Smartphones

Ice Cream Sandwich may be Android's ticket to success

Patrick Gray thinks that a single, unifying OS may be Android's ticket to success in the tablet market. Do you agree?

Google recently announced a "unified" version of its mobile operating system, codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich." You could be excused for getting simultaneously confused and hungry while reading about Google's mobile OS journey, where each iteration is named after a dessert, in alphabetical order. The prior release, Android Honeycomb, was interesting in that it was designed only for tablets, creating a bit of a split in the Android universe. Ice Cream Sandwich brings all mobile devices back into the sugar-laden fold, allowing the same OS to run on your Android phone or tablet.

Android is available to a variety of manufacturers, and even within the phone and tablet categories, there are several different form factors -- from phones with 3" screens, to 5, 7, 8, and 10-inch tablets. Ice Cream Sandwich aims to run on all of them and allow developers to write one application that will work with all the potential variations in screen size and available hardware (for instance, cellular data or GPS features that might exist on a phone but not a tablet).

You may wonder why I'm obsessing over what seems like feature porn, but more than a game of inches, this represents a fundamental difference between Android and a company like Apple, where iPad and iPhone are close cousins rather than members of the same family. Android seems to be taking an approach that's worked exceptionally well in the enterprise market with PCs by providing a universal set of software than can run on a large range of devices and openly integrate with different hardware. Apple, on the other hand, limits you to one tablet and one phone form factor when you discount the various color combinations and memory sizes.

Now that tablets are reaching some level of maturity, this difference in approach is far more interesting than processor speeds or other nuances. Both Android and iOS offer a compelling "3rd screen" -- but an OS that takes a page from Window's "universal compatibility" playbook could be the kick start that Android needs to set it apart. This more universal approach allows benefits, such as letting your programmers write one application for employee phones and tablets without worry about producing an "iPad-optimized" version, and it also allows you to buy hardware from vendors that are a bit more well-adjusted to enterprise sales than the team in Cupertino.

The obvious test case has already been mentioned: Microsoft Windows. Windows effectively owns the cubicle villages of the world, yet it's faltered on the tablet front -- even while offering "universal compatibility" with scores of hardware and software combinations. Windows failed by trying to bring a desktop experience into a tablet, but Google may succeed since it does not have this baggage.

While recent sales estimates (6 million Android tablets to Apple's 30 million) indicate a long road ahead, tablets in the enterprise are still in their earliest stages. A wide range of devices, all powered by a single, unifying OS may be Android's ticket to success in this market. It certainly has the potential to make headway in the consumer space, just as the PC followed many home from work to a place in the family room.

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About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

11 comments
adornoe
adornoe

so, it fails in the bigger scheme of things, which is where Windows 8 is headed, which is to unify all of the form factors, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. And so, while ICS might be a step forward for the Android marketplace, it's still not a step in the right direction to unify all of the different form factors which people use on a daily basis. So, it might be one step forward for Google, but it will seem like 10 steps back once Windows 8 is released.

nyexpat
nyexpat

I'm not an IT person. Just a consumer. Would one be able to upgrade to Sandwich from an earlier version of Android, i.e. 2.3? Or is that impossible (without doing hacks or whatever you guys call it)? ;-)

andrer
andrer

Sorry, but this article misses the point. Google had to unify the OS so they have one OS, with one set of APIs that can be used on phones and tablets. iOS already has this. This does not mean developers do not have to worry about producing a tablet optimized version. The difference in form factor means that an application optimized for a phone's screen size, will not be optimal for use on a tablet, and vice-versa. (Note: it may work, but will not provide a good user experience). This applies to both iOS and Android.

rltj1993
rltj1993

At least that's some progress, now to see if the code lives up to the hype. I'd much rather it do it's own form factor determination than having to write several versions.

Hazydave
Hazydave

Windows on tablets is coming, but it's not what many people think. Tablets are going to run only new apps using the Metro API... desktop applications are not going to work on a touch interface. Desktop APIs won't be there at all for the ARM version of Windows 8. And even if they did work, tablets lack performance and storage for Windows desktop apps. Eve x86 tablets.. think netbook, only slower. Without keyboard or mouse. Yes, Metro apps will run on the desktop. This is because they're written in Javascript, HTML, and silverlight, not compiled code. Not for heavy lifting. The draw of a Windows tablet would in theory be taking Windows applications with you. That's not happening... what you really get is the ability to bring tablet apps to your desktop. Which is not at all interesting... I can't think of a single Metro app Iwant on the desktop. There are alreadg several different ways to run Android apps on a Windows desktop. But pretty much anything that makes sense on both tablet or phone and desktop already exist on both. There's no fundamental difference between a smartphone and a tablet, so it makes to have one OS for both. Desktops are fundamentally different, and even laptop PC represent a fundamental compromise. Modern tablets succeded bynot being PCs, after 15+ years of tablets failing as PCs. Android is doing just dandy being the best posible OS for mobile personal computers. Microsoft is reacting outof panic.. they pretty much missed the fact that ARM-based tablets can be all the personal computer many people need. They're too far behind to catch up quickly, as the Windows7Phone numbers have shown: MS still losing market share even after W7P was on the market. Of course, MS has deep enough pockets to keep it alive as long as they like. But up against Apple & Google, this is no cakewalk. For Microsoft, its survival as the 800lbs. gorilla of tge PC industry. Like Vista, Windows 8 is all about protecting that. It's Android and iOS delivering what customers want.

kenjwsu
kenjwsu

Not a stupid question at all, and the answer to your question boils down to the carrier, manufacturer, and the model of phone you have. Some phones just aren't capable of running the kernel of a newer version unfortunately. The official release then boils down to HTC, Motorola, Samsung, etc. building off of the new model and putting their own touches on it. Then, the last thing is the carrier which would "push" or give the option to their customers on whether or not to upgrade. Fortunately, the last 2 can be fixed by those so called "hackers" that build their own custom version of the Android OS, but it can be risky. Always make sure to do plenty of reading instead of jumping in blind!

nyexpat
nyexpat

Can one upgrade from android 2.2 or .3 to 3.0 and above? If not, is this something that the newest version Sandwich will provide?

nyexpat
nyexpat

Thanks for your reply! I was/am planning on getting a tablet for my son to use (I dont have one) and I don't want to spend a lot. I want it to function as a device for him to not only play games (like an ipod touch) but also access the internet (bigger screen) and other functions, such as opening word/ppt docs, etc. Am considering an Archos 8) g9 for the price (below $300) since it has Android 3.2. There are other decent ones out there that have Android 2.3, for example that support flash. But I don't want to purchase something that will be "obsolete." i.e. OS 8 or for the mac couldn't upgrade to OSX. (am a "mac" and not really "pc" in any way. ha!)

kenjwsu
kenjwsu

I did a little bit more checking and it is rumored that most of the Honeycomb (Android 3.0 and 3.2) Tablets should be getting ICS. There isn't much word on whether or not tablets that currently have Gingerbread(2.3) will get an update. Like I said, these are just rumors at the moment, and anything can change, particularly if the manufacturer finds it to be more trouble than it's worth. If you really want ICS on your tablet and there ends up being no official release, you can always go with a custom ROM from the android community... after they have the chance to develop it. Other than that, I can't say much more about it. Hopefully there will be more set in stone after it officially hits the market. One last thing... which tablet do you currently own that you're asking about, or are you thinking more along the lines of buying one that will get an update instead of spending the ungodly extra $$$ for a new one? ;)

nyexpat
nyexpat

Not talking about getting a "new" tablet, but being able to upgrade an existing one that is running 2.3. Is that possible or not?

kenjwsu
kenjwsu

The Samsung Galaxy tablets were upgrading to 3.2(Honeycomb) and the Motorola Xoom is supposed to be getting the update to ICS as it becomes available. All others I'm not too sure about. Everything said, it really does come down to manufacturer preference on an official release, and hardware capabilities on both sides (being the official release and a community developer release).

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