Ghost of Android Present and Future

A few days before the October 4th event, Hiroshi Lockhiemer tweeted “We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016”. The event came and went, and many went on to say that Hiroshi’s tweet was just that of an exec trying to drum up hype. This could have been true, but Hiroshi may not have been talking strictly about the products that we saw on October 4th.

This event has kickstarted Googles biggest ever push into hardware. Googles previous hardware always seemed disjointed and almost as if they each came from entirely different companies. The family of products that was unveiled recently is the exact opposite. They are cohesive, share very similar design traits, and are all branded with that small “G” somewhere on their exterior. This is definitely due to former Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh heading Googles new hardware division. Google wants everyone to know that these are their products and the “Made by Google” advertising campaign is a strong push unlike most seen from the company.

This sudden shift in focus may be due to the state the Android ecosystem is in. LG has delivered middling products plagued by terrible software. Motorola is starting to look like a shell of its former self with multiple exoduses of pre-Lenovo employees. And with exploding Notes, Samsung can no longer strong arm Google into staying away from the mobile space. Obviously Google could not have foreseen Samsung’s increasingly tarnished brand, but this does nothing but help their new initiative. As high end Android manufactures fall behind, Apple stands as Googles only true competitor. Compared to the iPhone, the Pixel almost holds its own. However, waterproofing is becoming an increasingly important spec sheet item and to see this missing from the Pixels is definitely a letdown. It is hard to imagine that the next iteration of these phones will skip this feature again, and these next phones could come saddled with the most important product in Googles history.

Google is currently testing a new operating system that essentially blends the best parts of Chrome OS and Android into one new operating system. Internally, this project is being referred to as Andromeda. With Android, fragmentation, slow updates, and an overall lack of control are big problems. Google can fix all of this when introducing Andromeda, and you can already see them moving in this direction with the latest software platforms coming from them. Both Android Wear and Android TV are very tightly controlled by Google, and manufacturers are left almost no room to muddle with the software, which is also hand delivered by Google when update time comes around. The only way OEMs can differentiate their products is through hardware which makes for a more well rounded product landscape. It is very easy to see how Google can take this approach with a new operating system, especially one that is designed to be run on literally all forms of devices. From IOT devices to full desktop computers, there is a lot of room for things to go wrong. Google has definitely learned from their time with Android, and they have matured to a state where they can implement these forms of constrictions onto their partners. This new operating system however, won’t come simply. Andromeda is rumored to be in testing on a Nexus 9, and it is also being rumored to not even support this tablet at launch. This is very telling of how Google expects to support existing devices. Maybe Google wants a clean slate of devices, and maybe they will support anything with the Pixel moniker, but it is not wrong to feel a bit weary about getting a device now when a better operating system will be out next year that may not support the phone you just bought.

Google has laid the ground work for its new hardware category, and it seems like a solid foundation, but maybe its worth only looking at the other four products announced this year. There is just enough information out there, compounded with the lack of waterproofing that may dissuade people from buying the current phone. However, if you do have the money to spend, and you are in the market, the Pixel seems to be a very good option. With Google able to build the hardware at the same time and place as the software, the Pixel can be optimized to the point no Android phone has been able to achieve. The time was ripe for Google to step into mobile hardware, but it may still be too early for consumers to fall in with them.

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