Here’s what has been happening with Google and Android, along with my witty commentary.
Google IO 2011
Google IO 2011, Google’s annual developer’s conference, was held in San Fransisco on May 9 and 10. As usual, there were lots of announcements about the future of Android.
Android Honeycomb 3.1
3.1 is an incremental update to their tablet OS adding:
- USB Host capabilities, allowing USB devices such as mice, keyboards, and game controllers to attach to a Honeycomb tablet.
- Minor UI tweaks.
- Better overall performance
3.1 will be rolling out to Xoom tablets within a few weeks.
My Take: 3.1 seems like it addresses some issues with 3.0 but I think there are usability issues that need to be worked out.
The ability to add use devices through USB is interesting as it helps bring Honeycomb to mainstream computing as opposed to being just a tablet OS. A Honeycomb laptop is is more feasible (don’t tell the Chromebook guys though!)
Android “Ice Cream Sandwich”
Google announced the next major version of Android, called “Ice Cream Sandwich.” This release is a merging of smartphone and tablet OSes. Not too many details were given. Apps for Ice Cream Sandwich should be able to run on tablets and smartphones. The OS should run on existing hardware (so feel free to buy a smartphone or tablet today knowing you will be able to update). Ice Cream Sandwich is planned to ship this fall.
My Take: The interesting thing here is how Google will help developers build one app that runs on tablets and smartphones. Fragmentation is still a huge problem for Android developers.
Also, what are the implications for the UI for smartphones? The Honeycomb UI is clunky on a tablet. How will it fare on a small screen?
There have been many rumors circulating about Amazon’s plans for an Android tablet.
DigiTimes claims that that Amazon has placed orders for its Android tablet with an initial run of 800,000 units. The tablets are to be available ‘this summer’. No word on specs of the device. Also see here.
AndroidAndMe is claiming Amazon will release a family of devices including a smartphone and different sized tablets.
My Take: If Amazon wants a tablet to ship for back to school and the holidays, it would make sense to get production geared up soon. I’m anxious to see the device specs and marketing campaign. Amazon has experience building an selling Kindles which should help out greatly.
As I’ve said before that Amazon is in a great place to compete with Apple, which the tablet market really needs to stay healthy.
Tethering apps removed from Android MarketPlace
Google has removed several applications from the Android Marketplace which lets Android phones act as wifi hotspots without requiring carrier charges. Although Android 2.2 has wifi hotspot, enabling it requires paying a tethering fee (usually $20 per month) to the carrier. At the carriers request, Google has removed such programs from the Marketplace. You can still get them and side load them, just not from the Android Marketplace.
This has raised concerns about the MarketPlace not being open, and worries about other limitations Google may add later on. See here.
My Take: While disappointing, this shouldn’t be too surprising. Carriers want to charge for tethering (which I happen think is bogus but it is their network) so they want to shut down users ability to tether by other methods. That Google caved also shouldn’t be too surprising since Google needs carrier support to keep Android’s huge numbers. Google makes money when people use Android so it is in their interest to keep carriers happy.
AT&T is allowing sideloading of Android apps.
Since AT&T has been shipping Android phones, it has been disabling the ability to “sideload” applications, that is to load applications without using the Android Marketplace. Android fans hate that AT&T removed this because it prevents them from using various utilities, including the Amazon AppStore. Well, no more it seems. TechCrunch is reporting that the new Samsung Infuse 4G does has the “unknown sources” setting available.
My Take: Since AT&T is no longer the exclusive carrier of iPhone they have to be competitive in the Android space too and this means offering features other carriers are offering.