Thursday, 4 July 2013

Top 5: Why I love Android

Image: Alex Shaikh
I have now officially been part of the Android community for one year! It's my Android-versary!! In this one year I have learned A LOT about mobile technology. Not just about Android in general, but more specifically about the hardware that goes into our mobile devices and about all the community development that makes Android such a great mobile platform to use. I don't know why, but my interest in mobile technology started when I started using Android. During the three years I spent using iOS, I wasn't as interested in the industry as I am now. Sure I knew about Android and its OEM partners, but I never visited sites like +PhoneDog or +Pocketnow, which I regularly visit nowadays. I didn't know and was never interested in what processor was in my iPhone, I didn't know what resolution it had (only that it had a Retina display), I didn't know how much RAM it had. I basically knew nothing about mobile technology other than what I was told by Apple. I definitely didn't know anything about the Androids in the market either. I was an iSheep. My brother showed me the light, and helped me out immensely when I first got started with Android. So what is it about Android that got me hooked on not just the platform, but on the entire industry? What has Android given me in one year, that I never got with iOS in three years? As part of my Android-versary, I thought I'd share with you just why I love using Android so much.

5. The Play Store
A mobile device is only as good as the apps on it. The Play Store for quite some time has been behind Apple's App Store in terms of quality and quantity of the apps. In fact, when it comes to quality some may argue that the App Store is still leading, which may in fact be true in some cases. But I'm not talking about the apps here, I'm talking about the actual stores. Why is the Play Store better? BECAUSE I DON'T NEED TO INSTALL IT ON MY LAPTOP! *end all caps rage* Seriously though, having to install iTunes and run it to access the App Store from my laptop was a real hassle with iOS. The Play Store on the other hand can be accessed from any browser. No separate software needed. In addition to that, I can remotely install apps on my mobile device from the desktop version of the Play Store, no sync required, no need to connect my device to my laptop like I had to do with iTunes. Browse the Play Store on my laptop, find an app I like, click install, and in a few seconds it's on my mobile device. It' can't get any easier than that.
iTunes? No.

4. Choice
With Android, you're spoilt for
choice. Image: Cult of Android
With the iPhone, you only get one model a year (though that might change this year). BB10 offers a few more choices, and Windows Phone offers a few more still, but none of these platforms can compete with Android when it comes to the number of different models in the market. With Android you get amazing flagships from Samsung, HTC, Sony, and even LG. In addition to those manufacturers we also have phones from ASUS, Motorola and even Huawei. Other than different hardware choices, we also get different skins of Android from each manufacturer, so no two devices from different manufacturers will have the exact same software on them. Each phone will offer a different experience, while still offering Android at its core. Even with different hardware and different software, one thing links all these devices together; your Google account. By having a Google account, all your contacts, apps, music and photos can be stored in a remote server, so even if you change from a HTC to a Samsung or from an ASUS to a Sony, you will never lose your apps, your contacts or any of your data. 

3. Don't like something? Change it!
Here's a quote Tim Cook made at the D11 conference a few weeks ago about allowing third party keyboards in iOS - "the customer pays us to make certain choices on their behalf". Restrictions are good depending on the situation, even Android doesn't allow total access to the root directory of a device, unless of course the user himself roots it. But Android still allows the user a whole lot of power over their device to change almost anything they want. Don't like the stock keyboard on your device? Replace it with any one of the great alternatives in the Play Store. Want to surf the internet on a browser other than Chrome? No problem (unlike on iOS, you can set third party apps as defaults as well). Not a fan of the transition animations? Install a custom launcher and change them. Think your lock screen is dull? Customise it. Bored of the stock icons? Again, change them. You can change practically everything about your device thanks to Android. And that's without rooting your device. For the adventurous, rooting opens up a whole new world of customisation options, more than jailbreaking could ever do for iOS.
Mycolorscreen is the place to go to see
how powerful Android customisation really is.
2. Adding functionality to your device
Sidebars are really popular
in the community.
As an extension to the previous point, not only can we change almost anything to our liking on our devices, we can also add functionality that we never had, again without root. These functional features can easily be downloaded from the Play Store. One of the more popular categories of "apps" that add functionality to a device are sidebars. You have quite a few well-known options like Pie ControlSidebar, Glovebox and Swapps, and they all do the same thing slightly differently; add a sidebar to your device that is hidden from view, which you can pull out from anywhere, the home screen or in any app. You can have a list of all your apps in the sidebar, just your most frequently used apps, shortcuts to widgets, settings shortcuts and a few other things depending on which you install. Quick settings toggles are also a favourite among the community. With several powerful options like Power Toggles and Widgetsoid that allow you to add settings toggles to your home screen, lock screen or notification shade, this is one great function that any Android user can add to their device without having to wait for a software upgrade. As with customisation, rooting will also grant the user more functionality features courtesy of custom ROMs and kernels. The ability to adjust the processor's minimum and maximum frequency, using volume keys to control the cursor when typing, taking photos with voice activation, turning the capacitive keys on your phone into notification lights that pulse when you have a notification, or waking your device by swiping across the capacitive keys. The ability to add functionality that was never present on your device is a great strength of Android, one that is made possible by the final point I'm about to make.

1. Android is open sourced
Three of the four points I made above are possible largely because of the nature of Android, which is being open source. If Android wasn't as open as it is, many of the things I (and I'm sure every other Android enthusiast out there) enjoy about Android wouldn't be possible. This is Android's greatest strength, and what makes it so different from iOS. One of the biggest benefits of being open sourced (among others) is that the users (community) have access to the Android code via the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This is where custom ROMs come from. But being open sourced has more benefits than just being able to install custom software; it also gives apps the ability to openly communicate with each other. This allows us to easily share content from one app to any other, like sharing a note made in Google Keep to a contact via WhatsApp, to open an image from the gallery in an image editing app like Easy Photo Editor, or sharing a website link from Chrome to Google+ (without copying and pasting the link). This kind of open communication between apps makes a task that would take maybe five steps possible in just one. I'd like to elaborate more on just how awesome Android is because of its open nature, but you can just read points (4), (3) and (2) again.
The core reason behind the greatness of Android.
I've only been part of the Android community for one year, and I've already learned so much about the platform and the industry as a whole. I was maybe fortunate enough to join the community post-4.0, thus coming in to an already matured platform, but all the hard work done by the guys at Google and the community to make Android what it is today won't go unnoticed by me. The fact that I am this enthusiastic about Android after just one year, when I was no where near the same level after three years with iOS speaks volumes of just how incredible this platform really is. I'll be using Android (and pretty much all things Google) for a long time yet.