The Android OS launched with tremendous fanfare late last year, but so far hasn’t lived up to the hype. With all the focus now on the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre, I suspect many think Google’s operating system is a dud, but I predict that by the end of this year no one will think that any more.
As I see it, Google followed its regular pattern; this company likes to release public betas of its products before putting the full versions out, and Android 1.0 was really a beta, no matter what its version number was. It and the T-Mobile G1 got this operating system into customer hands for real-world testing, and I don’t think they were really expected to do anything else. The fact that T-Mobile sold a million G1’s is amazing.
Android 1.5 made things better, but it’s Android 2.0 (code-named Donut) that’s shaping up to be the game-changer. It looks to me like this will be the first “full” version of this operating system — the one that is going to lure a wide variety of wireless carriers and phone manufacturers to this platform.
Details on 2.0 are sketchy, but early reports — some from Google’s own Andy Rubin — say the next version will have more of what consumers are looking for: better multimedia capabilities as well as tie-ins to social-networking sites, two areas where it’s currently very weak. Rubin has even talked about some features similar to Palm Synergy, with info pulled automatically off of Facebook being displayed in the address book or with emails.
And progress isn’t going to stop there: Google is already talking about two more versions after this next one — code-named Eclair and Flan.
What’s Coming Down the Pike
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said lots of companies are jumping on the Android bandwagon. Rubin says he expects 15 or 20 more devices running this operating system to be released by the end of this year. This should alleviate the main reason why some people think Android has flopped — very little selection of phones.
By all reports, T-Mobile is working hard to stay on top in the Android market. Obviously, there’s the myTouch 3G coming next month, but this company is also rumored to be prepping three other models for this fall, two from Samsung and one from Motorola.
And it’s hardly alone; all of the big four U.S. carriers are signing up. AT&T is reportedly going to release its first Android-powered model this quarter, a slider with a full keyboard designed by HTC. Verizon is allegedly going to launch a slider from Motorola running this OS by year’s end, and Sprint getting in the game too, with a Samsung model.
Other companies who have either announced they are working on models running Google operating system or are rumored to be doing so are Acer, Asus, Dell, Garmin, LG, Panasonic, Sony, and Sony Ericsson.
Clearly, those who have been holding off buying an Android smartphone because of poor selection will soon have a plethora of options. And a better operating system running on a wide variety of models will surely draw in even more third-party software development.
Smartphones but Not Netbooks
Google would like to see a variety of different types of devices running its mobile operating system, and until recently there were reports of quite a few Android-based netbooks in development. I strongly suspect that Google’s recent announcement of the Chrome OS will spell the end of these.
The Chrome OS was specifically created to run netbooks, while Android would required significant modifications to handle this — for example, as it stands now, it only supports HVGA screens.
While there may be a few experimental Android netbooks released, I don’t expect these to do well. Those looking for a Google alternative to Windows 7 will likely wait until Chrome OS-based models debut next year. I don’t see people buying a kludgy device when they know a better option is coming soon.