In the past year the Android operating system has gained considerable traction in the smart phone market. It’s main competition, as well as the dominating factor in the smart phone market is the iPhone’s IOS now in it’s 4th and soon to be 5th iteration. Both of these systems are very unique and have their own strengths as well as flaws. Almost every day I’m asked to explain the difference between these devices and help users that I support at my job as well as friends and family decide on which type of device they should choose. I don’t know what everyone should choose but here I will describe the differences between the two devices so you can make an informed decision on your own.
Today I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Android platform.
Android, Linux and Open Source
Android is built on the Linux operating system which is an Open Source operating system stemming from Unix which is way before my time, but coincidentally the same thing that Mac OS was derived from. Android is not the first phone OS to be created on this open platform, but with Google behind Android, it is by far the most successful.
So what if it runs on Linux? The fact that Android is built on Linux is insignificant to many but what that means to those developing apps on the system and using the phone for more than just calls is that the Android system is open and free, you own it and can do whatever you want with it. You can create apps that do just about anything you could ever think of. You can port apps (with a bit of coding knowledge) from Linux right over to your Android device. Android has become the closest thing to having a full desktop environment in your pocket that we’ve seen to date.
Open Source software also creates innovation in hardware. Android (or Linux, rather) can be installed on any device that you can make take it. It can be installed on desktops, commercial phones, tablets, network appliances, toasterware (things that serve a single purpose like a surveillance camera) and whatever else you can dream up. You and your creativity are the limit to what Linux can do.
Control and Stability
Android’s greatest strength, it’s openness and flexibility is also it’s greatest weakness. For most of you, none of that open source mumbo jumbo means anything, you just want your phone to do what you need it to do. The problem with Android is that while the OS was created by Google, Google controls very little of the hardware side of things. They pick a hardware partner or two to test their latest version of the Android OS on and once everything works on that, they ship it out.
Other device manufactures get the specs of what device Google used to test their OS on, and the recommended hardware information, but they don’t necessarily have to build their devices to that spec. Manufactures are also free to do whatever they want with the Android OS once they get their phones manufactured so many of the phone manufactures out there, most actually, put their own little skins and apps on the phones they ship out. Phone manufactures and network providers limit the ability of Android in some case so users have to pay to unlock features.
The Open Source community comes to the rescue in many of these cases by building apps that unlock broken features and fix bugs caused by network or manufacture lax QA but this is still an issue for the majority of users who just want their device to work out of the box. Some devices do, and some don’t because there is no control over who does what.
Price of Entry
Being Open Source (free of charge) and giving any and every manufacture under the sun the ability to create whatever hardware they like to work with the Android OS, Android devices are cheaper than Apple devices. You can get an Android tablet for under $100 where an iPad1 will still cost you $300 or so used/refurbished. Features differ to some degree with positives and negatives on both sides for phones and other devices like tablets (usb ports, removable/replaceable battery, etc) but generally speaking, you will get Android devices at a lower cost.
The cost of the device itself aside, the Android Market which is growing at the most rapid rate of any mobile platform contains over 60% free apps. You can find an app for just about anything you could ever need in the Android Market for free and in my experience many of the paid apps out there are premium versions of free apps that add features or remove ad banners. I’ve never purchased nor have I ever needed to purchase an app from the Android Market and I’ve been in there since 2008.
To develop apps on the Android platform is also very inexpensive with a one time cost of $25 for a developer license. You can develop apps for the Android platform in Java, Python, HTML, Flash, and on any desktop platform you choose. All the tools to develop for Android are freely available to you as well.
This openness in development creates another problem though – crapware. While the Android Market is full of great apps that have been well tested and are well supported, there are a lot of free and paid apps that are junk. Google rarely regulates any app that is introduced into the market. You can code an app and submit it into the Android Market in minutes.
Who Should Buy an Android Device?
Android is growing fast and new features of the OS and of the hardware are introduced from many different sources be it Google or third party manufactures on a daily basis.
If you want to be on the cutting edge, even if that edge is slightly unstable and you want full control over what you do with your phone then the Android platform is for you. If you want your phone to be more than just a phone – if you want your phone to be an FTP server, a mobile media center, a WiFi Hotspot, or ever a webserver then Android is for you. It is geeky. It is at times flaky. But the current market has barely scratched the surface of what the Android platform could become. With Android, you can be a part of that innovation too.
Who loves their Android? To date, what’s your total cost of ownership (data plan, phone, apps, in-app purchases)?
Image by sermoa br>