2013 was a phenomenal year for Android. The phablet space absolutely exploded. LG and Samsung continue to battle head to head in the 5-inch display (and larger) arena. Google Glass progressed to the point that basically anyone with an extra $1500 can get in on the Explorer program. Android also is running on smartwatches and is powering several gaming platforms. Those trends will continue on the same path, but what can we really expect from Google and Android in 2014? Let's take a look.
Starting with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, we'll begin to see 2014 Android devices pop up. There will be a whole slew of new Android tablets and smartwatches running Android. There are several phones rumored to be announced around CES and Mobile World Congress in February, too. Smartphone manufacturers have moved to announcing big new phones at their own events. By skipping the noise of CES and MWC, manufacturers hope to keep all of the attention of a big announcement for themselves. This will undoubtedly continue in 2014, although we may see changes from Google themselves in how and where they announce new products and services. Almost all major device announcements will happen at OEM specific events throughout 2014.
Google I/O was the venue Google chose to announce the first Nexus 7 tablet, alongside the Nexus Q. Nexus device announcements have generally been scattered throughout the year, with Nexus smartphone announcements coming in the fall. I/O has usually been the place that Google chooses to announce new Android OS versions, although they rolled out Android 4.4 KitKat unceremoniously in October of 2013. I/O 2013 was not really about Android, but focused mainly on Chrome and Chrome OS. I expect that Google gets back to basics at I/O in 2014 and announces the next version of Android there. We'll continue to see Android fragmentation decrease as Google moves more of Android's core apps to the Play Store. Android OS updates will continue to be incremental, like the KitKat update. Android is reaching mature platform status and doesn't need major overhauls like it did in its early days. What I hope to see is more convergence between Chrome, Chrome OS, and Android. Even products like Chromecast and Google TV would be more compelling to consumers if one were rolled into the other. We've been promised Chromecast support for the Google TV platform already, but it hasn't officially happened yet.
Google Play Edition Devices
2013 brought with it the unveiling of a new category of Android devices: Google Play Edition smartphones and tablets. GPE phones from Samsung (S4) and HTC (One) were released earlier this year, and then surprise GPE devices in the form of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and the LG G Pad 8.3 were dropped on the Play Store earlier this month. What this tells us is that Google and their OEM partners are listening to what consumers want. There is a small but loud contingent of Android users that want hardware options, but don't want to deal with manufacturer skins. We want stock Android, and we are going to get it. These GPE variants of popular OEM handsets means that we can get the high-end hardware we want, running the flavor of Android we want. These GPE devices get updated more quickly than carrier branded devices, but the trade-off is higher up-front costs. In 2014, expect to see even more Google Play edition smartphones and tablets. Most flagship OEM devices will also be available with a GPE variant.
We'll also see new Nexus smartphones and tablets, but the Nexus line will take on an even more developer-oriented focus. Google will offload more of its consumer-focused devices and features to Motorola, and steer the Nexus line more towards developers. The Nexus line basically seems like a way for Google to get OEMs to make devices for its employees, and the rest of us just happen to benefit. Regular consumers want ease-of-use, good battery life, and good cameras on their smartphones. The Moto X offers two of those three things. I think Google will finally figure out how to put an excellent camera on an Android smartphone this year. The Nexus 5 traded an excellent camera and really great battery life for lower cost. I expect that this year's Nexus devices will continue the trend.
Beyond Smartphones And Tablets
The focus on wearables has definitely increased this year, and Android will be at the forefront of this in 2014. Samsung will build a better watch than the Galaxy Gear. Sony will iterate on their current offerings, as will Motorola. HTC and LG are expected to jump into the smartwatch game, too, all with Android-based options. Smartwatches are still working through some growing pains. 2014 should bring with it several really compelling watch options, instead of the limited, half-working watches available today. We will also see more NFC bracelets and rings that work as notification devices. A majority of these will pop up on Kickstarter, so be on the lookout if you're in the market for one of those.
Google Glass is edging ever closer to a public release, but consumers are still wary of Glass. Lawmakers will struggle to figure out how to address the problem of wearing Glass while driving, and address privacy concerns as well.
Android-based cameras like the Samsung Galaxy Camera will fade into oblivion as smartphone cameras improve. We don't want to carry multiple devices. OEMs, and Google, need to address the issue of sub-par camera experiences on their smartphones. The stock Android Camera app needs an overhaul as well, but Google may just leave this area to manufacturers and to its own Motorola division.
Mobile gaming on Android will improve, although stand-alone devices like the Ouya console will continue to struggle. Mobile gaming has had to adjust for touch screens and the lack of physical buttons. Most mobile games don't lend themselves well to physical controllers. Handheld devices like the Nvidia Shield and Moga controllers will remain viable options for hardcore Android gamers, and will only get better as companies figure things out.
Android is even being built into cars.
Overall, we're going to see a continuing decrease in the cost of Android devices in 2014. Consumers are becoming wise to the tricks of major wireless carriers when it comes to device subsidies and contracts. No one wants to sign two years (or more) of their life away for a phone that will be out of date in 12-18 months. As Google continues to offer Nexus devices for less than $400, and Motorola reaches into new territories with the inexpensive Moto G, device costs will plummet. $400-500 for a high-end device will become the norm. Wireless carriers will buy into this because it means they won't have to front the cost of phones for consumers anymore. There will still be options to purchase $199 Android smartphones with two-year contracts, but this will simply be one of several options instead of the only real choice. It's already happening. Expect that trend to continue in 2014 as well.
Overall improvements to hardware with chipset optimizations and battery life improvements will continue, as we expect they would. Those aren't necessarily specific to Android but the platform will certainly benefit. With a focus on decreasing costs to consumers, emerging markets, and wearable technology like Glass and smartwatches, 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for Android. What are you most excited about for Android in 2014?