What is this “Android” thing that people are talking about?

The first week of April 2010 saw the announcement of Telecoms first Android handset, with the exclusive launch for the XT network of the LG GW620.

Telecom is not alone in the New Zealand market with Android handsets. Vodafone have been selling the HTC Magic since the end of June 2009 and independent device importers also have a range of Android phones.

Globally, the industry is expecting big things from the handset manufacturers as well as the Android platform in 2010. At the Mobile World Congress (the world’s premier mobile event) in February, it was announced that 60,000 Android handsets are shipped every day (though what ‘shipped’ means was not clarified).

So, what is Android?

Software

‘Android’ is a software stack which includes an operating system, middleware and core applications, in much the same way as Windows Mobile, Apple, Symbian and Blackberry have their own software stacks which deliver their functionality. Android was first unveiled in 2007 by a firm who was subsequently bought by Google, who have since released most of the code under the Apache (software and open source) license.

This open approach has captured the imagination of many in the technology community who have eagerly followed the delicious sounding Android releases (Cupcake (1.5), Donut (1.6) and Éclair (2.0/2.1)), downloaded the Software Development Kits (SDKs) and built up a huge array of applications, which are then released to the Android Market place – a store similar in concept to the iPhone app store, but without the rigid and at times arbitrary application acceptance process. Issues and feature requests are via Google Code’s site where users and developers alike can collaborate on the applications to build functionality, and resolve issues.

Hardware

Without question, HTC is the biggest player in the handset market to date. Other big names include Samsung, Motorola, Sony and of course LG. A number of sites dedicated to reporting on and reviewing new handsets as they come to market – one of my favourites being AndroPhones another being phoneArena.

Android vs. iPhone

The gold standard in device look and feel still seems to be the iPhone and, while many ‘droid devices are getting close – no one has quite created a truly comparable piece of hardware. That may well be set to change however as upcoming OS releases will allow for more functionality to be incorporated. The rumored iPhone 4.0 is going through what appears to be something of a facelift opting for physical buttons for some of its features, copying what the ‘droid device manufacturers seem to be sticking with.

Android’s open platform is its undeniable strength. It is led by its users and its developers, the very people who will evangelise the platform to their friends (in a similar manner that Linux is now becoming a mainstream operating system). Android doesn’t suffer from the cult of personality which saw market confidence in Apple slump on hearing rumors of the CEOs ill-health (he’s apparently fine now); if the financial markets are that concerned for the company’s profitability based on the health of one man, what does that say about their belief that Apple can continue to be a driving force in his absence? The iPhone is a closed platform – that may work for some people, and I don’t expect that to change. The beauty of Apples closed approach is ‘stuff just works’ – and it does.

Using their devices is a wonderful experience, and for those happy to let a company make application and usability decisions for them – it’s a fantastic device which is getting better according to a well planned market schedule.

Apple are watching the ‘droid marketplace closely and, while Mr Jobs may publicly deride the platform, with Tim Bray recent joining the Google Android family – Steve now has a far more vocal opponent to pit his showcase skills against, as well as a growing dissatisfaction with the way Jobs is acting as judge, jury and morality watchdog for the Apple platforms across the board.

Conclusion

So, is the Android ready for prime-time? Without a doubt. Is it an iPhone killer? No, not yet – both the hardware and OS still have a way to go, but there are some great incentives for manufacturers and developers to get there.

But for me, I’d buy and use an Android 2.1+ device today. I believe that in around 9 months time, both the operating environment and the hardware to support the functionality people are waiting for will be ready for the mainstream, rather than for just those of us who love to use our technology ahead of the curve.

3 thoughts on “What is this “Android” thing that people are talking about?”

    1. It sure was! (23rd April) – I've seen 2.1 in action, read the specs on 2.2 and would LOVE someone to send me an EVO 4G when they release on June the 4th – of course, it'd need to be running on a 3G UMTS 850/2100MHz network unless the kindly benefactor wants to also drop a plane ticket and hotel reservation into the same courier bag :)

      #Update: Interesting (if one-eyed) article comparing the iPhone to the EVO http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/29/htc-evo-4g/

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