Right now, you can pick up a new Android phone for less than $100, or you can spend $840 on a Honeycomb-equipped tablet, and there are dozens of options in between. And that right there sums up the biggest advantage of Google’s open-sourced approach to smartphones: it can offer something for everyone.
This week, Google’s I/O developer conference is taking place in San Francisco, and it’s inevitable that we’ll be hearing about some cool new Android features as a result. In celebration of that event, we’ll be focusing on Android all this week, looking at what’s currently available, what’s coming in the future, and how to make the most of Android as a phone buyer and an app consumer. And in kicking off that coverage, it seems worth celebrating what has proved to the biggest advantage of Android: the range of devices on which it is available.
For Australian consumers, this hasn’t always been the case. When the initial tickle of Android devices began in the US, it was barely a dribble over here. Early attempts to launch bargain-basement phones (such as the planned Kogan Agora) ultimately came to nothing, and for much of 2010 we still only had a limited range of carrier-supported phones, many of which were stuck on version 1.6. While there was always a whole lot to love about Android phones — easy Google integration, no need to sync with a PC, and a range of apps in an open app store environment — device and network choice took a while to come to fruition.
If you examine the current Android space, though, there’s no doubt that choice has finally arrived. The cheapest Android phones now provide a realistic competitor to bargain-basement supermarket phones, and a competitor which provides way more functionality. In the main market, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson offer a massive range of options. And in the tablet space, the arrival of Honeycomb has kick-started a market which last year consisted of a handful of devices, many of them decidedly minimal in their feature set.
That’s certainly not to say that Android is perfect. A quick but probably not exhaustive list: carriers can still provide an unpleasant roadblock to getting updates; the open market approach can pose security challenges; manufacturer enhancements are often a waste of time; and we’re still seeing a lot of hardware hit Australia rather later than elsewhere in the world.
Nor does that mean that the non-Android choices aren’t viable. Indeed, the competition between Android, Apple, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and Symbian is a key reason why smartphones have got as good as they have so quickly. But I can’t imagine Apple (for example) working hard on building an iOS-enabled device that sells for less than $100.