Top Android stories of 2012

2012 will go down as a pivotal year for Android's growth. Here are the stories that dominated the headlines through the year.

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.

Market-leading Android still makes little money for Google

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?

Android phones, tablets finally get Chrome Web Browser 

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.

Linux and Android reunite

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.

In defense of Android, Google chief goes to court

In April 2012, Google CEO Larry Page took the witness stand in defense of Google in a patent litigation brought by Oracle.

Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison also testified. Ellison could be thought of as the software industries’ Mr. Hwang of TV series M*A*S*H* fame, the fall-down king of patent litigation and professional intellectual property accident victim.

Oracle asserted that Google had misappropriated Java (that Oracle acquired when it acquired Sun) that programmers used to develop Android.

Page asserted that the Java used with Android is an "open source" clone, free of any Oracle copyrights and patents.

Jury Absolves Google in Java patent suit

This may be the "Point of Diminishing Returns" on software patent litigation. The jury in the Oracle v. Google Java patent and copyright litigation exonerated Google in May of 2012. Some issues of the case were taken up by U.S. District Court Judge Alsup and later dismissed.

Not only was the matter dismissed, but in September, Oracle was ordered to pay Google $1 million for fees it paid to expert witnesses to defend itself against Oracle’s claim. Oracle avowed to appeal the ruling.

The conclusion:

"So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical."

Project Glass

Like a pilgrimage to Mecca, the technologically faithful make their way to Moscone Center in San Francisco to learn what is technologically new and inspiring from Google at its annual I/O conference.

While much of the event is meant for the appreciation of software developers, two headlining events caught the attention of mainstream and technology news readers.

Project glass, a visual interface to your Android device and Google Apps, was unveiled by Google co-founder and resident mad scientist Sergey Brin. Not yet released, delivery of paid prototypes, to be priced at $1,500, are anticipated in 2014.

And then there is the growth of Android. In 12 months, total activations tripled, totaling 400 million, and reached a rate of 1 million per day.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean's introduction

In July of 2012 the Jelly Bean roll-out began. Jelly Bean has many features that make for interesting discussion. Now and voice search draw attention away from the greater significance of Jelly Bean. It brings Android to parity with Apple's iOS. While one can argue the subtle differences in which Android JB or iOS 6 comes out slightly ahead or slightly behind, the most demanding objective user would be equally delighted to use a Samsung Galaxy SIII with Jelly Bean or an iPhone 5 with iOS 6.

Google also demonstrated that it could reduce security exploits against Android without implementing rigid PC-like processes. Adding design improvements like Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) have produced statistically relevant reductions in attack vectors open to be exploited.

A segment of the developer community has also stepped up from "mobile-first" development to "Android-first" development. Developers seeking to begin product development with a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) and iterate quickly based on user feedback appreciate that Android does not require a new App Store approval every time a line of code has been changed.

Apple vs. Samsung

Apple won a jury trial against Samsung in August of 2012 for infringement against iPhone patents and was awarded $1 billion in damages. Not an insignificant amount of money in the context of Apple’s and Samsung’s annual respective revenues of $156 billion and $173 billion, it's not a significant amount of money to them. Further, the jury decision is on appeal.

Apple buys a lot from Samsung, though it is trying to reduce what it buys. LCDs and batteries are key components purchased from Samsung by Apple. Samsung also fabricates Apple’s A4, A5 and A6 processors. It's rumored that 30% of the iPhone 5’s bill of material cost is for Samsung components.

It would be safe to say Samsung has already recaptured the $1 billion court judgment in product pricing from Apple.

Apple releases lighter, more powerful iPhone 5, but still misses the mark

Apple’s September 12 announcement of the iPhone 5, the iPad Mini and new iMac introduced to the world more beautifully designed Apple products that will produce significant revenues from Apple fans when earnings are reported on January 24.

As its market has matured, Apple is challenged to create shock and awe with its product announcements. The big news was the iPhone 5 has blazing fast LTE/4G communications, overcoming many of the significant design challenges related to LTE/4G. Apple also responded to Google’s Nexus 7 with the iPad Mini. The rest of the event was Phil Schiller generating enthusiasm for his mundane ability to calculate geometric percentages and count Torx screws.

Apple will need something radically new in its next product announcement event that is as new as the first iPad if it is to retain its unique product leadership. Maybe it will be a new Apple TV with a new content delivery strategy.

Hurricane Sandy crashes Google's party, but not its Nexus announcement

Google’s big October 29th product announcement was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy. One has been trained to believe that these events could determine the success or failure of their sponsors new products.

Considering that many models of the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 sold out in the Google Play Store, one is more inclined to wonder what are the future circumstances that Google would consider important enough to justify the cost of such a big event.

The reason for the success of this un-announcement is consumers are capable of interpreting product specification and capabilities using rich media, and they trust Google to ship a complete product. Google and Android consumers tend to be a little more tech-savvy than their Apple cohorts, so they don’t need a brick-and-motor store with a genius bar to make their purchase decisions.

Samsung releases the Galaxy digital camera

A few Android cameras reached the market before Samsung introduced its Galaxy Camera, but the earlier entrants did not produce as good a camera and ran Gingerbread.

The Galaxy Camera is distinguished by high 16.3m pixel density, a 21X optical zoom and WiFi and 3G/LTE/4G communications.

What makes this type of camera useful is thar it runs Android. This gives the photographer many app-editing features and instant uploads to almost every photo-sharing site.

No longer limited by the poor quality of smartphones, consumers can take great-quality images, edit, filter and upload to Facebook or other photo sharing sites. It is point, shoot and post in the moment of experience. Priced at $500 without a data plan, it’s a bit pricey, but it sets the stage for consumers to never wait again to connect camera to computer to post a historical image.

Google announces top apps of 2012

There are so many lists of apps that are for some reason or other the "best" that suchn a entry was almost dismissed in this recap of the 2012 top Android stories.

But the list prevailed for two reasons. First, it is authoritative in its selection by Google, and secondly it marks a milestone in the evolution of app development. Only 1 of 12 apps on Google’s list is a paid download app.

The golden era of App development is over. Developing an app, doing whatever it takes to get to the top-10 list and then reaping the reward of paid downloads, is over. There are too many "me too" apps and too many app developers that will release a free app hoping to monetize it later for paid download apps to succeed as easily as in the past.

At this point, creativity in designing the monetization model for an app is as important as and integral to the product design itself.

And this is only the beginning

About 1 billion smartphones have shipped to a world with about 6 billion mobile phone subscribers. The 5 billion mobile phone subscribers yet to adopt smartphones is a huge untapped opportunity for further innovation.

The world has entered the post-PC era in which smartphones and tablets will replace notebooks and Ultrabooks driving more untethered mobile and cloud computing innovation.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.