Android's Update Evolution

I, like many others, was quite disappointed about the Gingerbread announcement from a user perspective. The UI is nothing new to anyone who has tried out a few custom ROMs bar a few little touches, most of which could probably be implemented in Froyo if any ROM developer wanted to. The new APIs available to developers are nice, but from a user’s view there wasn’t much to be loved. It was really a developer’s release more than anything. I know Honeycomb will have a UI overhaul, but I expected elements of that in Gingerbread. So yeah, disappointed would be an apt description.

But then it occurred to me, what makes a new version of an OS exciting? Take a look at iOS 4.2.1, it brought AirPlay and AirPrint to iDevices, as well as some updates to the core OS apps. And that was able to excite iOS users, purely because there was some great user facing enhancements included with the updated APIs and bug fixes. Google stated after Froyo that their development cycle would slow down for subsequent updates. But really, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The way I look at it, they’ve sped up their cycle, and they’ve done so for the better.

Compare your device when you first updated to Froyo to what it is now, and, you’ll see that it’s like a completely new OS on your phone. There was Voice Search, now there’s Voice Actions. There was a fairly decent YouTube app, now there’s an awesome YouTube app. Car Home is now customisable. Gmail has a nicer UI and more features. Maps has had many updates, with the best to come in version 5 of one of Android’s killer apps. And Market has been getting some updates recently to enhance the experience.

So perhaps it’s not right to see Gingerbread as a lacklustre OS update, but instead as the start of another ongoing evolution of Android. Some people (myself included) wanted DLNA support built in, but Google could release an app on the Market for that. An updated Calendar app? Market. Google’s rumoured cloud music service? Market. And the beauty of it all - if you don’t want a feature, don’t install it, and there’s no need for it bog down your older, lower powered phone, like what has been seen with iOS 4.

I’m excited to see what Google has in store for Android over the coming months between now and Honeycomb. Who knows, maybe Honeycomb will introduce the modularity needed to deploy updates to all devices through Market irrespective of OEM customisations such as Sense or TouchWiz.