As we approach the end of 2015, we’ve looked back at some of our highlights for the year. We’ve also – sometimes privately, sometimes together – been discussing what lies ahead for Android, and we’re not the only source of Android news to be going down this thought path as well; Android is reaching an interesting time in its development, and there are some key questions ahead to determine how and how well it will innovate and develop next year.
Some things are obvious, and to discuss them at length is almost trite. The Android experience on tablets is questionable, and Phil has spoken a bit about this in the last couple of days. However, I think the solution is a lot simpler; there are Android tablets that don’t need much of a change, if any, and these are the smaller tablets — the Nexus 7 for example is the perfect media consumption device, and the lack of too many Android apps with native tablet support really doesn’t matter on a 7″ tablet; chuck it in portrait orientation, and phone-optimised apps will work just fine.
It’s on larger tablets where there’s a lot of room for improvement. The Pixel C is Google’s showcase tablet device at the moment, and while the hardware is beautiful, even breathtaking, the software experience doesn’t match. It’s not that Android on tablets is bad, it just seems to be a bit of an afterthought, and if it is so for Android proper, it’s even moreso for application developers, where so many of the most wildly popular apps (Instagram is a great example) are incredibly powerful apps on phones, but on tablets, they just suck.
Android tablets need a couple of quick fixes to make them a true force in 2016; a multi-window solution to increase multitasking, especially on larger screened devices, or those with keyboard mounts, such as the Pixel C. They also need native ways to deal with apps that refuse to use the correct orientation, to bring phone-optimised apps into the tablet space without necessarily requiring a rewrite. There also needs to be more around content discovery for tablets, so the well-designed apps can be more easily surfaced by end users.
Improvements for phones
On phones, I would suggest, there is a lot less that needs to be done, but a few things that could be done. Very early in 2016, if it hasn’t happened by then, we need to see the major manufacturers getting Android 6.0 Marshmallow out for their 2015 flagships. While mobiles are very much a twelve month proposition in industry at the moment, we need to remember that many users don’t upgrade their phones that often, and an O/S update for existing users — some of whom having shelled out over $1,000 for a great phone — is as good as an upgrade, and something that really needs to happen ASAP. The good news, of course, is that the majors are working on exactly this; LG are basically ready, Samsung aren’t far behind, Sony are definitely working on it, and HTC seem to have an update ready for release in the next couple of weeks.
We also need to see the major manufacturers get their act together with releases. Traditionally (and I use that term loosely, referring only to the last few years) the major phone releases happen at two major events each year: Mobile World Congress in February, and IFA in September. Samsung and HTC tend to align with MWC, with Sony and Samsung making releases around IFA. LG have — in years past — danced to their own beat, and while the G4 launch this year was well executed, there’s little doubt in my mind that launching a bit later — in April — allowed Samsung and the Galaxy S6 to develop a real stronghold in the market before the G4 became available.
There’s little doubt that LG will try the G5 in 2016, and I for one am absolutely beside myself waiting to see what they do. What’s perhaps more key than what they release is when they release it; ideally, we’d like to see something from them a bit earlier around or just after MWC, in time for a local launch either alongside, or very close to, whatever Samsung and HTC are working on. Getting that foothold in the market a bit earlier is very important.
Beyond these things, we’d like to see manufacturers focus on the key elements of a phone, and getting those right. We’ve seen so many handsets that have a killer feature only to be let down in other areas. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 was a stellar phone let down by a fairly mediocre battery performance. HTC’s One M9 was a design masterpiece, but let down but relatively less innovation in other areas. LG’s G4 was a ripper, but hurt in sales by being a bit late to market. Sony’s Xperia Z5 range nailed the camera, but battery life was a real fall from grace compared to the Xperia Z3 from twelve months prior.
If manufacturers can get battery life, software updates and quality camera performance together, we’ll see some amazing releases in 2016.
Elsewhere in Android
This is where things get a bit more speculative; I’d like to see more integration of Chrome OS into Android, with desktop-style Chrome experience brought to Android (especially tablets). We want plugins and extensions, and we want tablets to become truly viable productivity options.
I think we’d like to see Chromecast’s 2015 range come to Australia too — Chromecast Audio is really cool, and that you can’t buy it here is kind of disappointing.
Android TV needs to grow and develop. I love my Sony TV with Android TV on board, but there need to be more of these made and sold. The last thing we want to see is this platform stagnate because there’s no one making quality TVs that John Everyman can afford, use and enjoy.
App developers need to be encouraged and supported to make apps that will be beautiful on phones as well as tablets (see my tablet thoughts above). Without the engagement from these key stakeholders, Android on tablets is a folly soon to end in tears. We have some great examples of how tablet apps can be amazing; Microsoft’s port of its office suite to Android is a shining example of what can be done here. We need to see others embracing this too.
Google Cardboard is cool, and we’re starting to see hints and movements towards a more mainstream adoption of this cool technology. We need developers to continue their innovative work to make consumer VR a viable concern; at the moment it remains just a bit too niche, without a real killer app to drive it. Mattel’s ViewMaster goes a long way towards this, but it isn’t the end of the journey.
Wearables. 2015 was the year of wearables, and I predicted as much midway through 2014, and it seems that many in industry agreed and made it happen. We need to see continued innovation not just in the products brought to market, but also in the software released to drive them. Samsung is experimenting with Tizen powered watches, and they work rather well, and there’s things that Android Wear can learn from Tizen (and vice versa). New and unique means of interacting with watches — such as Project Soli — will be absolutely amazing if they can be brought to market.
These are my thoughts on what will or should happen next year, but they’re just mine. What are your thoughts? Do you think I’ve got something wrong, or missed something out? Let me know!