I tend to catch a lot of flak at work for my recently developed Google fanboyism, my insistence that Google+ really isn’t a ghost town and that Google Glass, albeit admittedly goofy looking at the moment has the potential to cause a dramatic shift towards wearable technology. And this flak isn’t particularly surprising; despite Android™’s growth, Apple maintains a firm grip on the enterprise and iDevices remain the norm around my office.
However, I’ve definitely noticed some increased interest among my coworkers and friends in Google’s services and its mobile OS, particularly with iMeet’s recent arrival on Google Play. I’m constantly fielding curious questions about what I like about Android, what makes it different from iOS or Blackberry and why I decided to make the switch. Truth be told, there are a ton of great Android resources out there and a lot of Android’s watchwords are fairly common knowledge: it’s more “open,” more “customizable” and more “flexible.” But what does all of that actually mean to you or me, the users? Let’s find out:
(Disclaimer: This is by no means meant to assert Android as in any way “superior” to other mobile OS’s. I’m a big fan of Apple’s products, for example, and still use them regularly. The Internet is more often than not a place where usage of one product presumes hatred and disdain of another — can’t we all just get along?
…no, probably not.)
Android, as a mobile operating system, is what’s known as open source, meaning that under license, the software is free to be modified and distributed by device manufacturers and developers. This is the primary reason why you see Android on such a wide variety of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, popular eReaders such as the Kindle Fire and Nook, smart TVs and even Kickstarted game consoles. This is potentially both a pro and con for Android, depending on your viewpoint. For proponents of the OS, the “openness” is everything; it’s what allows for the flexibility and customization that Android supporters are so fond of. For critics, the openness is the source of Android’s “fragmentation” and potential confusion — unlike a closed system like iOS, experiences with Android can differ greatly between devices. In fact, users of devices with heavily modified versions of Android like the Kindle Fire might not have even known they were using Android at all.
Customization and personalization are big selling points of Android. Practically every feature and aesthetic on your Android device can be changed and rearranged to meet your own personal preferences. This goes well beyond the typical customization of changing your phone’s wallpaper; you can download new keyboards, replace default programs or even create and customize an entirely new application launching and management experience. Two key features of Android really stand out for me in terms of customization: Widgets and Launchers.
- Widgets are associated with a particular app and let you customize your home screen with additional information or functionality. For example, Twitter will let you display your Twitter feed on your home screen via a widget, letting you quickly see your tweets without having to open the app.
- Launchers fundamentally change the way you access, manage and launch apps on your phone and offer even more in-depth customization into the behaviors of your device. Launchers essentially “re-skin” your device, replacing the built-in software for app and home screen management and letting you customize everything from gesture behavior to button functionality and more. Facebook’s recently announced “Home” is an example of a Launcher; Home basically sits between your apps and you, changing the way your phone behaves and displays information.
A benefit of Android’s aforementioned openness is an incredible level of flexibility in how you use your device. Application developers have unfettered access to design apps that are aware of and take advantage of your device’s state and capabilities. For example, one of the most popular Android apps today is called Tasker. Tasker allows an Android user to automate an incredibly wide array of features and functions on their device through a series of triggers and actions. For example, you could automatically have your phone turn its Wi-Fi on when plugged into a charging dock, or instantly begin playing music when your headphones are plugged in. This type of application is only possible on an OS as open as Android; Tasker relies on having access to as much of a device’s features, functions and states as possible.
The downside? Accessibility; as popular as apps like Tasker have become, they’re admittedly not the sort of casual, pick-up-and-play applications that iOS has made so popular. In fact a great deal of Android’s flexibility comes at the cost of a learning curve and a time investment.