Not a fan of the iPhone 6 or iOS 8? Find Windows on a mobile device is a little “meh” and have no use for BlackBerry’s physical QWERTY keyboard on your smartphone? You’re not alone. Google’s Android operating system powers somewhere in the neighbourhood of 85% of all smartphones and it’s closing in on 70% of all tablets. Android fans have a lot to look forward to in 2015. Lollipop is rolling out to more devices, Android 5.1 just made an appearance, Android Wear smartwatches are gaining steam and some pretty amazing looking new Android smartphones made their debut a few weeks ago at Mobile World Congress.
Lollipop is Coming, Get Ready for the 5.1 Update
Last October, Google officially announced Android 5.0—also known as Android Lollipop and formerly referred to as “Android L.”
This was a major new OS release. Visually, it made significant updates to Android thanks to Google’s new “Material Design” interface. It’s cleaner and simpler to navigate with flattened icons, brighter colours and improved animations. That Material Design UI is also a big step toward unifying the look of Android across different devices, including smartphones, tablets and smartwatches.
Notifications are improved, security has been beefed up, multi-user support hits smartphones and devices are always listening—just an “Okay Google” away from checking the weather forecast. In short, Lollipop is a thoroughly modern looking operating system with advanced capabilities.
Google’s developers focused heavily on performance and battery life and as a result, Lollipop takes full advantage of 64-bit processors, performs well on older devices and delivers additional battery life—including a battery saver feature that can add 90 minutes of emergency battery power to a mobile phone.
2015 is the year that Android Lollipop has begun to roll out to Canadian smartphones and it’s already begun to show up as the installed OS on devices like the Nexus 9 tablet. Canadian carriers have begun rolling out Lollipop to smartphones like the Galaxy S5.
2014 was the year we learned about Lollipop, 2015 will be the year Canadian Android owners can take it for a spin.
Google also announced a 5.1 version of Android at the start of March. This update adds high definition voice calling on supported networks, supports multiple SIM cards on a single device, adds device protection via your Google account and offers additional performance improvements.
Android Smartphones Pushing Design
You can make the argument that smartphones are now a mature product category. Manufacturers have settled into a basic form factor people have come to associate with the devices and that generally works well. In the case of smartphones, a rectangular slab with a display in the 5-inch range has become the norm.
However, Android smartphone manufacturers are doing anything but playing it safe and sticking to the status quo when it comes to smartphone design in 2015 and the results are already being seen in some very interesting looking devices. After several years of bigger displays being the primary hardware change, seeing manufacturers willling to experiment with form factor again is a very cool development.
Samsung essentially started from scratch with the new Galaxy S6. The basic form factor remains, but instead of changing up the texture and colour of the plastic cases that it’s always used with the Galaxy series, it got rid of the material. The Galaxy S6 has a premium new glass and metal look.
Even bolder is the Galaxy S6 Edge, a smartphone equipped with a wraparound display that curves over both side edges. The look is futuristic, but it’s not just eye candy; the additional screen real estate serves a useful function and can operate independently from the main display.
LG is also poking the idea that flat and rectangular is the only way to go with the G Flex 2, the second generation of its unique smartphone that’s not only curved (and flexes), but has a self-healing back case that makes scratches disappear. The original came out in 2014, but the G Flex 2 is a significantly improved version that could convince more Android vendors to adopt less traditional designs.
When it comes to hardware, Android fans have a lot to look forward to in 2015 and there is more opportunity to push the boundaries of what’s technically possible than ever before.
Android Wear Smartwatches
Last fall, Android Wear—Google’s operating system for smartwatches—was released and as a result we’re already seeing wearables like the Moto 360 that throw the square “computer on a wrist” design out the window in favour of a traditional round wristwatch form factor.
Other releases like the new Pebble Time and Apple Watch will only push manufacturers to make even better Android Wear smartwatches and with Android Wear, integration between smartwatch and smartphone continues to get even tighter. I saw that for myself when I had the opportunity to test a Moto 360 together with a Moto X smartphone.
The second generation of Android Wear smartwatches are beginning to appear, including the incredible looking LG Watch Urbane. Expect 2015 to be a banner year for Android on your wrist.
It won’t be available in Canada immediately, but Android Pay is coming in 2015. Google has been working on rounding up partners in banks, retailers and smartphone manufacturers to finalize a new touch-less mobile payment standard for Android smartphones. Android Pay is expected to launch at Google’s I/O conference in May.
It’s been percolating for a while now, but Android Auto is expected to launch in early 2015. With an Android device running Lollipop and a car equipped with an Android Auto infotainment system (or aftermarket deck like those being prepped by Pioneer) you get Android on the road.
Android Auto features the clean interface of Material Design (remember that from the Lollipop release?), bringing the power of your smartphone to your car. Expect automatic updating of contextually useful information (like maps or music details) presented on cards, with features like voice control, app-support, Google Play Music, and Google Maps navigation.
On the Horizon: Android M …
As exciting as 2015 will be as Android Lollipop rolls out, Google isn’t sitting still. Its developers are currently working on the next major version of Android—code-named “Android M”—and we will likely get the first look at it in the fall. It’s all guesswork at this point, but signs are pointing toward Android M featuring Android TV support, Android smart home integration and increased support for Android Auto.
Fasten your seat belts Android fans, 2015 promises to be an exciting year.