What we might see happen in the Android space over the next twelve months.
2013 was a busy year for the Android ecosystem: phones got bigger, faster, and more robust. Tablets grew numerous, and Android moved into electronics like smart watches and a gaming device. Looking ahead to next year we should expect the same trends to continue, but on a slightly different trajectory.
Android will likely have a decent showing at the Consumer Electronics Show with announcements from a handful of hardware makers. Jumping ahead to February and Mobile World Congress (MWC), things should start to heat up for the next generation of Android. While this may sound like business as usual, 2014 will undoubtedly bring a crop of smartphones unlike any before.
Let's examine some of the trends we can expect in the Android ecosystem over the next 12 months.
One thing I definitely did not see coming in 2013 was the introduction of the Google Play Editiondevices. As of today, we have flagship devices from LG, Sony, Samsung, and HTC, each running the stock version of Android. Perhaps more importantly, these models are being updated quickly with the latest and greatest Android releases. The fanboy cries were heard this year and now top-tier devices can be bought without carrier influence.
The Nexus line of devices is just as strong today as it has ever been, and Google has something good going with the Play Store experience. It's the perfect way to channel customers, introduce new products, and keep them in their own ecosystem. We'll definitely get a new Nexus smartphone and tablet(s) this year but I fully expect to see more Google Play Edition products introduced. With a new generation of flagship devices set to be introduced in the first few months of the year, it makes sense that the stock Android models will arrive in the Play Store.
Getting back to the subject of Android updates, for a moment, we should hear less about "fragmentation" than ever before. As Android's releases have slowed and shifted to incremental updates, the experience should not be so different across the spectrum. Despite what the naysayers would have you believe, the average casual user won't really be able to discern the difference between Android 4.1 and Android 4.4 in terms of radical new features. Heavy users and those plugged into the space will know, but they're already buying on the fringe.
This is not to suggest that 2014 will be the end of custom UI's, branded apps, or features. On the contrary, we'll get more of this in 2014 as companies elbow each other for position. Samsung will keep pushing its apps and services agenda while HTC marches on with things like BlinkFeed, Zoe, and UltraPixel cameras. I see a focus on quality over quantity this year; customization won't be quite as obvious out of the box.
It hasn't hurt that Google has pulled out parts of the general Android experience and made them available as standalone apps in the Google Play Store. If anything, this lets Google roll out updates in a much quicker fashion. We no longer have to wait for a new Android release to get the latest Gmail and YouTube features.
Motorola did the same with some of its Droid and Moto X apps this year and I expect we'll get more of that from other companies. Android is a much lighter experience today and doesn't require months of tweaking and testing to get with the times. I suspect that Motorola will have an easier time updating its Moto G and Moto X with new apps and Android releases than other handset makers. Don't be surprised, though, if HTC does something similar with its Sense experience in 2014.