postheadericon ECS: The Android Invasion, and What You Need to Know

While an "Android invasion" may sound like something from a Dr. Who serial or a Star Trek movie, this takeover of the mobile computing market by the Android operating system is not sci-fi, but instead hard fact.

Created in 2003 by Andy Rubin, an ex-Apple engineer and now Google engineer, the now Google-owned Android operating system is being activated in both mobile phones and tablets at an alarming rate: hundreds of thousands per day, seven days a week. And analysts tell us today that the sale of Android-based smartphones is outpacing the #1 phone in the world, the iPhone4. Folks that shift through such numbers for a living also say that Android phones now dominate the market worldwide, leaving Nokia, Blackberry, and even Apple in the proverbial dust with a 46% global market share in Q2 2011.

But just what is Android, and why should you care if this invasion is gripping the planet?

First, like Apple's iOS, Android is what runs all the applications and functions on any Android-equipped smartphone. It is very much like the operating system running your home or business computer, such as Windows 7 or OSX Lion. Without such an operating system, your smartphone would instead be "stupid," as in the olden days of simple feature phones.

Today's smartphones and tablets are running processors that rival the one in your netbook, and able to display high-definition video as well browse web pages - in addition to taking the occasional phone call. So a decent operating system is now required: one that supports multimedia, multi-touch screens, multi-tasking, GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, proximity sensors, and even thermometers.

And the reason why Android has to support all this, is that developers are cranking out applications that utilize these features at an alarming rate: with over 250,000 applications in the online Android Market and over 4.5 billion downloads to date. These applications range from simple kids games to sophisticated scientific tools to savvy social media aids. And for the money-minded, over 57% of all applications for Androids are free, vs. the 27% number of free apps available on the iTunes store for Apple's iPhone.

Which brings us the ultimate question on everyone's mind these days when shopping for a new smartphone: Apple or Android, which should I choose? Let's just take the top contender from both camps (at the moment): the iPhone4 from Apple and the Galaxy S II from Samsung. The SII is considered to be the elusive iPhone-killer people have been yakking about since the iPhone became the leader in smartphone design and function.

In Nepal, the SII sells for up to Nrs. 15,000 less then a comparable iPhone4, and sports a bigger touchscreen, twice as many cameras (2) and can play Flash web content, unlike the Apple contender.

The SII is also running a 1.2GHz ARMv7 dual-core processor, allowing Gingerbread (the code name for the latest Android OS) to run at blazing speeds, and feels much more zippy then Apple's iOS4 when doing like things, like gesturing around screens and booting up applications. But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model - there is another waiting at the gate...

But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model - there is another waiting at the gate... Ease of use is also a factor, and here is where the Android OS shines. No need for an in-between syncing program like iTunes to add music and other data to your smartphone from your PC. Just drag and drop, and that's all there is to it.

Both the SII and the iPhone are built rock solid, employing the hardy Gorilla Glass fronts, but Samsung has opted for a plastic textured back, instead of the iPhone's design of molded aluminum.

But like all smartphones on the market today, nothing, not even the Android OS, can save you from charging your device nightly. Both the SII and iPhone4 must be plugged in after a heavy day of use, as the battery can't go another day without a decent charge. For ex-feature phone users, this may take some getting used to, where your old phone could perhaps go for a week without plugging in.

Sticker shock may also befall the once-feature phone user, as the Android-powered Galaxy S II runs about Nrs. 52,000 in the capital, and is rarely in stock. However, there are many other smartphones running Android OS for just a bit less then that. Rupee-pinching consumers can also experience the Android invasion on any of these models of Android-powered phones: HTC Dream or Desire, Nexus One or S, or any of the Motorola Droids.

But worrying too much about technical specs is an exercise in futility when it comes to smartphones, for as soon as you buy one model, there is another waiting at the gate to come out that is thinner, faster, smarter. This is true no matter what make or model you are looking at. For example, look for the iPhone5 out later this year, as well as an upgraded Samsung Galaxy S II made to compete.

First published in ECS Living, Issue 57, Sept - Oct 2011, p.44


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