On Monday, Apple revealed the latest version of iOS to the press and developers at its annual World Wide Developers Conference. Apple showed off a lot of new features on iOS, many of which are iterations on ideas from other companies. Unsurprisingly, I saw a lot of people complaining on Twitter that Apple was claiming to reinvent everything and that they stole everything from Android. The truth is that they took ideas from Android, webOS, Windows Phone, and a handful of jailbreak tweaks and, most importantly, iterated on them. Apple didn’t claim to be reinventing anything (they’ve avoided that claim for years now); instead, Apple claimed to be iterating. iOS 7 really is the biggest change to iOS since the iPhone was released in 2007.
Facebook Home has been heralded by some as Facebook’s first shot at Google and Apple and a warning that they’re going to enter the phone market with their own phone and OS soon. Still others have warned that Facebook Home may spell trouble for Google. I think Facebook Home is great for Google and great for the Android ecosystem as a whole.
When I first saw the Pebble I was honestly amazed. As the amazement wore off and the waiting settled in, I daydreamed about receiving notifications and being able to control my music from my wrist. Then, I received my Pebble and reality took over.
Now that I’ve had the Pebble for a week I’ve resorted to turning off the Bluetooth and using the watch to tell time and play Snake. Was it worth $150 for that? Not really, but I do love being able to shake my wrist to activate the backlight. Even though I’m generally disappointed with the Pebble, having it has made me think more about what a smartwatch should do and whether or not it’s a product that has the potential to change the way we interact with the world around us in a meaningful way.
When Google purchased Android, their goal was to fight Microsoft and topple Windows Mobile’s dominance. Instead, Google has found itself fighting off Apple as companies like Palm (now HP), RIM (now Blackberry), and Microsoft fell by the wayside. Instead of asking for a licensing fee from OEMs, Google decided to make Android free to use. Little did Google know, Apple would make a huge play in the mobile space that would forever change the market. Back in 2008, Samsung was nothing in the mobile space. It wasn’t until 2010 when Samsung released the Galaxy S worldwide that the Korean company began to find success in the market. Flash forward to today and the company claims about 40% of the worldwide smartphone market. In many ways, Samsung is the hero in Android’s war against iOS.
The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati is claiming that Google is becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of Samsung demanding more money from Google because of Samsung’s unrivaled dominance in the market as an Android OEM. Efrati also speculates that Samsung could use its market share to leverage getting access to the newest version of Android regardless of if it is the Nexus partner, putting other OEMs at a severe disadvantage. While Efrati doesn’t come out and say it, the threat of Samsung leaving Google hangs over his article. If Samsung demands more money and Google refuses, Samsung could fork Android, leaving Google to fend for itself with a myriad of relatively unsuccessful manufacturers. If Google agrees to give Samsung more of a share in revenues from mobile advertising, other OEMs could respond to their favoritism by forking Android or focusing only on Windows Phone.
Designing Android apps can be a monstrous challenge. Between multiple screen sizes, resolutions, Android versions, and manufacturer skins, developers have enough variables to make it nearly impossible to make an app that both looks like it fits the design language of your phone and is enjoyable to use on the devices you own. While Google has taken steps to try and guide developers in the right direction to solve these problems, many Android apps still are not optimized for modern devices, especially tablets. Worse still, Android apps have historically been static and boring. Many Android apps still have the old Android 2.x or below design, which forces users to peck around the app to access content.
Twitter apps have been especially representative of the need to have adaptable, scalable, and natural design. In particular, the official Twitter app for Android has been derided by users, journalists, and Apple executives as an example of an app that does not scale up to higher resolutions and larger screen sizes. Through the lens of Twitter apps for Android one can see how Android app design has had to evolve since 2008, pushing Android to become a more fluid, scalable, and fun to use platform.
Google Now is great at putting certain pieces of information in front of you before you realize you need it. A traffic report for your drive home is there just before you leave work. You’re notified about a package’s location after you’re emailed about it. Recent searches appear to remind you about your bad decision to try and understand what happened in the Clone Saga.
Google wants to continue to empower our cell phones and turn them into truly useful person assistants. I believe Google Now is the best way to do that, but I also believe Google Now needs to get a lot better. In particular, Now needs improve its use of contextual information, have more of a personality, and display information better.
In the past few months it has become abundantly clear that Google intends to support three platforms: the web, Android, and iOS. Google’s support for the web and Android should not come as a surprise; Google has always been a web company and Google bought Android to fight Microsoft in the mobile space. Even Google’s support of iOS is not all that surprising since the iPhone was essentially the Google phone before the G1. What is surprising, however, is that Google isn’t just making apps for iOS; they’re making really good apps for iOS.
For the past week I’ve been spending a lot of time with the HTC 8X on Verizon. The 8X is considered a signature Windows Phone, sporting a 4.3″ 720×1280 display, a 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal storage, NFC, dual band WiFi, LTE, Beats Audio, and an 8 MP 1080p shooter in back with a wide-angle 2.1 MP front camera. In short, Windows Phone has reached parity with Android and iOS in terms of specs.
When I last looked at Windows Phone I argued that while the operating system looks good and is certainly an improvement over Windows Mobile, the lack of apps, disappointing multi-tasking, and poor notification system kept Windows Phone from reaching feature parity with iOS and Android. Since then Android and iOS have propelled smartphone ownership to unprecedented levels while Windows Phone has remained a niche product in terms of market share. Read on to find out how Microsoft has changed Windows Phone for the better, what has stayed the same, and what Microsoft still needs to do to make Windows Phone succeed.