Google I/O is coming soon, and while it’s about more than Android, most of the news and things you read will be about the smartphone. That’s a given now that computers are things we mostly hold in our hands instead of set on a desk and I/O is a conference about software. I’m going to make another very safe prediction and say that reactions to the announcements aren’t all going to be positive. There will be people who dislike the things that you like when it comes to Android’s features and changes, and vice versa.
In the short term, that’s to be expected and not a very big deal. We are all wired differently inside our heads and not everyone wants the same thing or the same type of change on our little handheld computers. The world would be a very boring place if everyone thought like you or me. But in the long term, it brings up something that becomes a little more serious: where does Google go from here?
Some of us would love to see Google keep adding more and more until Android becomes Windows ME and is a huge conglomeration of stuff that works as long as you do everything the right way and in the right order and are savvy enough to dig through page after page of settings. Sort of what happened to Hangouts. That kind of Android would be “powerful” for enthusiasts and power users, and the hardware that gets dropped into flagship smartphones could handle it. The problem is that enthusiasts and power users alone don’t pay the bills and Android has to be accessible and attractive to less savvy users and devices with less stellar specs.
Google also can’t go forward without adding new features that will inevitably make things more complicated, either. If Android Q launches without any new user-facing features there will be a minor uproar from the internet-at-large about Google losing its mojo and Android becoming stale.
Google has moved from the “one big change” model in Android updates to offering several smaller, but still significant, changes.
Google tried to balance this with smaller features and user interface changes for the most part, with possibly one killer feature that will be “coming soon”. We saw this last year at Google I/O, and Google has used the year since to fine-tune how your phone and Google Duplex can make a call on your behalf to get a reservation with a hair stylist. This allows Google to move forward with essential changes to Android — address new ways we use our phones to make money for the company while making it easy for us — while it gauges public opinion on the bigger things like robocalling virtual assistants.
Can Google do this forever? Maybe. But that means the company will still have to find that one big thing each and every year then make good on the promise we got from a demo. That’s not easy, especially when you consider the limitations that come with a handheld device.
Because we all use a phone as a primary, or at a minimum secondary, way to interface with the world, things coming from Mountain View need to be designed for the small screen first. One of the biggest limitations is exactly that — the small screen where information can’t all be shown at once and a user needs to know how and where to find all the details. Maybe that’s as easy as scrolling down or maybe it means a deep excursion through the settings. Once that’s sorted, you need to think about things like how we input commands and ideas into our device, how our device can economically stay connected, what kind of feedback we need so we know our device “understands” us, and more. Developing for a phone is tough.
There are a lot of hands involved in making an Andr