Android moves to life OS

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If you read the Telegraph online last Wednesday 25th or the Financial Times on Thursday 26th June,   you would have seen some great coverage about Google’s developer conference with Android’s move to become a life OS. There was also coverage about the corresponding rise of the Android economy in the UK. Like iOS and web development, software and services are now a major part of the creative economy.

Google announced developments to move Android to being a ‘life’ OS rather than just a mobile OS.

Android expanded to a true life OS across numerous hardware platforms:

  • Run wearable devices
  • Run applications within Google’s lightweight desktop OS chrome
  • Be a games console platform
  • In-car entertainment
  • Take another run at the smart TV market
  • Lowering the price-point of smartphones even further with AndroidOne

All of which presents a range of interesting choices for the UK’s Android platform developers.

What does this mean for app-enabled brands?

Google has created more choice and there will be the inevitable surge of experimentation to figure out what works.

The expansion of Android presents a more challenging time for marketers. There will be more platforms to develop for; since iOS cannot be ignored as a platform. There will be a corresponding complexity in the development of Android applications:

  • Increased application testing time
  • Increased application development
  • Increased application maintenance time to cater for new devices and firmware updates
  • Increased requirement for application marketing support to encourage app downloads and usage across platforms
  • Increased budgets will be required to support new platforms where consumers will start to expect to find brands they use

There will be a corresponding increase in new risks that these applications bring which will require careful communications planning and preparation:

  • Software rendering hardware useless – ‘bricking’
  • New versions of applications no longer supporting older versions of Android / Android devices – particularly as different manufacturers update their hardware at different rates. Some cheap smartphones may not have any upgrade path. Now imagine this on televisions or car dashboards…
  • Hacking attacks | cybercrime
  • The withdrawal of a well-loved app
  • The poor reception of a newly-designed application

Who will lose out?

The most obvious casualty of this move is not Apple or Microsoft but the Java language that Android’s application language is very similar to. Java was touted in the mid-1990s as a write-once, run-anywhere development language and pops up in surprising places. A variant of Java ran most of the pre-iOS smartphone games. It provided a development environment for early web applications including those used in the enterprise. Java had developed a strong footprint in consumer electronics that Android is now looking to usurp.

Microsoft would be more threatened by Google’s integration of its internet services into Android. Gmail has become a development platform in its own right and Google is providing enterprise users with unlimited storage for $10 a month. Whilst Microsoft has failed to build a serious mobile platform, its web services business has been growing rapidly to challenge Amazon. Every part of that business, from Azure cloud computing to hosted Exchange server functions, is threatened by Google’s recent announcements. Neither Microsoft nor Sony will be particularly worried by Google’s plans for an Android-powered games console, at least for now.

Companies in the wearables sector are likely to face rapid commoditisation in hardware as Android makes it easier to design wearable hardware. The challenge will be if they can differentiate on superior industrial design and maintain a premium price, or move into providing web services that support compatible devices – a direction where Nike seems to be moving with its Nike+ Fuel Lab.

The closer integration of Samsung and Google’s development efforts including the integration of KNOX, puts other Android handset manufacturers like LG, Sony and HTC at a further disadvantage.

The integration of KNOX will also affect the core enterprise business of BlackBerry, providing yet another reason for not purchasing BlackBerry devices or server software.

Who will benefit from this life OS?

With such a wide range of devices that Android could develop for, software testing will become an even more daunting prospect than it is already when developing for Android smartphones and tablets. The question is whether the current range of testing tools will cover this new product set adequately or if there is an opportunity, particularly in the enterprise environment for new players?

Designers are going to be tremendously important, as new versions of the Android software and new use cases pose a number of user experience challenges:

  • Redesigning current apps to match the new flat design of Android
  • Understanding user behaviour and designing compelling smart TV applications
  • Understanding in-car entertainment and designing intuitive, unobtrusive in-car experiences
  • Understanding wearable use cases and designing device experiences that consumers don’t want to put down

A wider range of Android devices will mean a greater potential market opportunity for ARM-powered chips where they may be going into embedded systems previously powered by lower power X86 processors, PowerPC or MIPS RISC processors.

Google is a technology company that makes most of its money from customer data and selling advertising space. The expansion of the Android ecosystem will present more advertising formats, inventory and more contextual data. This will be a boon for media buying agencies and potentially for the platforms that support programmatic advertising like DataXu, as the data will help support targeting in real-time bidding. More wireless related posts here.

More information

‘Powerhouse’ UK leads Europe app development, says research | FT (paywall)
Android TV hands-on: Google makes a new play for the living room | The Verge
Google announces Drive for Work with unlimited storage at $10 a month | The Verge
Google Opens Gmail, Making It More of a Platform for Developers | WSJ
Google previews Android apps running on Chromebooks | TNW
Razer’s making a gaming ‘micro-console’ with Android TV, available this fall | Engadget
Google Introduces Android TV, Its New Platform For Smart TV Apps And Navigation | TechCrunch
Google Unveils Ambitious Android Expansion at Conference | New York Times
Nike+ Developer Portal