What’s next for Android? What can be done to make carriers offer updates? And will the battery life on Android devices ever get any better? Lifehacker put those questions to Android product manager Yu-Kuan Lin when he visited Australia this week.
Picture by nxtiak
What are the big priorities for the Android team at the moment?
The first theme for Android is really about bringing innovation to mobile, and specifically all the goodness of the Web to mobile. That’s why we got into Android in the first place. The second point was in order to drive this innovation the system has to be as open as possible so we went for an open source approach and let everybody see our code base. We have a very open marketplace that lets developers put up all sorts of apps. We believe that this diversity of apps and devices is ultimately offering consumers a lot of choice and that it what they want. We really believe in that innovation driven by openness which ultimately fosters diversity and a whole ecosystem. That’s the overall theme for Android as a whole.
With that as a backdrop, what we’re focusing on now is we’re seeing a lot of success with devices, obviously. What we’re really focusing on is how do we take the user experience to the next level. In the last year, you saw us take a step in the direction of hardware where we did the Nexus One which was really our experiment in terms of how far we could push the envelope in terms of hardware development so that it matches and can showcase all the great stuff on the software platform. Now that we have a lot of basic pieces of the platform done, the next step is really to improve the user experience beyond what it already is, so to really have a polished experience around not just the core OS, but scaling across different devices and different form factors: different screens, different types of input, camera, GPS, all those things. That’s the big direction in which we’re moving in now, and I think you’ll see a lot of new features being released going forward.
What can be done about the lag between new versions of Android appearing and carriers actually making them available for devices? This is a pretty pronounced problem in Australia, where lots of phones running 1.6 are still around.
What you’re seeing with a lot of the existing devices is that they were built a while ago and targeting a different price segment. What we’re seeing happening in the market naturally is that the really successful devices are the ones that are on the latest platforms, because by having the latest hardware to show off the features, that’s what makes the phone stand out. I think through natural selection of the market if you will carriers and OEMs will start to note that and push the latest and the greatest. By observing how Android succeeds in other markets, Australia can get a sense of where they need to be in terms of evolution of devices.
What can be done to improve battery life on Android devices? I still feel like I’m charging a bit too often…
One of the challenges of course with third party apps is that it’s a bit hard to control or mandate what they do — after all, it is an open system. That said, one of the things that we’re working on to improve that is providing better statistics and feedback to developers in general to know that their app is sucking up a lot of battery. We took a first step on that; we’re now providing lot of rich bug reports for installs, and the next step is tell them how much CPU cycles you use on average and how much battery you drain on average. By providing these stats, we hope to raise awareness with developers to improve their apps over time because they can now measure how their app performs.
Another thing that we’re doing also on the platform is continuing to optimise things that we don’t need. This is mostly under the cover so it’s hard to be seen by consumers. Even just between Eclair and Froyo, there have been a lot more features added in the platform, so we work very hard to keep the battery life about constant. Even keeping it constant is a win. Eventually we don’t just want to keep it constant, we want to make it better. The first step after adding new features is to tread water, and then we’ll improve over time. That’s definitely an ongoing area of work and innovation for us.
How much do you think about building Android to work with new platforms such as tablets?
The way we’re thinking about it is we want to make Android work great across a variety of hardware form factors and device configurations. Instead of targeting a specific thing, say tablets, we just want to make Android work great across a bunch of different types of devices and then let developers and hardware manufacturers utilise that to build different things. It could be Android on tablets, it could be Android on smart displays, it could be Android on TVs.
How has Android helped you organise your own work life better?
There’s a couple of things I do all the time with my phone. One is we have this Chrome to Phone feature which lets you take whatever on my browser and hit a button and it gets sent to my phone when I’m running out the door. Just that seamless integration between the browser on my phone and my desktop is really fantastic.
Another thing I really love and I find very useful is that I manage all my contacts through Android. Before, when I used to switch phones all the time, they’d all end up on my SIM and then sometimes I’d lose my SIM. Now with Android automatically syncing everything to the cloud, I either add something via Gmail on the Web or I add something to my phone and it automatically syncs to all my phones.