The android invasion

The android invasion

Androids are beginning to take over India.

This isn’t, however, so much a robot uprising as the rise in popularity of Google’s open mobile operating system (OS). In the last two months, the number of phones available or announced in the country that are powered by Android has grown from around five to more than 13. In 2009, Google Inc. reported 30,000 “activations" a day worldwide, which is the number of new Android-powered phones that were registered with it daily. In February, that number went up to 60,000 worldwide, just as the number of applications on the Android Market reached the 50,000 mark (in comparison, Apple’s iPhone app store has about 225,000 applications).

Today, that number has grown dizzyingly to 200,000 activations a day and more than 100,000 applications in the Market—with Android poised to be the fastest growing mobile OS, according to market research firm IDC. “Android will experience the fastest growth of any mobile operating system. Starting from a very small base of just 690,000 units in 2008, total Android-powered shipments will reach 68 million units by 2013," according to IDC’s Worldwide Mobile OS 2009-2013 Forecast and Analysis study. This makes Android the second most popular mobile OS overall, after Nokia’s Symbian OS.

In India, the Androids are just beginning to gain popularity. “Android OS-based smartphones have found favour with vendors as well as users in the last two-three quarters," says IDC India’s telecom analyst Naveen Mishra. “The open source Linux OS platform means a low or ‘near zero’ licence fee, while allowing the larger development community to participate in creating applications for emerging user needs."

Mishra expects these factors to lead to “wider availability" of Android-based smartphones in India. The Androids are already present in multiple price-points—from high-end models such as the Samsung Galaxy S and Motorola Milestone XT720 (priced above Rs25,000) to mid-level phones such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini and HTC Wildfire (priced at less than Rs20,000) and entry-level models such as Acer’s beTouch e110, which retails for Rs9,950.

The advantages of using Android are many. It’s a robust, modular OS with a truckload of features and apps for all purposes. It’s like a Swiss army knife. Internet, email and chat are a breeze, and integration with social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is breezy and simple. Another key advantage, says Mishra, will be its ability to create India-specific content.

“Some locally available applications for Android have been developed by adapting apps with India-specific content, like the typical weather forecast widget that sits on the home screen," says Mishra.

“Others, such as Airtel’s HTC Magic bouquet, include an application to allow users to select and download their favourite caller tunes directly through the Internet, as opposed to the earlier versions that were SMS-based or Interactive Voice Response (IVR)-based," he adds.

But not everything is perfect. The quality of apps across the Android Market is wildly inconsistent, and the experience is not as streamlined as the one you’d get with an iPhone or a BlackBerry. The Market itself is a bit of a mess to navigate, and India still does not have access to paid applications of any kind.


Looking to buy an Android-powered phone? Here’s a checklist

The software version is important

Always check which version of Android your phone comes with. This makes a huge difference in experience and performance, such as upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7.

The latest version of Android is 2.2, or Froyo (short for frozen yogurt. Versions of Android are codenamed after desserts), but most phones will come bundled with either 2.1, Eclair, or 1.6, Donut. Eclair has a host of performance boosts and improvements over 1.6, including greater compatibility for new applications. The official Twitter app for Android, for example, runs only on phones with versions 2.1 or above.

This, of course, does not mean that phones with older versions of Android are obsolete. Most of the mobile phone manufacturers (Sony Ericsson and HTC in particular) run “modified" versions of Android, in a sense covering it with a layer of their own software.

Even if your phone of choice comes with an older version of Android, make sure the manufacturer provides regular updates (the manufacturer will usually provide software that you can download to update the phone). The Motorola Milestone started with version 1.6, but will soon allow users to upgrade to version 2.2.

Get the right apps

Android has recently been under fire for suffering from what’s called the “bloatware" problem. “Bloatware" is a term used to describe needless pieces of software that the manufacturer bundles automatically with a computer or phone. These are often hard to remove, and pester you to pay up to access their “full" versions.

Make sure to uninstall any applications you will not need. If you use a Google mail account, it’s best to stick to the Google suite of apps (Gmail, Google Talk, Maps, YouTube) to get most of your work done. Get Opera Mini as a robust alternative browser to the default Android one. The Aldiko eBook reader is a great choice for those who have nice, bright screens and want to read on the go. Seesmic is a spiffy Twitter client for those not running version 2.1. Get the Astro File Manager for easy access to the contents of your phone, and to coordinate files.

Fiddle responsibly

Android is a remarkably modular operating system, and everything from the structure of the “Home" screen (the main “desktop" of your phone) to the virtual keypad can be tweaked and replaced. But remember to fiddle responsibly—apps may be prone to crashes and bugs.

For those looking to change the look and feel of the user interface (UI), Slidescreen and Home++ are two of the excellent “Home" screen replacements. Slidescreen adds a nice, colourful, information-filled touch to the phone, while Home++ comes with a very useful Power Strip for quick access to phone functions. The Samsung Galaxy S comes bundled with Swype, an interesting new way of typing on a virtual keypad that promises much greater speed and accuracy. Swype works by sliding your finger across letters to make words, instead of individually typing each one. It’s currently in closed-beta and available only on select phones, but there’s SlideIT on the Market for those who want to get a feel of it.