
Happy New Year! A new year means it's time for the annual Android prediction post. First off though, a trip down memory lane with a look at Aaron's post from last year.
A Look Back To 2011
Way back in January 2011, we were all gobsmacked at the recent announcement of 300,000 Android activations per day. That looks cute now, doesn't it? A year later and it's more than doubled, now we're up to 700,000 per day. That's just incredible. Android could hit a million activations per day by the end of the year.
Last Year's Predictions
Tablets: The New Netbook - Netbooks definitely died. Android tablets, though, had very little to do with it. Tablets are much more refined than the 7 inch Galaxy Tab we were stuck with last year (giant phone apps!), but today, the app selection still isn't there. Google deserves as much blame as anyone, Google Docs on a tablet is borderline unusable, and G+ and Voice don't have tablet layouts either. It just doesn't seem like Google takes tablets seriously. Netbooks were mainstream consumer products, and Android tablets, well, aren't.
Dual-Core CPUs For Everyone! - Yep, nailed it! 2011 even saw the (semi) release of a quad core tablet. The processor gods have been good to us.
Manufacturer UIs: Stayin' Alive! - "Love them or hate them, they won't go away." Ugh. Yep. OEM skins are still here. In 2012, things seem to be even worse. Manufacturers have adopted a strategy of "Differentiation at any cost," regardless of how negative it is for the end user. At least Gingerbread was ugly. Ice Cream Sandwich is a beautiful, fresh new look for Android, but OEMs plan to just wipe it away and dump the same old skins on top. It's like vandalizing a piece of art. It's criminal.
Fragmentation Sucks. Does Google Have a Solution?
Nope. Google tried to get manufacturers to take upgrades seriously with the Android Alliance, but it's obvious that was a broken promise. At the end of the day, OEMs see no financial incentive to rush out updates. The Motorola purchase will hopefully have a competitive effect on fragmentation. Check out that section for details.
Android Owned 2011
Overall, Android has had a killer year. Sales have been absolutely through the roof, and any competition is left fighting over the scraps. Ice Cream Sandwich has brought some serious refinement to Android, and 2012 looks to be even better.
So, here we go: My predictions, research, and musings on the future of Android or "Hey Android! You've just won the smartphone wars! What are you going to do next?"
A Look Forward to 2012
Danger 2.0 - The Android Hardware Division
This is going to require some background. Danger Inc. was a cutting edge smartphone company founded by Andy Rubin, Matt Hershenson, and Joe Britt. (They also had a now well-known Director of Design by the name of Matias Duarte.) The company was famous for making the iconic Hiptop/Sidekick line of phones, one of the first affordable, mainstream consumer smartphones. You could multitask, go on the internet, and send emails, and everything was backed up to Danger's servers. Danger was basically building Android 0.01.
Andy Rubin left Danger and founded Android, where he is now the benevolent overlord of around half of the smartphone market. Matias Duarte bounced around the industry, but he eventually wound up back with Rubin, where he is now the Director of Android User Experience. But what about Matt Hershenson, and Joe Britt? Well, at Google I/O 2011, this happened:
Surprise! Andy got the band back together. Rubin's Android division is basically Danger 2.0. And, wait a minute ...what did Hugo say? The Android Hardware Engineering Team? Yeah that's right, somewhere, deep inside Google, Rubin's old Danger buddies are running an entire team dedicated to hardware.
On-stage at I/O 2011 they announced the Android Open Accessory program, the ADK Arduino board, and Android@Home. These are all fun, geeky projects, but I expect much more out of the former Danger gang.
“If you get a guy who started a company that built a phone, what else are you going to do?”
- Andy Rubin (In The Plex, pg. 226)
That's an excellent point, Mr. Rubin. Why would you bring a bunch of hardware guys into your software company? These guys will spend 2012 cooking up all sorts of fun little toys for us.
With Motorola and all the important bits of Danger, Google has all the parts they need be a full on phone manufacturer. They will still keep the Motorola brand around, and try to appear to not play favorites, but the fact is Google is now more vertical than Apple. Motorola Mobility owns factories around the world, while Apple outsources their manufacturing to companies like Foxconn. Speaking of Motorola:
Motorola: The Ultimate Weapon Against OEM Apathy
I believe Google is fed up with OEMs. They just aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Slow updates, horrible skins, and a lack of enthusiasm for new features, like NFC. OEMs are the weak link in the Android Ecosystem, despite numerous chances to get their act together. Google tried to solve the problem with the Nexus program, but its reach was too limited. Then they tried working on the update problem with the Android Alliance, but OEMs offered only lip service.
It became obvious that manufacturers just didn't share Google's ambition, and, in August 2011, they just couldn't take it anymore. Google went with the nuclear option: they bought Motorola.
"Motorola Mobility’s total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.” - Larry Page, CEO of Google
"Supercharge the entire Android ecosystem" is the key phrase here. How will Google do that? Competition. Motorola is going to be the flagship Android OEM. Stock Android, hardware that's in line with Google's latest initiatives (like NFC), quality designs, and fast updates. It's like taking the Nexus program mainstream.
It's clear OEMs aren't going to step their game up without some kind of financial incentive. In 2012 the message will be loud and clear: keep up with Motorola or they will crush you. Motorola's fast updates and beautiful, stock software will light a fire under the manufactures, and the Android ecosystem will get better for everyone.
Lots of boring regulatory stuff needs to happen in order for the takeover to be official; Google expects everything to finish up early this year. Then the rebuilding of Motorola can begin.
Motorola Turns Into A Model OEM
Larry Page likes to make a splash. During his first week as CEO, he completely reorganized the company's executive structure, tied everyone's bonus to the success of the company's social strategy, and ordered a complete redesign of every Google site. All of that in 7 days. He's not a timid guy when it comes to action. Page has had around 6 months to plot his first day of Motorola ownership. He will no-doubt come out guns a' blazing as soon as Motorola falls under his rule. We probably won't hear about these things for a few months, but they will happen. Any Motorola news will be hush-hush so as not to scare the other OEMs.
We will definitely hear about the firings. I expect most of Motorola's software team to be fired. Google is notoriously picky about its software engineers. It takes anywhere between 4-9 interviews, you are asked ridiculous questions like "how many golf balls can fit in a school bus?," and all the hiring decisions are done by committee. It's hard to get hired at Google. I really doubt they will suddenly welcome a bunch of scrubs from Motorola who've been responsible for Motoblur. Producing universally-reviled software probably doesn't look good on your resume. The axe man will be working overtime.
This isn't the first time Google has had to cut a large workforce. DoubleClick is a fantastic example of a large Google acquisition. When Google bought the ad platform, they cut 40% of the workforce. Employees were held to Google's hiring standards, and anyone that didn't make the cut, was cut. That meant most of the software engineers. If I was a Motoblur dev, I'd be job hunting right now.
Speaking of Motoblur. Its days are numbered. Google isn't going to be building Android in one division, and ruining it in another. Motoblur will die, and Motorola will become a stock-only Android house.
The Two Most Innovative Android Companies Combine Forces
After the software team is shown the door, Google and Motorola should get along very well. Motorola is easily the most innovative Android OEM: They make every form factor known to man (slates, landscape qwerty, and blackberry style), they're usually the first to market with new processor tech (Droid 1: first Cortex A8, Atrix: first dual core), and the Razr was an innovation showcase (the world's thinnest LTE phone, Kevlar backing, and a water repellent internal coating). And how Googley was the Atrix's Laptop dock? Here's a crazy beta product that's totally ahead of its time, let's release it and see what happens! Motorola seems like the only OEM interested in trying new things and being innovative. They will fit right in with Google.
Google innovations and Motorola innovations will Votron together to form AWESOME Android products. I expect seriously cool things to come out of Googlerola. Just think, how much cooler would a Lapdock be with all Google software and OS-level integration? New pieces of hardware, like NFC, can quickly be integrated into Motorola's next line of phones along with the software support to make it work. The two companies will make Android nimbler, and cool technology will hit more consumers, faster.
Complete Failure In The Set Top Box Market
Motorola Mobility is the leading manufacturer of cable boxes, which means Google is now the leading manufacturer of cable boxes. Never one to fear poking a beehive with a stick, Google will try and get the cable companies to change, and they will fail. Cable execs have already started to batten down the hatches and I'm sure they will vehemently fight against anything even resembling "progress." Google has almost no leverage against them; cable providers can just look elsewhere for boxes. I expect Google to try and build a better cable box, but cable companies have no reason to change; and won't.
Jelly Bean Will Blow Our Minds
Our source tells us he's hearing that the "game-changing stuff" that had originally been scheduled for Ice Cream Sandwich is now being pushed to Jelly Bean - This Is My Next
Waaaaaay back in September 2011, when all that was known about Ice Cream Sandwich was a handful of redacted screenshots (some released right here on AP), This Is My Next (now The Verge) released the above quote. Looking back, it seems pretty accurate. I believe it. (I should point out, Jelly Bean is not the official name. But we have to call the next version of Android something.)
Ice Cream Sandwich, while a worthy upgrade, is almost entirely UI enhancements. The merging of phone and tablet UIs must have been a pretty big job, and as a result most of the cool, new features were pushed to the next version of Android. It's totally plausible. As to what those new features might be? Well I can take a few guesses.
A Major Upgrade To Voice Actions
Voice control has always been the Sci-fi future of computing. Google kicked off the voice race with the launch of Voice Actions for Android, and Apple brought their usual brand of we-invent-everything hype and fawning press coverage to the party with Siri. Voice Actions is seriously due for an upgrade, it's almost been a full year since any new functionality was added. Google employs way too many natural language experts to not have something cooking.
A particularly believable rumor that's been flying around is of "Majel," the supposed codename for the evolution of Voice Actions. The project is named after Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the voice of the Star Trek computer. The basic idea, if you haven't guessed, is to just build the Star Trek computer. A computer you can talk to, that talks back.
What makes this believable, you ask? Well, everyone, across the entire company, won't shut up about Star Trek. They mentioned it when they bought Phonetic Arts, and again in their Evolution of Search video, and at the Galaxy Nexus launch. If fact, when asked where Google's answer to Siri was, Matias Duarte basically laid it out for us:
"Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just “Computer.” And you can talk to it and you can touch it, you can interact with it at the same time as you talk with it. It’s just another way to interface with the computer."
So more voice controls are coming. The only question is when. The Majel rumor said the end of 2011, which has come and gone. I'm putting my money on Jelly Bean.
UI Scaling For External Displays
In Ice Cream Sandwich, the tablet OS and the phone OS are the same thing. Most of the tablet and phone apps are actually the same apk. Your phone even has the ability to turn into a tablet. Here, I'll prove it:
Grab a rooted Galaxy Nexus, crank the software DPI down to 160, and bam! you've got a tablet. This UI doesn't work well on a screen this small, but what about when I plug my phone into a TV, or dock it into a crazy tablet or Lapdock? Well someone asked this very question at Google I/O:
So plans are in the works to switch screen modes on the fly. Plug into a larger screen, and the apps and OS rearrange make the most of it. Just imagine this with one of the crazy devices Motorola loves to cook up. A more refined Lapdock that would switch to tablet mode would be pretty cool.
Google TV Merges With Android
When Google TV was announced, Android was on 2.2, a smartphone-only OS. There were a million problems with using Android on a television. It wouldn't run on Google TV's x86 processor, the UI wouldn't scale to something appropriate for a TV, there was no support for peripherals like remotes and keyboards, and many parts of the OS and apps demanded telephony hardware and a touchscreen in order to function. In 2010, it totally made sense to make Google TV a separate project.
So GTV did just that, trying to be Android compatible, but never really being "Android." They ported as many Android parts as possible to x86, maintained Android APK compatibility, and built whatever else they needed. They seemed to have almost no communication with the Android team; Honeycomb came to Google TV about 8 months after its debut. That's the kind of time frame Motorola customers are used to dealing with, and that's embarrassing for a 1st party project.
Now though, Ice Cream Sandwich natively supports x86, it works on screens of all sizes, there's native USB host support for all kinds of peripherals, and being "a phone" is no longer a requirement. Combine this with GTV's less than stellar sales, and horrified partners, and you have to ask: Why is Google TV still a separate project? The ICS UI can effortlessly handle phone and tablet interfaces, so why not phone, tablet, and TV interfaces?
All of the reasons for GTV to exist separately are no longer valid, it's time to make the team a division of Android, and end all the wasted time chasing the latest version. Fold GTV into Android, just like the tablet OS. It's just one more DPI range, and maybe a new launcher.
Actually, it's total revamp time. Let Matias Duarte spruce up that UI (because right now GTV is butt ugly), and change the name. "Google TV" brings to mind a boring, white search box, and the name has gotten non-stop bad press. "Android TV" is much more descriptive of what it actually is, and it sounds way more exciting. It conjures up vibrant images of apps, games, widgets and notifications, and implies cool remote functionality with your other Android devices.
I should also point out, I am not a proponent of merging Android and Chrome OS. They are trying to accomplish two different things. GTV and Android are trying to accomplish the same thing, so it makes sense for them to merge.
Intel CPUs Will Melt Your Eyeballs And Your Battery
In 2010, Smartphones started outselling PCs. Smartphones and tablets are the future, and Intel knows it. They've been plugging away at a mobile x86 CPU for something like 7 years. Intel wants, desperately, to be in the mobile market. This will be the year they will finally do it.
"Medfield" is the system on a chip they'll be pushing this year. It's basically an Atom CPU with all the modems and RAM and stuff a smartphone needs. That's right, an Atom. Intel wants to put a full-on netbook CPU in your smartphone or tablet. LG is rumored to be building a phone with one of these beasts, we'll have to see just how ready for prime time it is at CES.
Why has it taken years for Intel to break into the mobile market? In a word: Power. Intel's chips have been way too power hungry. The first generation that actually makes it to market will probably come in just under the wire of acceptable power usage. That means crap battery life. We're probably looking at Thunderbolt-level staying power. It will be crazy fast, but it will need to be tethered.
Still though, this is exciting. It's the first step towards the new age of Android processors. An age of Intel domination. Ice Cream Sandwich elevated x86 to a fully supported architecture, all Intel needs to supply now is the hardware. The version after Medfield will have much lower power usage, and in a year or two I expect Intel to crush ARM chips.
Microprocessor manufacturing is mostly a game of scale, and nobody has bigger scale than Intel. They own something like 84% of the CPU market. Their crazy scale means they have a ton of cash to invest in their chip production. As a result they are usually a full generation ahead of everyone else when it comes to transistor size. The cutting edge, quad core Nvidia Tegra 3, which just started shipping in December 2011, uses a 40 nm manufacturing process. That's cute. Intel was shipping 32 nm processors almost 2 years ago. In 4 months they will be on 22nm. Intel is just in a whole other league when it comes to processor technology. Even if you have a better architecture and design, but it's hard to compete when Intel has smaller transistors than you do.
x86 software is going to be a huge pain in the butt for everyone. Normal apps should be okay, but anything written using the NDK will be incompatible with x86. That means 3D games will need special version for Intel chips. Bring some Advil.
The Facebook Phone
At some point in the near future. Facebook will pull a Kindle. They will fork Android, strip out all the Googleyness, and pile their own crap on top of it. They have to. Everyone that fires up a Galaxy Nexus is prompted to join Google+, if OEMs leave that in ICS, that's 700,000 G+ advertisements a day.
Go look at your news feed, how many updates are from mobile phones? Mobile is the future, and Google is on track to own it. I'm sure Facebook has nightmares of Google using their dominant mobile position to push HARD for G+ signups, and they will feel the need to respond. Forking Android automatically wins you the app battle, a game you can't win with someone like Microsoft, and Apple doesn't want to partner with you. An Android based Facebook phone is the best response to Google's hypothetical Android/G+ hybrid. Facebook even has an ex-Android PM running their mobile division. They've even dipped their toe in the Android waters.
On the left is the Motorola ROKR. It was the first phone Apple was in involved with. Apple announced it at a media event. It worked with iTunes and could play all your Apple music. It was basically Apple's test drive of the cell phone market. 2 years later they launched the iPhone.
On the right is the HTC Cha Cha. It (along with the HTC Salsa) was the first phone Facebook was involved with. It sported a front button that would take you directly to a Facebook app or share whatever you are currently viewing. I'm seeing similarities in strategy here. Anyone else?
So what would a Facebook phone look like? (Readers with weak stomachs may want to skip this paragraph) Just think of the synergy! A homescreen status update bar! Your friends are your contacts! Messenger is your email! Events is your calendar! A 24/7 Chat connection! A search page that promotes Facebook pages! Bing Maps and check-ins! Your Photos are your Gallery! Automatic camera uploads! A Facebook app store! "You've just made a phone call to bob! would you like to share it on your wall?"
I'm sure Facebook's collective head is just spinning with the possibilities.
The Long Shot: Google Robots!
Yes that's right, I said it. Robots. My crazy, long shot prediction is that Google will release (or have a big hand in) a consumer level robot of some kind.
Google just loves robots. Larry Page is a big robot fan, and is very fond of big, scary projects that take lots of time and money. And I'll just say Andy Rubin called his company "Android" for a reason. Google isn't shy about its robot love: They were all over the place at Google I/O.
iRobot had a session at I/O, and Willow Garage (makers of the most advanced robot ever, and stewards of ROS, the open source Robotic Operating System) and Google gave a 40 minute joint talk on Cloud Robotics. During the introduction, one of the presenters casually drops this bomb on the audience:
We're both on the Cloud Robotics team at Google, Which I'm sure you've never heard of before today. -Ryan Hickman, Google I/O 2011 Cloud Robotics Talk
So Google has a Cloud Robotics team. How cool is that?
During the talk, the Google Cloud Robotics team talked about how the Android Open Accessory API meant you can now use all of an Android device's modems and sensors for your robot. Willow Garage and Google also worked together to port ROS to Java, saying "This new library was developed at Google with the goal of enabling advanced Android apps for robotics." In fact, iRobot had a Motorola Xoom-Bot at I/O:
What do you think Google Goggles is? It's robot vision. Voice Typing is robot hearing. Google Maps is robot location and navigation. The Phonetic Arts acquisition is a robot voice. Google's cloud compute gives you unlimited robot brain power. Google has many robot parts, they just need to put it in a robot.
And I almost forgot to mention Google's totally in-house, working robot platform: Google self driving cars. A few years ago, Google hired the Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and his team, and threw money at them to make this car happen. The New York Times says Google wants to turn them into a real product, and they may even manufacturer the cars themselves.
When this is done, Google will have built a world class robot navigation solution, which can no doubt be adapted for indoor navigation as well.
A Google Bot of some kind is coming. Robots are the next big technology industry. Google has the money, brains, ambition, and desire to make it happen. It just makes too much sense.
This article would have been a heck of a lot easier to write after CES, which, (oh dear god) is NEXT WEEK. We'll see many companies' plans for a good portion of 2012, and Android promises to be all over the show. It's definitely something to keep an eye on (like you could avoid it).
Well, that's about all I can think of for 2012. It promises to be a wild year. What do you think 2012 has in store for us? What are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments!