Recently, Google announced Android 2.2, the next version of their Linux-based mobile operating system targeted at phones and PDAs, at Google I/O 2010. Developers praised the update, calling it and its features a “welcome addition” to the platform.
But stepping back from all of the commotion, what exactly is Google offering with this update? What are these new features and who will benefit from them? There are plenty of questions about Android 2.2—and here are the answers.
Probably the most important update for Android for its end-users is HTML5. This changes very little about the platform itself, but it shows that Google is investing in the technology. It also means that users will have a seamless Web experience.
These two things are important for the future success of Android as a viable mobile platform, though Google's implementation might prove problematic.
On live devices, users will have to install Android 2.2 in its entirety to gain HTML5 support. An entire operating system upgrade for a browser? Get real and update the browser on its own—don't make your users go through the trouble of updating and installing a fundamental update just for some HTML5 support, Google. If this is how you run your phone operating system, I'd hate to see what you expect of Chrome OS users.
And there's also the fact that HTML5 is not novel. Every other industry player has already been including HTML5 support; Apple has long been a proponent of this, including HTML5 support in the developmental Webkit as well Safari since 2007. You're welcome to the party, Google, but don't announce it like you're the one throwing it. You can make catchup, but it's still catchup.
Oh, Flash. Google and Adobe are performing a very calculated industry sixty-nine because both Apple and Google want the mobile-cum-portable market and Adobe wants the video portion of both.
Apple is pushing the open HTML5 standard; Adobe is pissed at Apple. Google, with the old “the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” tactic, sees an opportunity and hooks up with Adobe. Sadly, revenge sex only seems clever at first.
The reality is that HTML5, being open and supported by hundreds of companies and standard bodies, will win in the end. Google and Adobe will look like assholes having lapped at such a bloated, poorly-coded, closed video platform that everyone else will zoom past using their browsers sans crashy plugin.
Who wins in the end? The entire industry, sharing in the HTML5 platform, and users, whose browsers don't crash or chew up excess cycles and memory. Sadly, though, not Android users, who are unwitting Adobe consumers.
Hotspotting et al
Android will also support “hotspotting,” or wifi sharing funneled into its 3G or 4G network, of up to eight other devices. I'm not sure if you've done any serious work on 3G yet, but it's slow.
The prospect of using one 3G account to support other Internet-hungry devices is like expecting a pygmy to carry weightlifters: backbreaking at best and otherwise impossible.
Second, Internet sharing has long been a feature of Mac OS X, which iPhone OS is built upon. This is not a new feature in neither the desktop or mobile segments. Google touting hotspotting as something new and exciting is sneaky: it's new and exciting for Android users, parched for technological conformity, but not more generally to the rest of the world.
Shame on you, Google.
I could go on, but let's staunch the flow of catchup here. The rest of Google's laundry list is the same.
The problem is that they're not really “features,” per se, as iPhone OS, Symbian, Blackberry OS, and the various incarnations of mobile Windows have had most, if not all, of the Android 2.2 “features” for years. Android 2.2 is nothing more than Google playing catchup with the rest of the industry.
Automatic updates, auto-fill search, searching file content, SD card support, and an app store—the “Desktop Android Marketplace”—are all old news, and when one looks at the track record of Google announcements and the actual Android platform itself, it becomes clear that Google came way too late to the game.
It's as if Google is on some bizarre quest to emulate Apple at every point possible, and Android is its iPhone-alike, save for all of the features it does and will lack as it struggles to keep up.
Basically, Google is still coding its way to parity with WinCE and iPhone OS. Each and every update, press release, and conference talk is them announcing this. The buzz surrounding it is empty and hollow, most of which comes from the GNU/Linux crowd which views Android as its mobile Open Source savior.
To real developers and users not attached to Google's teats, Android is a novel mixture of GNU/Linux and Java technologies; an interesting if anemic path to the same destination as the rest of the mobile industry.
But it's still a long way from there, and those things do not make it worth coding for or buying. So who is Android valuable to? To whom will Android 2.2 make a single bit of difference?
Quite frankly, Android is valuable to no one—until Google is done playing catchup.