2012 will be remembered as the year that Android transitioned from follower to leader. Android smartphones became bigger, sleeker and faster and became a relevant choice in comparison to Apple.
The Galaxy SIII redefined the Android smartphone from a functional, lower-cost black slab to a shiny, sexy trend-setting mobile device with equal or greater consumer value as the iPhone. Just as the SIII made the exterior of the Android smartphones slick, Jelly Bean enriched the user experience and added new features such as Now, Voice Search and a very slick single-swipe notifications center.
Here are the top stories that developed along the way.
In January of 2012, Google CEO Larry Page told Wall Street analysts that although Android had climbed to the top of the mobile operating system market, it was only starting to make money for Google in 2012.
In response, Stifel Nicolaus Analyst Jordan Rohan said, according to the New York Times, "it’ll take quite a few years before Google generates the sort of revenue from Android that Apple or other device vendors generate from selling devices."
Google doesn’t covet Apple’s hardware revenues, but it does want to cement its transition from desktop advertising leader to mobile advertising leader. What would be a better way to counter Apple’s encroachment into mobile advertising than to provide via open source license a free, feature-rich mobile operating system to Samsung, HTC and others with powerful supply chains that will put pressure on Apple’s rich margins?
Google released the Chrome browser for Android in February 2012. For those immersed in Google Apps, it is manna from heaven. Chrome for Android delivers a mobile integration to the same degree that desktop users experience. Search terms, tabs and bookmarks are synched, saving the mobile user key strokes and, more importantly, saving the latency of traversing multiple URLs to get to the desired information, improving performance.
Chrome for Android and iOS is an example of Google’s strategy to give users best-in-class capability in return for an intimate relationship with the user’s search history and geographic location.
When Android launched as an independent company, its advantage was forking Linux and building Android on the Linux code base. That separated the code bases, but in March of 2012 they were brought back together again.
Clay Shirky, in his 2005 Ted Talk Institutions vs. Colaberation, speaks to the tremendous value of the power law distribution (aka the 80/20 rule) in open source software. Eighty percent of open source contributions are produced by 20% of the developers, and 20% of the contributions are produced by the very long tail of the other 80% of the developers.
When Android was merged into Linux’s mainline version, Android developers were able to avail themselves to a much larger code repository, shortening the time to market and perhaps finding a brilliant innovation in Linux’s or Android’s long tail.