How Android can stay relevant
Earlier this week, the one rumor that many knew would eventually come true came true. Verizon Wireless will be offering the iPhone 4 next month, and probably a new iPhone will come out in June (like one does every year). The new device will sport a new OS and possibly new hardware to make it cross-platform. There's even talk of the home button disappearing.
However, this isn't an article about Apple or the iPhone, but about Android. Despite that it was the hit of CES 2011 with all those new devices with many clamoring for the upcoming Honeycomb edition (designed with tablets in mind), the usual skeptics (mainly Apple fanboys) are buzzing about the fate of Android.
Many believe that the OS will take a big drop in market share under the assumption that most of their customer base "settled" on an Android device out of dislike for AT&T. They feel most of the Verizon Android users will jump ship and buy an iPhone. I don't know if I fully buy that. I do believe we will see Android users jump to iPhone because they simply wanted an iPhone all along (just not on AT&T), but from my own readings and research, the Android customer base is about as "fanboy" about their devices as Apple fanboys are about theirs.
So let's for a moment believe that we would see a majority of Verizon Android users instantly jump on the iPhone bandwagon. What should Android do? Here are a few suggestions I've come up with based on my own limited experiences:
Better highlight the advantages
If anything, Google should be running its own ad campaign for Android. You ever see an AT&T commercial for the iPhone? I don't. I see plenty of ads telling of AT&T's fast 3G network and even advertisements for other phones, but all the ads I've seen for iPhones are from Apple. Google needs to do the same. Every ad I've seen for Android is more or less a quick look at the device and a focus on the carrier. I still don't know a lot about the apps you can get from Android and all the cool stuff their devices can do. Show some ads even focusing on apps. That's what won me over to iPhone in the first place.
I even think Android should also focus on how they support Adobe Flash and do not censor publications the way Apple does. Even show developers how there isn't as much obstacle to putting an app in the Android Marketplace. You need to show the end user what they're getting into. Everyone claims to have a fast network or other perks for the customers. Everyone is saying their device is the best. You can't sell Android unless you market Android, and Google needs to get that.
Make sure users can do almost anything that iPhone users can
This one is really aimed at the factor of screen shots. However, I'm sure if I played more with an Android phone, I'd find many more missing functions that I know I can do on my iPhone. Screen shots are a big one for me when I need to illustrate something. Every time there is a feature of iOS that Android can't deliver on, then it makes people wonder why they would get Android. I'm not saying an Android device must do everything an iPhone or iPad can do, but keep an eye out for the major complaints, and remedy them.
Focus on the users that Apple won't
There has been a lot of back and forth on this one, but I still believe iOS isn't meant for businesspeople, as I see many of them still holding on to those Blackberries. I know I wish I could more easily attach a file to an email, and even be able to get files in and out of the device that aren't photos. I especially know how many users want these devices to support USB.
If Apple is cornering the market on more affluent hipsters and trendy folk, then see who else wants that smartphone power with the bells and whistles they get from their business machines. This goes for both smartphones and tablets. Even the smart TVs that are coming out. Develop business applications and imagine big companies buying them for presentations, conferencing, etc. There's a bigger world out there beyond those watching YouTube videos.
Get a handle on the versioning of the OS
This is probably my biggest ordeal with Android, and I've only read about it rather than experienced it. The one problem with being a customizable, open-source operating system is that everyone will want to customize it to his or her own needs. Practically every carrier and many of the device makers all want to customize Android to have their branding, their special apps, etc.
The problem is that users might not see an OS update for way longer than needed. So when the Froyo version (2.2) came out, it took a while for people to actually see the OS available for their phone on their carrier. Some users are still stuck in 1.6, waiting for an update. That's like having Windows 98 on your machine, and the manufacturer won't let you update until they send you their special version of it. Meanwhile everyone else is on Windows 7.
One thing Apple did do right with the iPhone and iPad is that they didn't allow AT&T (and I'm sure Verizon isn't allowed either) to customize their OS or anything for their own needs. They can make apps, but that's it. I sometimes think Google should go the same route to a degree, or work more closely to help these carriers get updates out sooner. I've also heard many of these customizations have also ruined the performance of Android. Many were happy about the Nexus S even because it contained a clean, pure install of Android. I know that even in my choice of a tablet, I'm picking one that isn't tied to a cell phone carrier and thus will allow me to update from Google themselves.
I still think there's a lot of promise for Android, but too many bugs to work out on levels not even having to do with the initial programming. I know I believe in it enough to get back into Java programming and learn how to make applications for Android. However, if these issues aren't really resolved in some manner soon, we can expect to see Google's worst nightmare as they lose market share to Apple.
Any of you Android users and/or developers have more suggestions?