Android: The Next Month, The Next Year, The Next Five Years
Android Pie is being served. Android Q is being cued. And yet the internet is abuzz with rumors about Google ditching the world’s most popular OS and replacing it with something new entirely. Intrigued? Read on…
What lies ahead for Android?
It’s an important question for developers, given that two billion people now use phones powered by the OS. And that users downloaded more than 94 billion apps from Google Play in 2017 alone.
The future of Android matters, so we thought we’d try to answer the question by pondering what might happen in the short, medium and long-term.
The short-term: Android Pie
As you should know, Pie is the latest version of the OS. It’s quite a major update, which includes multiple AI-powered features designed to make the phone more intuitive.
The centerpiece of this is App Slices, which lets users access specific actions inside an app when they have not even opened it. Then there are App Actions, which uses AI to predict the next app-based activity a user wants to take based on other behaviors.
The other major feature of Pie is Digital Wellbeing. This is Google’s reaction to the growing fear that people are getting addicted to their phones. Wellbeing lets people monitor usage and set restrictions.
Pie launched officially on August 6th, but only to owners of (predictably) Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL.
But what about everyone else?
Well, Google is working on this. Anyone in the Android ‘community’ knows that updates are slow to extend to the OEMs, and even slower to reach end users.
That’s why Google unveiled Project Treble in May 2017. This was an initiative to speed up the sharing of updates with phone makers. Previously, Google updated chip makers first. OEMs would follow later, and they would have to make additional tweaks if the device was tailored for an operator.
This made everything very slow.
Project Treble introduced a new interface for device makers. It means they don’t have to wait for the silicon specialists anymore.
Which is a long-winded way of saying Android Pie will hit other phones soon. Owners of the following should be able to download it by the end of November:
Sony Xperia XZ2
Nokia 7 Plus
Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
Oppo R15 Pro
There’s a good overview of the rollout here: https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/android-pie-9-phones-3535543
The medium-term: Android Q
Is there any more neophiliac market than smartphones? Android P is barely here, but already the search is on for clues about Q.
The XDA-Developers site has been leading the charge. It has published leaks about minor features, but the biggest news is that Q will display a warning when a user tries to launch an app in Android Q that runs Android Lollipop or lower.
This is part of Google’s strategy to get users and developers to stop running old versions. Indeed, last December, Google mandated that all apps submitted to Google Play must target API level 26 or higher (that means at least Android 8.0 or newer). This went into effect for new apps uploaded from August 1st and will be introduced for app updates from November 1st, 2018.
The long-term: Fuchsia?
After ten years, it’s fair to say that Android has won. Yes, there’s iOS, but Android has a far higher share of the smartphone market.
And it’s also in millions of other devices too: watches, TVs, wearables; maybe even cars. So, Android is not just up against Apple, it’s competing with Windows et al. And it’s winning there too!
However, this success is not all good news for Google. After all, if Android started out as a smartphone OS, can it really power the future of next-gen connected devices?
Unsurprisingly, Google has been thinking about this for years. Not least because Google’s ultimate goal is to use machine learning to power a cloud platform that any device can hook into.
So, it has to address three fundamental issues:
1. How to make an OS that works on every device type.
2. How to support new interfaces that future devices will use (voice, gesture etc.).
3. How to speed up updates.
4. How to make devices more secure.
It won’t be easy. After all, this requires more than developing a better way to run existing apps on a watch, for example. In a world of smart speakers and mixed reality eyewear, it’s about deciding what an app actually is.
To be fair to Google, it’s already innovating, it’s done a lot to blur the boundaries between web and app. It has Android Instant Apps for example, which let Android apps run without full installation.
But there’s no doubt the long-term requires something more dramatic.
Most of the speculation around Google’s next move centers on a new OS called Fuchsia. There have been stories about Fuchsia for two years, but the narrative got a big boost in July courtesy of Bloomberg.
It quoted insiders who said Google has 100 people working on the project. The article argued that Google wants to embed Fuchsia in connected home devices in three years and to make it replace Android within five years.
Bloomberg also stated that Fuchsia would not be based on the aging Linux kernel that powers Android and Chrome OS. Instead, it will use a kernel called Zircon. This will be a valuable ‘clean slate’ for the company.
But it will be a huge disruption for the vast ecosystem of companies that depend on Android: chip makers, OEMs, network operators etc. Bringing them over to any new OS would be Google’s biggest challenge of all!