With Google I/O 2011 right around the corner, it’s time to take a quick look at the things Google should announce at the developer conference. Our favorite OS is about to face some really fierce opposition from companies like Apple, Microsoft and Nokia.
All these three companies are doing everything in their power to erase Android from the face of the Earth — make no mistake, they despise Android at the molecular level. Especially Microsoft and Nokia, whose future depends on beating Android. If Windows Phone 7 fails to gain traction, Microsoft won’t be able to compete in the mobile arena ever again and Nokia will eventually have to adopt Android. With competitors going on the offense (mostly suing Android supporters), what should Google do to fend them off?
Ice Cream Sandwich
Android’s next dessert-based version will most likely make a debut at Google I/O next week. We know this version is codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, but aside from that, there’s not much we know at this point — we don’t even know which version number it’ll be.
Based on a rumor we heard last month, in this version, Google plans to merge the code base of Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Google TV. If true, we could see some Honeycomb and Google TV features make their way to Android phones and vice versa. Due to the lack of detail we have about Ice Cream Sandwich, there’s a lot of room for Google to surprise us — so make sure you have a defibrillator at arm distance next Tuesday, just in case.
Google Music and more
Ah Google Music, will you ever be released? Google Music was supposed to be released last year, then it was pushed to March of this year. March came and left and we didn’t see the mythical service released. The last we heard was that Google was still signing deals with record companies. We know Google Music will definitely be announced some time in this decade, but why stop there. Google should throw movies, TV shows, ringtones, and podcasts in there as well, and call it Android World — somebody at Google can probably come up with a better name.
This “Android World” service would sync all your pictures, videos, music, apps and books via the cloud, making my phone’s USB cable forever useless. Additionally, moving all your stuff to a new device would be as simple as logging in with your Google account. If Google wants to truly compete with iTunes, the company needs to go the whole way and think about all the different types of media we consume every day.
New and more secure Android Market
Google keeps improving the Android Market’s experience, but somehow I’m never satisfied. If Google wants to make the Market easier to use they don’t have to look far, they should just check Chomp. Since I found the Chomp app, I rarely use the Market app anymore. Why? It’s easier to find what you’re looking for, the app is fast and snappy, and it’s beautifully designed. The Market app falls short on all three categories. The Android Market has come a long way since its Android 1.5 humble beginnings, but now it’s time to work some of that Matias Duarte magic and overhaul the whole app.
We all know how the Android team feels about fragmentation, in that they keep saying there’s none. But don’t be surprised if they start to make changes that allow them to control Android’s “diversity”. One of those changes could be in the Market.
We’re at a point where Android is so popular, we’re seeing it everywhere, running on devices as different as the T-Mobile Comet and the Motorola Atrix 4G. As a result, very soon we could see Google start to customize the Android Market for different categories of Android phones. Low-end phones would only be able to download apps that are not very hardware-demanding. While high-end phones will be able to download graphic-intensive apps like Dungeon Defenders.
The Android Market you get, already depends on which phone you get. We’re seeing this type of app filtering with the recent ban of tethering apps from those phones available from T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon. This is only taking it one step further.
Next up in the Android Market checklist is: security. I find it quite funny that we need antivirus software for our phones these days. While it’s interesting that phones are basically computers nowadays, we shouldn’t need extra protection like we need on PCs. The most effective way to spread a malicious piece of software on Android is through the Market. That’s where Google needs to build a giant wall, put some more wall on top of that wall and then put laser guns on top of that wall.
The whole “open vs. closed” argument goes outside the window the second you get infected with a rogue app. That person that just got its identity stolen using an Android phone doesn’t care one bit about Android’s openness, and probably wishes it had bought an iPhone. I’m not saying Google should manually approve every app that gets in the Market, but at least put them through some kind of process that checks for suspicious code and then manually check those apps that get flagged.
I’ve been talking about Android themes for a while now, but either Google doesn’t care about it or they’re taking their sweet time to release it. Basically, I wish Google allowed users to theme their phones just like carriers and manufacturers are able to. Don’t like Samsung’s TouchWiz UI? Download the “classic” Android theme from the Market and that’s it. Now your Galaxy S phone looks just like a Nexus S — simple as that.
This won’t be an easy task for the Android team though, since they’ll have to build some new and special APIs that allows developers to change how everything in Android looks — from the Notification bar to the check-boxes.
Official web-based Android IDE
Have you tried building an Android app lately? It’s not that easy. For the average Java developer or Eclipse guru it might be a rather painless experience, but for the rest of the world is a nightmare. It’s in Google best interest to make Android development as easy as possible.
That next great idea for mobile might not come from a developer but a doctor, and Google should do everything they can to make sure that the next big mobile app comes to Android first, and not iOS. How easy should Android development get? If you have to explain what an SDK is, it’s still too hard.
To make Android development as easy as using Photoshop, Google needs to start from scratch. First, they should build their own Android IDE as a web app. With nothing to install, nothing to update and no SDK to download. Just a web-based IDE for Android development, plain and simple.
Secondly, make app design a first-class citizen and not an afterthought. People should be thinking about how their app will look and behave, and not the intricacies of the Java language. Third, integrate with other tools like Flash and Photoshop. Make it possible for people to design their apps with other tools and just wire it up using the Android IDE.
Lastly, make app publishing and updating even easier than it is now. Publishing an app to the Android Market should be as easy as clicking a big “Publish” button right from the Android IDE. Want to see the Android Market explode with useful and beautiful apps, Google? Do this.
iOS has Game Center and Windows Phone 7 has Xbox Live. What does Android have? Nada. Google needs to get serious about gaming on Android as soon as possible. You know Microsoft is going to beat the Xbox drum for WP7 until the end of the world — and Android needs a good counterpart. The service needs to be social, easy and fun to use, and should make Android games even more addictive. Throw in achievement unlocking for good measure and you have a winner.
Naturally, the gaming service should also have an app built for Google TV. It doesn’t need to have any Blockbuster video games at launch like the Xbox has, but if Google builds a good gaming platform that beautifully ties together your Android phone, tablet and TV, developers will eventually come. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll be playing Call of Duty on our Google TVs.
New Google Voice app
This is more of a personal request, and not something Google really needs to announce at Google I/O. I want to see Google finally release a Google Voice app with native VoIP support. Right now, the Google Voice app still uses your carrier’s voice network to connect calls — that shouldn’t happen.
We know Google has the capabilities for doing this because VoIP calling has been available for many months on Gmail. I can make calls with Google Voice on my computer but not on my Android phone. What gives, Google? It’s quite possible that the company doesn’t want to anger its newfound friends, the wireless carriers. Seeing as the future of Android still depends hugely on the amount of support that the carriers give the OS.
Free VoIP calling from Google would certainly make some people at AT&T, and Verizon a little uncomfortable. Still, VoIP calling on our phones is an oncoming train and no carrier will be able to stop it. Google should be the company that convinces carriers that they don’t own “calling” any more, by releasing Google Voice with VoIP.
Google I/O is only four days away and I expect Google to announce at least one of these products during the event. What do you guys/gals think? Anything else Google should announce at Google I/O? Let us know in the comments.