Ahead of the release of the next version of Android, Google held its annual I/O event this week. As usual, a fancy new version of Android — this year known as Android P — was demonstrated. Supposedly it’ll ship this fall, but as is typical with these releases, only a small number of users will have access by then. Presumably owners of Nexus and Pixel smartphones will get first dibs.
The rest? Cross your fingers!
With the news about the forthcoming release, a beta version was made available for some users. But not, for some reason, for owners of gear made by the largest manufacturer of Android handsets, Samsung.
Regardless, Google’s marketing people have established three buzzwords — parameters — for the next release. So it’s Simplicity, which evidently covers a new usability scheme, based on gestures, which appears to be based on the one Apple introduced for the iPhone X. This new scheme replaces the home, back and multitasking buttons that were previously used. I suppose if Apple expects iPhone customers to learn something new, Google feels it might as well join the crowd, rather than retain the existing usability method and claim it’s less confusing.
Of course, it will mean new handsets without buttons on the front. I don’t have to wonder who came up with that scheme either. There are also Android handsets with notches, but not because they will be developing equivalents of Face ID. I suppose it’s just a look that’s intended to attract people with iPhone X envy. Or something or other.
The other two parameters are Intelligence and Digital Wellbeing.
I’m not at all certain how the other two integrate, but there will be a Do Not Disturb feature that will quiet the device to help keep your Samsung or other Android device from drawing attention to itself or interrupting work or play,
There are also Adaptive Battery and Auto Brightness features that are intended to improve the user experience. The first, as you might expect, is designed to focus power use on the apps you are most likely to use over the next few hours. This feature will allegedly reduce battery usage by up to 30%.
All and all, you can find a full list of the expected features at Google’s Android site, promising all sorts of terrific things to honor the platform’s 10th anniversary. It’s actually a pretty decent list of goodies, some derived from iOS, others that appear to be unique or mostly unique to Android.
The biggest problem with the OS remains, however, which is that your best chance to avail yourself of these new operating systems is to use one of Google’s mobile handsets. The others? Hit or miss. Indeed, you’ll buy a brand new handset after Android P is released and stand only a small chance of getting the new OS. Clearly Google has, after all these years, been unable to figure out how to deploy a new Android release so most users can upgrade without waiting for months or years — or never!
So regardless of what it does, and how well it does it, app developers are not at all likely to expend resources to support the newest features. It hardly makes sense if the first-year user base will not exceed the single digits. It’s predictable.
Indeed you usually have to wait two years for the new OS to gain a decent portion of the Android user base. Even then, older releases will still dominate.
In contrast, the vast majority of the iOS user base will have upgraded before the next annual release. Most of the ones that haven’t include people who own iPhones and iPads that won’t work with the current release, or people with older models that may not benefit so much.
Of course, Apple’s critics will often complain that the iOS user base, on a percentage basis, is lower than a previous year, without realizing how many millions can’t update.
But the real comparison is with Android, where the upgrade percentage is miniscule. In contrast, the high percentage of iOS upgraders mean that developers have a huge incentive to develop or update apps using the new features, the new APIs, and thus build more salable apps. It also means that the quality of apps are inevitably going to be better than their Android counterparts or equivalents.
The real question is whether any large number of people would be interested in switching to Android because of the new features. How many of them would really, truly, make your mobile computing experience better, more reliable, and more secure than with an iPhone? Even if you found some features that really lit your fire, what chance would you have of even seeing them on your new smartphone unless it was a Pixel from Google?
Consider, too, the security issue. Whenever we hear of clever gadgets that can crack an iPhone and unlock it to assist law enforcement, you never hear stories about similar problems with Android gear. It should be obvious why.