In terms of market shares in the smartphone industry, Google’s Android stands head and shoulders above all its rivals. A recent worldwide survey (by Gartner) revealed that, close to 88% of all smartphones in use globally run on the Android platform. Taken together, Android and iOS make up for more than 99.5% of the total smartphone market (with Windows and Blackberry scrapping for the remainder). In what follows, we will do a roundup of all the interesting Android trends that are likely to prevail in 2017 and beyond:
Moving towards Android computers
Google’s ambitious Project Andromeda has been in the news for some time now, and there are fairly strong chances of a Google OS for desktops/laptops being launched later this year (the Pixel 3 laptop, expected to be released in the third quarter of 2017, should have the new OS). According to rumours in mobile app development forums, some form of Android application extensions might also be launched for the Chrome OS. Google has been looking to deliver a seamless mobile-desktop continuity to users for years – and Project Andromeda can be just the perfect rival for Microsoft’s Continuum.
Android Instant apps
Limited testing for Android Instant apps started in January – and before the year is out, this trend is set to gain proper momentum. In the long-run, end-users would certainly find it easy to use applications without having to actually install (or partially install) them on their devices. According to reports, around 28% of all Android app installations happen through the web (the bigger share, obviously, is for Google Play Store). With Instant Apps gaining in popularity, this figure is also set to increase. At present, Android Instant applications can be run/tested on the latest version of the mobile OS (Nougat) – but the backward compatibility will gradually be extended to Android 4.1.
Stranglehold on emerging markets
Apple might be the growing in popularity in the developed markets (say, United States, Japan) – but Android has commanding leads in most new and emerging markets in the world. In China, it dominates with 83% market share, while Google’s market share is even higher in Mexico and Brazil (92% and 94% respectively). Even in the EU5 countries, 3 out of every 4 smartphones sold is an Android device (in 2016). Interestingly though, Android’s market share has been declining on a YoY basis in the US.
More immersive VR/AR experiences
Google Cardboard arrived in 2014, and it took the standards of VR on the Android platform to an altogether higher level (the first VR goggles were mighty impressive). Last year’s Google Daydream plugged most of the early problems with Cardboard – and 2017 should be the year when VR and AR (augmented reality) take off in a big way. In addition to an increase in the number of VR-powered Android apps, there should be a spike in new hardware devices (including wearables). 3D mobile gaming is also set to become more immersive than ever before.
Android Wear to find its own space
In a surprisingly congested market, Android smartwatches have struggled to register encouraging sales – and have been squeezed by Apple Watch on one side, and the Samsung Gear watches on the other. The considerable delay in the release of Android Wear 2.0 (it debuted on LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style in early-February). Software developers expect a couple of Google smartwatches, running on Wear 2.0, to launch later this year. The wearables market is not easy to make big profits from – but Google seems prepared to have a go at it.
Better artificial intelligence support
At the MWC 2017 (held in Barcelona from February 27 to March 2), it was announced that Google Assistant would no longer remain exclusive to Pixel phones – and would be rolled out to all Android devices operating on the Nougat or Marshmallow platforms. Over the last couple of years, there has also been a steady increase in the quality of the Android virtual assistant (quality index up from 89.6% (2014) to 94% (2016)). Mobile app developers have been allowed to customize the assistant with their own app commands as well. More advancements in machine learning, probably with the help of neural networks, are expected this year. By the end of this decade, a fully functional robot application should reside in most Android phones.
Phones with larger displays
Instead of coming up with larger handsets per se (with phones starting to resemble phablets in their form-factors) – hardware designers are focusing on increasing the screen area of devices, keeping the overall product size the same. In most cases, this is being done by squeezing out the bezel area and enhancing the screen real estate. Phones with bigger display areas are likely to find favour among users and app-makers alike – and they are certainly more convenient than, say, the 6.44” Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
Arrival of 4K Android phones
Sony announced the very first 4K HDR Android phone – the Xperia XZ Premium – at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Going forward, handsets and ‘pocket devices’ with 4K support is likely to become more and more mainstream – thanks to the constant improvements in VR application standards. There are concerns about the power/battery performance of 4K phones though – and ideally, these handsets should have built-in Quad HD (or 1080p). However, there remains some doubt regarding the usefulness of 4K features, aside from the improvements it will bring about in the VR Mode.
Android security to get more robust
Concerns about smartphone security are not going to go away anytime soon – but expect Google to tighten things up in the foreseeable future. With more detailed permission requests and automated security updates, using mobile apps will become a lot ‘safer’ – and more dedicated security features are expected to be integrated in the upcoming Android updates. Android Instant Apps already work within a strong permissions model (embedded within the latest Android platform). The volume of sensitive, personal information stored on mobile phones (on fitness apps, banking apps, m-wallets, etc.) is increasing all the time – and the security assurance needs to become more robust too.
Digital utility apps vs shopping apps
On average, only around 5.2% of smartphone-owners actually spend money on their mobile applications. While iPhone-users are generally perceived to be ‘more willing to pay’ than their counterparts on Android – a closer study of digital utility apps throws up surprising results. In April-May 2016, the average purchases from mobile utility apps were to the tune of $8 among Android-users, significantly higher than the $3.82 figure for iOS-users (interestingly, the latter had higher in-app purchases). On shopping apps though, iPhone-owners display a greater propensity to spend, in comparison to Android-owners (average purchase $75 for iOS and less than $28 for Android).
The biggest rival of Samsung in Europe will be…
Huawei. The pathetic flop-show of LG G5 has put that company on a back foot, while the HTC 10 has not been favourably received either (very few carriers have taken to it in Europe). All this has put Huawei in pole position to be most relevant rival of Samsung in the EU5 markets. The new handsets have received great reviews, are supported by leading carriers and are being aggressively promoted. Samsung, on its part, promises a really optimized Galaxy S8 in 2017 – that would cover up for the Galaxy Note 7 ‘fire debacle’. It is going to be a fascinating fight between the South Korean and the Chinese companies in Europe.
Rise in m-transactions
Google Wallet was not a big success, but that hasn’t held back m-payments from gathering pace over the last couple of years or so. A September 2016 report showed that close to 65% of Android phone-users are aware of the NFC-powered Android Pay service, 9% of these users have actually used Android Pay at least once (the corresponding figures for iPhone and Apple Pay were 90% and 31%). Samsung Pay has also witnessed a steady rise in adoption rates in the last few quarters. This year, the volume of mobile payments happening through Android Pay will continue to grow – and people will start to make transactions via smartwatches as well. There are some usability-related complaints at present (8% users report a long-drawn card registration process). Expect those to be resolved soon.
Demand for prepaid service
Project Fi – Google’s virtual network operator – is changing the game in this regard, together with the Pixel phones. Users are increasingly liking the concept of availing ‘pay-as-you-go’ data service – with the option being particularly attractive for those who do not put too much demands on the carrier data limits. The idea of making advance payments for only the service space required (along with unlimited voice and text options) has the potential to bring about sweeping changes in the way people use their Android phones.
Lower price tags
The average price of smartphones is slowly but surely going down – and this trend is almost exclusively being driven by the progressively cheaper Android devices. Since 2012, the average price of an Android phone has fallen from $318 to $272 to $237 to $216 to $208 (in 2016). Software and app developers expect many new low-priced, budget Android phones to come out in 2017 as well. iPhones, on the other hand, have always been positioned as ‘premium products’ – and not surprisingly, their average prices have remained mostly static ($621 in 2008; $651 in 2016).
In-app search is yet another activity that is fast gaining in popularity among owners of Android phones. This year’s Google I/O event will happen 17-19 May at the Shoreline Amphitheater (Mountain View, California) – and the event will give us clearer ideas about many other fascinating Android trends to look out for this year (Android O (v. 8.0) will be announced). The mobile ecosystem is evolving rapidly, and Android will remain one of the biggest drivers (along with iOS) in this domain.