Happy New Year! It's that time again; with the new year comes our new annual prediction post. I tackled this last year, and rather than do a bunch of crazy, pulled-from-thin-air predictions, I ended up with a link-filled research-fest for the year. It worked out pretty well, so that's what's on the docket for today. First though, I'll take a look and see just how many of last year's predictions and rumors came true, and provide some updates for the more important topics.

A Look Back To 2012

What a crazy year. 2012 brought us two versions of Jelly Bean: 4.1 and 4.2.  We saw a complete transformation of Google Search with the Knowledge Graph, Google Now, voice output, and Google Goggles integration. The Nexus line grew to 3 models: the Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10, and Google's new "sell it at cost" mentality means the Nexus devices are now not only the best, but often one of the lowest cost devices in their respective categories. As a result, popularity of these devices is through the roof, with the Nexus 4 and 10 being continually sold out since launch, and even the older Nexus 7 sold out for the holidays. The Android Market was transformed into Google Play, and now sells apps, games, music, movies, TV shows, books, magazines, and devices.

The most overlooked thing that happened this year is that Google is now selling devices through the Play Store without any carrier involvement. Sure, there have been a few growing pains, but Google has freed itself from the carrier-controlled showrooms and all the limitations that come with them. The Play Store is a legitimate device marketplace for Google, and the primary way to get ahold of a Nexus device. Google somehow figured out how to get lots of people to pay for unsubsidized, unlocked phones in the United States. It's the Nexus One experiment all over again, except successful. This is the most important thing that has happened all year. Google can design, release, and sell devices without carrier intervention. Products like Google Wallet can work without restrictions, updates flow like water, and any future disruptions Google feels like releasing can have a home. Buy an unlocked Nexus 4 and your carrier has truly turned into a dumb pipe.

The other big news this year was that everyone sued everyone else. There was Oracle v. Google, Apple v. Samsung, Apple v. HTC, Apple v. Motorola, Microsoft v. Motorola, and even Fujifilm v. Motorola. I will spare you a recap, mostly because there just aren't enough 5 hour energy shots in the world for me to stay awake for something like that. A bunch of lawyer-y things happened, money changed hands, it was all very boring.

Last Year's Predictions (And Updates)

I made a bunch of predictions last year, so let's see how well I did.

The Android Hardware Division

Check out last year's post if you want the full story, but basically, Andy Rubin used to work at company he co-founded called "Danger Inc." they made the hardware and software for a line of phones called "Hiptop/Sidekick", and that line of phones could be considered the trunk of Android's family tree. When Danger split up, Rubin went on to found Android. At I/O 2011, it was announced that Rubin brought over the other 2 co-founders of Danger. Their primary expertise is hardware, and at I/O they were introduced as the "Android Hardware Engineering Team."


Android's hardware division did happen in 2012, it was just a complete and total failure. Their only product was the Nexus Q, a beautifully designed, $300 wireless media bridge for your other Android devices. The Q was a crazy product. You could hook it up to your TV and push YouTube, Google Play Movies, and Music to it, and it had a built-in 25W amp and 4 banana plugs in the rear for speakers. That's right, a TV-stack device that comes with a built-in amp and a bunch of speaker ports. Most people already have a kick-ass set of speakers hooked up to their TV and wouldn't need the amp and speakers, so whether you used this as a TV device or a headless bookshelf music player, you were always getting some components you didn't need. The shocking $300 price, limited features, and strange component choices made us wary of this thing before launch, and well, the launch never came. Google took pre-orders for a bunch of these, and then canceled the product.

[email protected], Google's home automation initiative, was the other "product" to come out of this group - it's also dead in the water. The corpse did twitch recently, though, so maybe @Home is due for a resurgence, or maybe just a "surgence."



I said a few things about Motorola. I mostly wanted to bang home the idea that the Motorola purchase was not just a patent move, which is what everyone else was claiming at the time (and some were even claiming they would sell the phone division). I said that Google wants to turn Motorola into a top-tier OEM. Once up and running, they will use Moto to light a fire under the other OEMs, and hopefully cause them to raise their game with the power of competition. I was expecting innovative hardware with industry-leading update times. I basically thought Google would scoop up Motorola and say "Pay attention OEMs, this is how it should be done." I still expect to see that, it's just taking a little longer than expected. Progress is being made, though.

Google spent most of 2012 getting and then gutting Motorola. They announced the purchase in August of 2011. It took 10 months for the worldwide legal red tape to clear, and, in May 2012, Google could finally play with its shiny new toy. Step one was to install a good group of people at the top. They fired the current CEO, and got a Googler, Dennis Woodside, to run the company. R&D would to be run by Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA. Mark Randall, a former Amazon Kindle exec, would be running the supply chain.

In my 2012 post, I said there would be plenty of slimming down, and boy, was there. In August 2012, Google announced that the axe man would be working overtime: They intended to fire 20% of the workforce, including one-third of the 4000 US employees. Management was to be slashed, too, with 40% of the VPs getting pink slips. Motorola was also closing a third of their 94 worldwide offices. They also cut ties with many suppliers and would be ordering 50% fewer components. Feature phone production was shut down, and the entire product portfolio would be leaner and more potent. In its 8-K statement, Google said it "sees these actions as a key step for Motorola to achieve sustainable profitability."


Later we heard of more cuts. Webtop was killed. Motorola's custom dev tools were open sourced and merged into the Android SDK. Websites for unprofitable countries were shut down. Motorola announced they're pulling out of Korea completely in 2013, and firing everyone except the top 10% of their R&D staff. Just this December, we heard the "Home" set top box and cable modem division was sold off for 2.35 billion and that Motorola's largest manufacturing facility in China, which employs 10,000 people, will be sold to Flextronics for an undisclosed sum, along with control of another factory in Brazil. Google is picking through Motorola's carcass for fresh parts to sew into its Googlerola Frankenstein, and the pieces that don't fit are being scrapped or sold to the highest bidder.

With most of the internal slashing over, Google has started to turn to external sources to augment their new creation. They recently poached Brian Wallace, the VP of strategic marketing, from Samsung. He was responsible for the "Next Big Thing" ads, one of which was supposedly the "most viral" tech ad of 2012. So besides scoring Motorola a top-tier marketer, this has the bonus effect of hurting Googlerola's largest competitor: Samsung. Welcome to the 2013 tech world.

Motorola's transformation is happening. When they finally throw the switch and give rise to their new beast, you will see a leaner, smarter, faster, more-focused Motorola. You should be excited.

As for an actual phone? They released a few RAZRs, but those were leftovers from the old Motorola. They've been too busy creating a company to put any real effort behind a phone. Larry Page confirmed this in a Fortune interview this December:

I don't think there's any physical way we could have released a Nexus Motorola device in that sense. I mean, we haven't owned the company long enough.

So, Motorola's renovation is underway, it's just still a work in progress. I would expect a real Googlerola phone to come out in time for Christmas, 2013.

Google TV Is Still A Fork Of Android


I posited that Google TV would end up being merged into Android, and maybe even renamed to "Android TV." It didn't happen. Google TV is Android based, but when GTV was first being developed, Android was on 2.2, and completely unsuitable for something that wasn't a phone, so they make a custom fork of Android and called it "Google TV." Now, though, all the custom things GTV added to Android are built-in: it can be built for ARM and x86, and handles multiple screen sizes effortlessly. Android runs on smartphones, tablets, set top boxes, and even a TV or two. Then there are things like Miracast that will wirelessly beam your smartphone display to your TV.

Keeping Google TV as a fork doesn't make sense anymore. Every custom need that Google TV has is now covered by Android. Google TV should just be another screen density setting with a few new elements, similar to tablets. Hell, one of Android's density levels is called "tvdpi." Merging the two makes a lot more sense when you consider that Google TV's Android fork has been left to rot. Do you have any idea how far behind Google TV is? It's still based on Honeycomb. That's Android 3.2.


Pictured on the left is what Google TV looked like at the end of 2011. It's also what Google TV looks like now, at the end of 2012. The last major update was GoogleTV 2.0, which came out in November 2011. The only other sign of life from the GTV division was the addition of Play Movies, TV, and Music just 2 months ago. It's all pretty sad.

GTV spent all of 2012 in update purgatory. For a good example of the kind of neglect this product gets, just check out their web site, which still links to the Android Market. LG did just let slip mention of Google TV 3.0, but the translated document only lists features that GTV 2.0 already has. I feel like Google knows they should have a TV platform, but no one knows what it should do, so they'll let this project simmer on the back burner until someone figures out how to make a TV computing platform good.

Comcast logo 2012

I also said Googlerola would "completely fail" in the set top box market. They did, but I didn't think they would be smart enough to quit so early. Like I mentioned earlier, they sold the whole STB/Modem division to the Arris Group for 2.35 billion. It seems like they never even tried to get the cable companies to play along. This is a really smart move; changing television is a lost cause. The cable companies you want to destroy also happen to own all the content you want. Comcast's new logo, for instance, is an excellent example of what you would have to deal with.

Intel Phones


An Intel phone was a reality in 2012, there were a couple, actually, they just weren't released in America. Motorola released the RAZR i in Europe, and about a million companies rebranded Intel's reference phone, pictured on the right. Benchmarks were mixed - it will blow away just about everything in Sunspider, but lags behind in other (ARM optimized) benchmarks. Apparently the battery life wasn't horrible, either!

Intel's march toward smartphone relevance continues. It's only a matter of time before they catch up to and crush ARM.

Other Predictions

As for the other stuff, Project Majel, the long-rumored voice activated "Star Trek" computer is now very much a thing. It ended up being integrated into the Google Search app as a big upgrade to Voice Actions, and if you dig through the APK, you can even find references to it.

I said that Facebook would build a phone, and they did not. Despite wanting to own all your contacts, messages, phone numbers, emails, photos, check-ins, calendar entries, and having an app store, a phone isn't something they want to build. Facebook's new strategy is to take over your existing phone. This is a smart move, because a Facebook phone would really suck.

Google did not release a robot, which I admittedly called a "long shot," although they still have a cloud robotics team, and have made a good amount of progress on their self-driving cars. They're legal in Nevada, California, and Florida now. I still think you'll see Google be a major force in robotics at some point. All that car stuff is really autonomous robot navigation, and they are further ahead than anyone else. Robotic intelligence is also one of those big computing problems that Google is uniquely positioned to solve. Larry Page often mentions artificial intelligence when discussing Google. You'd want that in a robot.

A Look Forward To 2013

On to 2013. Google has dropped a ton of information and hints about what to expect for this year. There should be a ton of highly anticipated projects seeing the light of day.

Google Messenger - A Merger of Talk, G+ Messenger, Hangouts, and Voice



Google currently ships 4 texting apps: Messaging, G+ Messenger, Google Talk, and Google Voice; and 2 video chat apps: Google Talk and G+ Hangouts. This is confusing, a waste of resources, and ridiculous. We've heard Google acknowledge this twice, once from G+ Hangouts Product Manager Nikhyl Singhal in June 2012, and again from Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+, in November of 2012. So this is happening, and it sounds like the Google+ guys are in charge of it. It's a social/communication thing that involves a friends list, so that would make sense.


One of Google's most interesting acquisitions in 2012 was Meebo, a company most well-known for their cross-platform instant messaging client. It would mash up AOL, MSN, ICQ, Gtalk, Yahoo IM, and Facebook Chat into one interface. Coincidentally enough, Meebo's acquisition announcement mentioned they were headed to Google+, the same division that is commenting on and most likely to be in charge of the mythical merged messaging app. These guys are probably the biggest IM experts on the planet, they've been hacking together a bunch of services that weren't designed to go together from the outside. So merging Google's various IM clients with access to actual code should be a piece of cake for them.

So Meebo will help build "Google Messenger," which will have an awesome Android app that replaces Talk, Voice, and G+ Messenger. Google+ will be a requirement, as it will use the service for identity and friend lists.  Besides Android, Messenger will be integrated into the G+ and Gmail web interfaces, and there will probably even be an iOS version (if Apple allows it) a few months later. They'll hopefully also have a Chrome extension to replace the excellent Google Talk client. It should be capable of sending data IMs and SMSes, and will just pick the most appropriate communication method depending on the other person's connected status.

A bonus effect from the unified messenger is that it will fix the always-terrible Google Voice client on Android. It has never had the manpower it needs, and the good part of Google Voice has always been the back end, so rolling it into a larger product will hopefully get the client up to a respectable level of stability and usability.

I expect Google Messenger to quickly kill the stock SMS app, just like how the release of Chrome quickly (and prematurely) killed the stock browser. Android's easy forkability scares Google (See: Kindle, Amazon), so bringing another key app in-house as a proprietary Google App will make forkers' lives a little more difficult.

Google Games - A Merger of Chrome, Android, and Google+ Games

I covered this one in my I/O preview (though it didn't happen at I/O), so if you want the long-winded, highly-speculative version, I suggest you check that out. I'll do the quick version here. Punit Soni, the group product manager for Google+, said that Google is looking into merging Google's various game stores into one mega store.


Google currently offers Chrome games in the Chrome Web Store, Android games in the Play Store, and Google+ offers social browser games in its game section. This is confusing for developers and users, no one really knows what to develop for, and gamers can't play their games across all platforms. Plus, Chrome games and Google+ games are basically the same thing.

Soni announced at the 2012 Game Developer's Conference that:

“By next year, we will not be here talking about Google+ Games, Chrome Web Store games, Games for Native Client and Android games,” he said. “We will be talking about Google games.”

If you're using that "by next year" mention for a timeframe, the Game Developers Conference is at the end of March.

The interesting bit is that he specifically calls out Native Client, a Chrome plugin that brings high performance processing to the browser (you know, for games).  It works pretty well, but no one really uses it for anything. In the I/O preview I theorized that, if they got it up and running on Android, it could be the universal runtime powering games on all these platforms.

I put this section right under Google Messenger for a reason; notice the similarities? Something is currently a fragmented mess, so the multiple versions of it are being unified. They're not just being unified; they're being unified under the Google+ banner, with all the discussion of it coming from Google+ people. This makes sense for Google Messenger, as it is all about communicating and being social. This makes significantly less sense for a game store, because, currently, all the content stuff is handled by the Android branch. Andy Rubin's full title is "Senior Vice President, Mobile and Digital Content," so why is this guy from Google+ suddenly revealing digital content plans during the Game Developer's Conference?

I wonder if this is a sign that "content" is being moved away from Rubin's wing of Google. It probably should be - there is little reason for a content store to be run by an OS division. Just take a look at the Play Store lineup: Books, Music, Movies, TV, Magazines, and some of the devices (Chromebooks) have nothing to do with Android at all. I can (or should) be able to look at all of those in a web browser. The only part of the Play Store that is specifically "Android" is the app section, and that, tellingly, is called "Android Apps," not just "Apps." It almost sounds like Google knows there's no reason for the Play Store to be Android specific. Would it make a lot more sense to kill the Chrome Web Store and just add a "Chrome Apps" section, too? They already sell Chromebooks.

In fact, I really like that idea. 2013 prediction: The Play Store stops being an Android controlled thing, and the Chrome Web Store Dies.

Project Glass Explorer Edition

If you somehow haven't heard, Project Glass is Google's experimental heads up display computing platform. It is also the most exciting thing to ever be created by mankind. Being able to overlay a computer display over top of your vision will change everything. Did I mention I'm plunking down $1500 for the privilege of beta testing a pair? I'm that excited.


At I/O 2012, Sergey Brin announced "Google Glass Explorer Edition" would be available for pre-order at I/O. They're $1500 and shipping "early next year" - meaning "early 2013"- meaning "nowish." If you signed up for a pre-order, they gave you a clear glass block with your Glass Reference ID number. I would like to take this opportunity to flaunt mine:


We really don't know much about Project Glass other than "it's coming." It's basically going to be a smartphone for your face, but we don't even know if it will run Android.

What I can tell you is that I will cover the ever living crap out of it here at AP. So if you're one of the people out there that are dying to get ahold of one of these and can't, just know that I'll do my best to paint the clearest picture possible of what the heck it's like to wear one of these.

Quickoffice + Google Docs: A Better Drive App

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In June, Google bought Quickoffice, the mobile productivity company, to help them kill Microsoft Office. The important part of the announcement went thusly:

Quickoffice has an established track record of enabling seamless interoperability with popular file formats, and we'll be working on bringing their powerful technology to our Apps product suite.

Quickoffice has a strong base of users, and we look forward to supporting them while we work on an even more seamless, intuitive and integrated experience.

Translation: We're going to steal all the good ideas from Quickoffice and stick them in Google Docs!

Quickoffice's Android app does a million things that Google Drive/Docs can't do. You can view, edit, and create presentations, for starters. The document editor in particular blows Google Docs away. You have support for line spacing, completely customizable tables (color, width, height, layout, etc), a million different bullet and number options (including automatic outline numbering), and support for inserting pictures. It's a fully featured document editor, where Google Docs is a stripped-down, just-enough-to-get-by editor.

So far the Quickoffice acquisition has led to improved Microsoft to Google document conversion (on their blog post Google used the phrase "legacy Microsoft Office files." Sick burn), and a free Quickoffice iPad app for Google Apps users. The most interesting thing, though, is just how much more functional Quickoffice's Android app is compared to Drive. Hopefully they bring all these features over. They just need to clean up Quickoffice's UI a bit and we'll have a more fully-featured Drive app.

Android On Feature Phones?! Google Races To The Bottom

Yes this sounds ridiculous, but stick with me for a minute. If you remember, way back in April 2012, Oracle was suing Google over the use of Java and a bunch of internal Google documents were released during the trial. The freshly-revealed financial numbers grabbed most of the headlines, but the slide that stuck out the most to me was this one, which laid out Google's 5 year plan for Android:


I don't really believe this one either, but there it is, black and white, from an internal presentation given by Andy Rubin himself: "Go down-market to feature phones."

Now, it's important to note that this slide is about 2 and a half years old. This presentation was from a quarterly review given on July 2010, and Google's own comments about the released information say

The discussions in the documents date from 2010 or earlier, so don't represent current thinking about our business operations. Our industry continues to evolve incredibly fast and so do our aspirations for our various products and services.

But still - compare this to actual events, and this is pretty accurate. Google's "Phase 3" plan for 2011-2013 was to build out their digital content stores, and reality backs that up: The book store came out a little ahead of schedule in December 2010, followed by movie rentals in May 2011, music purchases in November 2011, and TV shows, magazines, and movie purchases in June 2012. The description of Phase 3 was very accurate, so it makes sense to still take some stock in this slide.


"Phase 4" is really about scaling the volume of devices. So maybe the phrase "feature phones" is a little heavy-handed. Most people would qualify anything that runs Android as a "smartphone." For instance, check out this china-only Samsung phone, the SCH-W999. It's an Android flip phone, but most people would still call it a smartphone. So maybe a better way to put this instead of saying "feature phones"  would be "make really cheap devices." When you think about it that way, Google's already well on their way. They dominate the tablet space with the $200 Nexus 7, and the Nexus 4 at $300 is around half the price of other unlocked phones. I would say the best way to interpret this slide is that Google wants to go even cheaper in 2013. Maybe keep the Nexus 7 around until the price can be dropped to $100, that's a "feature phone" price range.

If you've ever heard an Eric Schmidt speech, he always talks about the revolution smartphones will cause in poorer 3rd world countries. He expects them to be the primary form of computing in these countries, and Google wants to get their products in the hands of these new users.

An Amazon Kindle Phone


I know all the Facebook Phone rumors last year were completely wrong, but a Kindle phone is much more plausible because Amazon actually makes devices. They currently have 8.9-inch and 7-inch tablets, the former with mobile data and an in-house modem, so a 4-inch tablet - you know, a phone - seems pretty likely.

Now, I have no idea why anyone would want an Amazon phone. It's just Android's open source leftovers with all the good, Googley parts stripped out of it. The Kindles have been innovative (read: cheap) in the mobile data pricing department, maybe Amazon has the negotiating prowess to bring the carriers down from the usual $70 a month. Their only hope would be to make it really cheap, but Amazon is good at that.

The Google Wallet Card

Remember the Google Wallet Card? The idea was that you order an actual piece of plastic from Google, A Google Wallet Card, that acts as a "virtual credit card." You load all your cards into the Wallet app, swipe the Wallet card, and pick the traditional card you would like to charge from the Wallet app. This will let you use Wallet on terminals that don't support NFC, and allows you to carry around 1 card instead of multiple cards. This also doesn't require NFC, so it will be available for all phones running Android 2.3.3 or higher, iOS devices, and even Blackberries "Other."


The evidence for this is overwhelming. All the way back in October, Google launched a signup page for "The next version of Google Wallet."  If you go to google.com/wallet you can still see the announcement at the top of the page. A week later, a tipster hit us up with screenshots from an unreleased Wallet app, showing the Google Wallet Card sign up page. And, while I've never actually posted this before, I did a teardown on a recent Wallet app update and all of the leaked Wallet Card stuff is now in the released APK (along with a tipping section!).

So we know what it is, and what it does, and what it will work on, we just don't know when the hell it will get here. What's going on Google? The sign up page went up in October. I doubt they planned on announcing it 3 months ahead of time, so I guess something unexpected came up.

Samsung's Flexible Displays

For about half a year, rumors have been swirling that Samsung will commercialize its flexible AMOLED technology in 2013. We've heard this will be used for everything from displays with no side bezel, to unbreakable screens, to gimmicky flexible devices, or folding screens.

The video is an excellent example of the problems here. Notice how the only flexible thing is the screen, and how it's still connected to a rigid motherboard and battery. You'd never be able to have a totally flexible phone, because all the stuff has to go somewhere.

An unbreakable screen sounds interesting, until you realize the part of a screen that usually breaks is the Gorilla Glass, so a phone with an "unbreakable" screen would mean a phone with no Gorilla Glass. Corning does have a flexible glass called "Willow Glass," but that hardly sounds hammer-proof. "Unbreakable" would probably require a plastic touch screen with a lot of flex to it. Remember the horrible resistive plastic touch screens from the days of the Palm Pilot? They're back.

I'm sure Samsung is in love with this idea, though. "We can extend our shitty plastic to the front of the phone, too? Let's do it!" It'll be the cheapest-feeling phone ever.

Hopefully they use this for something other than just a droppable phone. The possible form factor innovation is exciting - any move away from boring slabs can only be good. Your Galaxy S VI could actually be "S" shaped!

(Note to Samsung: Please do not do this.)

More Google Now Cards!


Earlier this year, the Verge had a pretty awesome article on the future of Google Now with quotes from a few key Googlers. The most eyebrow raising part was a mention of how future development is coming along:

When it comes to deciding which data to give you, Barra tells us that Google has "a pipeline [...], possibly in the hundreds of cards” from its many engineering teams. Rather than flood users with all of those new cards, Google is taking a slow and steady approach to adding those new features

So then, lots of new Google Now cards are on the way from all across Google, it's a company wide thing, they're just holding back so they don't blow our minds too hard. Go take a look at these mockups and start dreaming.

A Chrome That Doesn't Suck

Chrome for Android isn't very good. The UI is fantastic, but competing browsers from much smaller companies have it beat in the speed and smoothness department. It's also incredibly inconsistent; working fine on some devices and being a slow crash-fest on others. Part of the reason for this is that it just hasn't seen a lot of updates. Chrome for Android has only seen about 6 updates since its introduction, where the desktop version has probably seen about 6 updates this month.

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Just check out the version numbers: Chrome for Android is on version 18. Chrome (dev) for desktop is on version 25. The usual breakneck pace of development for Chrome just hasn't made it to Android, but, according to a post on the official Chrome Google+ page, it should soon.

Q. Chrome for Android is still at v18, while regular Chrome is at v23. When will Chrome for Android catch up?

A. Soon! We expect an update to Chrome for Android starting with a developer update to happen before the end of the year, and we’re actively working towards aligning releases across all platforms, including Android, starting early next year.

We even get a timeframe: "Early next year," meaning 2013. This will definitely make Chrome better at rendering stuff, but even desktop parity isn't a guarantee it will run smoother or more consistently on mobile. It is, however, a sign that they are taking Chrome for Android more seriously.


That's everything substantial I can think of for 2013, and this won't even be the half of it. There's still a ton of stuff we know nothing about: New flagship devices from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Sony, and LG, 1 or 2 new versions of Android, new Nexuses, and a million app updates - 2013 will be a crazy year. We'll get a much clearer look at things in just a few days - CES 2013 news starts January 6th!

The new year promises to bring us tons of highly anticipated goodies, and we'll be obsessively covering it here at Android Police. Stay tuned and Happy New Year!