What Android Still Needs to Stay on Top

According to a recent Nielsen survey, Android is the most popular smartphone OS in the United States, above Apple’s iOS and RIM’s BlackBerry OS. In order to keep on top and not fall behind Apple, Android has some key items it needs to address and improve upon:

Apps and Developers
The Android Market is growing in size at a great rate, but still lacks specific apps. Companies still usually build an iOS app, and then depending on its success, expand it to the Android platform. Android needs reasons to have its platform be the number #1 place to begin. Most companies still think the iOS platform is bigger, better, more mainstream and is used by more users. Apple products also have a “cool” appeal in today’s culture. These facts are rapidly changing, but as they are, companies still do not understand this, and believe that Android is more difficult to develop for. This is not true. However, compared to Apple, developers are not given as much support and documentation. This scares newer and amateur developers away from the Android platform, and toward Apple’s platform, even with its higher cost.
To encourage developers to embrace the Android platform, Android needs to show developers that they are fully supported with more documentation and tools, and highlight the advantage of developing on the Android platform: no limits. Android should take advantage of Apple’s tightly restricted ecosystem where apps can only run in their specific environment . In Android, multi-tasking does not have to be putting each app into a standby mode, but actually running it in the background. In addition, Android developers have the entire genre of customization with launchers etc. that is unavailable to iOS devices that have not jailbroken. Android should take advantage of Apple’s faults.

Marketing
Android needs to update it’s marketing strategy, which is non-existent besides from carriers and handset makers, to clear public misconceptions and educate the public on the operating system. Most Android ads feature a handset rotating 360 degrees, or a laser-beam shooting out of it while a voice lists its specifications, or praise it has received. For marketing, Android, wireless carriers and handset (and tablet) makers should take a page out of Apple’s playbook. Apple has a large advantage because they make the software, and the hardware, and have no need to compare one iPhone to another. Apple’s ads only have to ensure that consumers choose Apple. On the other hand, handset makers, and carriers have to advocate for the network, and the brand, once users choose Android. However, these advertisements spend so much time talking about the specific phone’s specifications, which most consumers do not understand, that Android is left out. The best mention Android gets is “a phone with the Google Experience”. What does that even mean? Apple ads never talk about specifications, because there is really no option or choice, but detail the operating system, the apps, the experience editing a movie on the phone, the ease of making a call while on the internet (AT&T only) and sending videos to friends and family. The best mention of sending videos in an Android phone ad will be “send videos faster with the 1GHz processor Snapdragon processor at lightning speed”. Again, I emphasize that most consumers do not care if the processor is Snapdragon or Tegra, or 1GHz or 1.2 GHz. However, handset makers feel it is necessary to list these specifications, as it will differentiate the specific Android phone from another.
If Android is to successfully advertise, Google, the company who financially backs and owns the Android platform, should put some money into advertising the platform. So should networks and handset makers. Spend part of the ad going through the home screen, watching the widgets update with life information on facebook friends– these are all things that the iPhone cannot do, even with a jailbreak. In addition, use the Google name. Samsung, LG, Motorola, especially HTC, who came out of nowhere in 2008, are not powerful enough in the USA to be big trustworthy notable brand names. Google’s name has power, familiarity, and a powerful image, similar to Apple. More than 180 million people use Gmail, and Android advertisements never succeed in using the Google name to their advantage. A “Google Experience” does not mean much– highlight easier access to your Google services, and the freedom of the Android operating system.

Security
Security is a huge issue that an open mobile operating system like Android needs to address. At time of writing, reports of Malware on Android phones in China have come up, and if this trend continues without any intervention or prevention from Google, the entire Android platform will endure a huge setback. Apple’s iOS has a huge advantage in this field as it is a closed operating system , and will use it to pulverize Android and Google if security issues remain. iOS vs. Android ads will appear similar to Mac vs. PC, and Android will have a long road to a comeback. This is especially important if Android is to try to appeal to corporate IT. If corporate IT departments officially ban Android, expect sales to plummet.
To avoid a catastrophe, Android needs to sponsor some Android anti-virus app while improving security, be more active in finding and removing malicious apps, and maybe even close or limit some modes of accessing the device. This will cause ire from some users who switched from Apple to avoid censorship and have freedom from restraints, but it must be done for the sustainability of the entire operating system.

The Death of the Point and Shoot Camera: Right on Time

The death of the point and shoot camera is inversely proportional to the rise of the smartphone.  The death of the point and shoot isn’t tied as closely to the regular-old cameraphone. Why? Because the smartphone can instantly share pictures, edit them, post them on Facebook or Twitter. The pictures taken by a smartphone also have GPS metadata, rare in point and shoots.  A point and shoot has to be wired to a computer in order to transfer pictures. If Nikon or Canon were to make a camera with WiFi for seamless transfer and social media, add GPS, and a high quality display, not only would the price be outrageous, it would be similar to an iPod Touch, without an App Store, or any of the iOS software that makes an iPod Touch so much more than just a camera. Who would purchase such a device?

You may argue that the quality of a point and shoot is exponentially greater than a smartphones, however the baseline smartphone camera is increasing. If you use the iPhone as your benchmark, attacked by critics for its weak shots and lack of quality, you’ll see the iPhone and iPhone 3G with pitiful 2 MP cameras unable to shoot video (however 15fps low, low quality videos are possible via jailbreak) and the iPhone 3GS making negligible increases by using a 3MP camera that shoots VGA video. When the iPhone (original) was announced, the higher-end smartphones already sported 3MP cameras with VGA. Apple was already two years behind the curve. In 2007, the average point and shoot advertised between 8-10 MP. Today, the iPhone 4 has a 5MP camera, the minimum to show off the Retina display.

The iPhones are the baseline, but looking at Windows phones and Android, which surface every month, a better look at the advancement of the smartphone camera is possible. In October 2008, the HTC G1, the first Android phone, had a 3.2 MP camera. I would lose your interest detailing the cameras of every Android phone, but in March 2010, the HTC Droid Incredible was announced with a ridiculous 8MP camera.  I got a chance to demo this phone, and  the pictures look amazing. 8MP is enough to make a good looking 8×10, the maximum the average consumer would need- looks great on the screen, in a photo album, online and on a mousepad or calendar.  At the Mobile World Congress of 2011, 8MP was almost standard. Even the thinnest phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II had a 8MP camera.

Does this mean the smartphone has caught up with the point and shoot and if not beaten it out of the market? Not yet. Smartphone cameras still have some problems (color reproduction, splotches) which should iron out soon, but we aren’t far away. Point and shoots are now commonly at 12MP, which is more than most amateur photographers will need.

As smartphones become more and more powerful, the point and shoot will die. D-SLRs however, are perfectly safe. Those who buy them understand they’re paying for quality that the smartphone will never achieve without a large lens poking out the back. After all, smartphones still have weak or non-existant optical zooms.   Single and dual LED flash is also becoming increasingly common on smartphones, defeating an earlier weakness – low-light situations.In addition, forget the entry-level camcorder or the Flip camcorder- the newest Android phones will have cameras able to record and encode 1080p HD video. Mindblowing.

What will Apple define as our baseline for 2011? Will it shoot 1080p video and/or reach 8MP?  We’ll see in July.