Despite basking in the glory of its latest iPad release, is it possible the iconic brand is just keeping the home fires burning long enough to make Google cosy in the top chair?
Google’s meteoric rise in the smartphone and tablet market has been cleverly achieved. While Apple has thrown in money, R&D and whatever else into developing software and hardware, Google has managed to do a “Microsoft”, got everyone talking about Android, yet without having to do the same huge amounts of hardware research and design themselves.
Android is quickly becoming the “Windows” of the portable world but with some differences. Android is open-source – well, at least more so than Windows is. Android is also coming out with new versions with far greater regularity than Microsoft ever did.
While there were five years between Microsoft’s Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems, we’ve been lucky if there’s been more than five months between Android releases.
In some ways, this is a clever move, because one of the very first questions anyone asks regarding any Android smartphone or tablet device is “what version of Android does it run?”. Knowing it runs Android is no longer enough. With the gains having been made since Android 2.0, consumers are beginning to understand that getting caught with an older operating system, particular if the phone vendor is slow at updating, means missing out on new features and new capabilities.
It’s this fact that has seen the boom in underground ROMs for phones such as the Galaxy S and the HTC Desire.
Huge performance gains in Android 2.2 and the coming increase in addressable screen resolution from Android 3.0 will ensure that these become must-have extras, almost more so than the hardware features within the phone or tablet itself.
Right now, there are phones on the market offering Android 1.6, 2.1, 2.2 and soon 2.3 and 3.0. However, the rapid advancement by Google is providing headaches for phone vendors. Unlike vendors who make Windows 7 phones, the lifespan of an Android phone is relatively short. And then you have this rabid user base all clamouring for a release date of the next Android OS release.
Certainly, Android is providing phone makers with a very low cost operating system that is outselling all comings, but there are growing costs at the back end as consumers understand more about the operating system, where it comes from and how often Google updates are coming.
Rapid development is not a bad thing – it means bugs get sorted sooner, and new features can actually make somewhat-average hardware perform more like class-winning hardware.
However, it’s upon the phone/tablet makers to provide regular operating system updates. Otherwise it will become a simple case of consumers migrating to those hardware makers who do regularly offer updates for pre-sold hardware such as HTC. But from a phone maker’s viewpoint, they might be getting the operating system dirt-cheap, but they pay in having to provide consumers with regular updates just to stay in the game.
And as we’ve seen from just the jump from Android 2.1 to 2.2, some of the gains Google has been able to release have been stunning.
Phone makers are happily jumping board the Android Express, but they’ll know by now that it’s a hell of a ride.