Android 2.0 – Apple had better move quickly!

Android LogoYesterday (and today) Google have officially announced the latest version of their mobile phone software Android 2.0, and Apple had better get moving quickly on announcing some new features for their iPhone platform!

The new Android software has taken the experience of the last 14 months of device releases, and feedback from their customers and multiple manufacturers and have delivered a mature and advanced operating system that is more than ready to take on the iPhone, and has really and truly taken this particular iPhone lover’s eye. So much so, even with the £100 of software I’ve purchased on the app store, I’m seriously considering moving over to Android.

Some of the features are really designed for developers, and as anyone who knows me will testify, my personal IT passion is users, and how we interact and interface with devices. With that in mind, I plan to cover not only what I think is important in Android 2.0 for the user and for the mobile user in 2010 and beyond.

Multi-touch

Anyone who has used a touch screen phone, especially one without a physical keyboard knows how important multi-touch is in the world of mobile technology. Zooming, on-screen typing and moving around the screen is aided immensely by multi-touch. Google allegedly held back on implementing this earlier to appease Apple, but now it’s here, and that is telling in regards to Google and Apple’s relationship (and more on that later)

Contacts and Accounts Improvements

Google’s contacts system now takes on elements of the features added by HTC to their Google phones and Palm to their WebOS software. You can unify your contacts from various systems (if social networking systems develop hooks for their system). This will potentially allow people’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, IM, e-mail etc. into a single contacts system, and will synchronize any updates or changes users make to their profiles into their contacts. If a Facebook contact changes their phone number, it could automatically sync into your phone.

The contacts system works across software various applications too, so you could open an email from someone, and go straight into an IM chat or phone call with them by tapping the contact, then tapping the relevant icon. Slick.

Email

Email now supports Exchange (if the handset developer chooses to) and more importantly, multiple accounts. If you run multiple e-mail accounts (and most tech types do) then this has been needed for a long, long time.

Camera

Cameras can now support flash, macro zoom, digital zoom, and a variety of colour balance options for various locations, and white balance support. They’ve also added colour modes for photos (black and white, sepia etc.) and digital zoom but I find both features needless for me. Of course, someone out there might like them, and use them, but I don’t.

Google Maps Navigation

Google has blown the world of GPS navigation wide open by providing free turn by turn navigation for Android 2.0. The most impressive feature is their voice navigation, which ties into Google’s search engine to be able to do search queries. Google’s voice to text capabilities have improved massively in the last year or so (since it was introduced into their iPhone app) and now can decifer many accents in both US and UK English. Want to go to see something, but can’t remember where it is. Say into the phone “Navigate to the Tutankhamun Exhibition in Manchester” and it will pull the information about that exhibition out of Google’s search index, locate it on the map for you, and direct you there. Very clever indeed. You can ask the phone to divert to the nearest branch of a store you use and trust near the route you are on like a supermarket, or your favourite take away franchise.

The impressive features don’t stop there. Street view is also supported, so you can pull up an image of a junction and see exactly what lane you should be in to make the turn you require, and your route is placed directly on the street view. Street View will allow you to see the exact building you are after before you get there too. It also uses Google to get traffic information, and will let you reroute around traffic problems.

The navigation feature is currently US only, however as there aren’t any Android 2.0 devices confirmed as released outside the UK as yet, this isn’t a problem. I’m sure that this will be solved as international releases occur.

There are some other features, that are important for the future like HTML5 support for their web browser, and GeoLocation for the browser, so sites can be locally relevant without having to input location information. But the real revelation is the fact that Google’s best features are now being reserved for their software.

Apple and Google had a very strong relationship until recently, as Google started to step into more areas of Apple’s business. This led to disputes, including the barring of Google Voice and Google Latitude from the iPhone App Store, and tit-for-tat reporting of AT&T/Apple and Google to the FCC, America’s communications regulator.

Apple has a problem now though. Most of the core software on the iPhone is powered by Google, including Apple’s search functions in Safari, YouTube, and video uploading on the iphone 3GS. Google are now reserving their best features purely for their platform as a selling point, and its software, regardless of the enhancements, has very quickly caught up to the iPhone as a legitimate rival for the smartphone market, especially as Android can be found in many different hardware configurations, and iPhone has just one. This allows Android, and crucially Google’s services to be available on a range of hardware that can be low-cost as well as premium.

Apple have a real battle on their hands now, and they need to figure out what they can do with their devices to make them as unique and desirable as they were in 2007 and 2008. My suggestion to them? Open up the app store and be less restrictive about services competing (which may well come as operator lock-in becomes a non-issue) and diversify the portfolio of devices with different functions and forms. The future of mobile devices is web based, and if Apple are cutting off competition by having too tight a grip on their mobile devices, they might just choke themselves.

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About plkrtn
Lostpedia SysOp, blogger, occasional writer for TVOvermind and consumer technology geek.

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