Up until this week, Google’s Android strategy was a bit of a mess. An attractive mess with millions upon millions of users, but a sticky situation nonetheless.
Google I/O 2014 changed all that, from top to bottom, and now Google is poised for global success through and through.
First, let’s cover the big reveal that I didn’t cover in the immediate wrap-up a few days ago: Android One. Starting with India, Google now has a definitive strategy for emerging and/or poorer markets in place. India is not a country where flagship and mid-range devices are the norm; entry-level hardware is the golden goose for its millions of smartphone-craving citizens. With Android One, Google will work directly with a handful of hardware manufacturers to keep such entry-level hardware in the pipeline year after year, and it will also help subsidize data costs with India’s telecom giants.
Google has always been successful in established markets like North America and Europe, but it never had a definitive strategy for emerging markets. Android One changes all that, and now Google is poised to beat Apple in markets most recently dominated by Nokia feature phones. Once India is rolling in the Androids, Google will expand, presumably to South America, Africa, and other parts of Asia.
But what about those established markets? What does Google have in store for us?
A march towards that same Continuous Client goal that Apple shot for during its WWDC keynote a few weeks ago.
This is where global domination really comes into focus. Google wants Android on your phone, your tablet, your wrist, your TV, and in your car, and it has outlined exactly how that’s going to happen.
The tablet and phone components are already in place, thanks in large part to Samsung (and lest we forget LG and HTC). But the smartwatch game is new territory, previously occupied by largely unattractive offerings from Samsung and Sony. Pebble is the strongest competitor here, from a design perspective, but it lacks the deep tie-ins that Android Wear will bring to Android phone users. Samsung and LG are selling Android Wear watches right now, and Motorola will bring its darling to market by the end of the Summer. Voice commands, and true integration with your calendar, etc. make Android Wear a powerhouse before it’s even widely adopted.
Android Auto and Android TV round out the all-fronts offensive, with the former pointed at your car’s dashboard, and the latter coming baked into new TVs, or installed on small, Apple TV-esque boxes. The car is an easy target — I mean really, when was the last time you were truly impressed by the tech in a car (Tesla aside)? The TV is a tougher nut to crack, as proven by the not-very-successful Google TV initiative. That aside, Google’s part-TV integration, part-set top box strategy is the smart way to gain market share.
Buying a new TV? Get one with Android TV inside. Or do you already have a great TV, bought circa 2011-2012? Spend $100 on an Android TV box that plays nice with your phone.
More important than any individual piece is how they all come together, forming a Google Voltron of sorts. Android L is designed to shift data, apps… your digital conscious seamlessly from one screen to another, to another. And that says nothing about the UI, and under-the-hood improvements coming with it. Your watch, when on your wrist, tells your phone that you, are you. No need to enter your password. And the same goes for tablets, or your Chromebook (this is an option that can be nixed, for the more security minded, of course). Fluidly moving from one device to another, and having apps that do the same, is the future.
But it’s a future with two crucial flaws, one of which is shared with Apple. Like I said after WWDC, this continuous client future before us involves you having all of your devices on the same platform. Android Everything, I’m afraid. I do think it’s an easier pill for a potential Android user to swallow when compared to Apple’s vision, simply because there’s so much hardware to choose from. With Apple, it’s the iPhone or bust, and so on. And while the iPhone is a terrific piece of hardware, it’s always a bummer when you’re limited to one option. Choice used to be Android’s Achilles Heel, but with platform maturity, and Google putting pressure on hardware makers, that curse is now an immense blessing.
The other chink in the armor is Google’s lack of desktop presence. Chromebook offerings are strong, yes, but not nearly as strong as the PC, or Apple’s laptop and iMac selections. I have three Android devices, yet I am writing this opinion on a laptop PC. I am not yet sold on Chrome as an OS, or the Chromebook selection. So while Google has my phone, my tablet, my Nvidia Shield, and — soon — my wrist, they have a long way to go before they occupy the laptop compartment in my messenger bag.
The Verge put it better than I possibly could earlier this week: iOS and Android are the continuous client religions, and the time to decide between the two is coming, and coming fast.