Image: Jack Wallen

It’s time I put on my crystal ball sunglasses and gaze deep into the rays of the future. This time around, I’m looking at what’s in store for the Android platform. As usual, the future is foggy, but there’s still quite a bit to glean from the trajectory we’ve witnessed in the past and the present.

Although such prognostication isn’t an exact science, let’s take a look at what’s in store for Android in 2021.

SEE: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2020: Galaxy Z Fold2, Samsung Galaxy S20, and more (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Market share dips and soars

Thanks to the resounding success of the iPhone 12, Android market share will see a dip to 70% (or maybe even slightly below) for the first time in a while. That global market share will be driven by massive iPhone sales in the US. However, that dip won’t last long. With the release of the Google Pixel 6 and the next big flagship devices from Samsung, Android will once again soar, even reaching back above 75% of the global market share. Once Android reaches back into the mid to high 70s, it’s going to take a while before it’s knocked back out of the clouds.

Google Pixel 6 will recover its flagship status

I purchased a Google Pixel 5 and actually think it’s, in many ways, an improvement over the Google Pixel 4. It doesn’t look as good and the step down on the CPU does show itself when processing portrait photos. Other than that, the device is as rock solid a Pixel phone as I’ve ever used. As we’ve seen, Google learns from its mistakes. Although the lesser CPU was chosen to vastly improve battery life, I believe the Google Pixel 6 will see a return to glory. Not only has Google solved its battery problems, it’ll bring back a flagship-level CPU (most likely the Snapdragon 775G) and retool the design to bring about something pretty special. In fact, I predict the Pixel 6 will be the must-have Android device by the end of the 2021.

5G will become the de facto standard

It’s here, and it’s not going away. 5G has, surprisingly, been at the center of a number of conspiracies–all of which were unfounded. Now it’s arrived in most larger metropolitan cities. By the end of 2021, I expect 5G will have found its way into most medium and smaller markets. But that’s not the real prediction here. By the end of 2021, all Android devices will default to the 5G network and will even begin to see serious advancements in what those devices can do and how they can take advantage of the faster speeds, reduced latency, and improved features. In fact, you should expect to see a new boom in Android-based IoT devices capable of making use of 5G.

Microsoft will purchase what remains of Nokia and produce another Android phone

Nokia recently sealed a deal to become the largest equipment supplier to BT, the UK’s biggest telecoms provider. That’s huge news. Given that Microsoft already purchased a portion of Nokia, I expect they’ll be wanting to go all the way now and take in what remains of the company, but that’s not the prediction. With more of Nokia under their wing, Microsoft will start to become an even larger player in the mobile phone market by releasing yet another Android-based phone. With their Android-based Surface Duo already available, Microsoft has proved it has what it takes to create Android smartphones, but the Duo is very niche. To remedy that, Microsoft will unleash a more standard (read, single screen) device to compete with the best phones on the market.

Samsung will surpass the Google Pixel photo experience

Samsung has been inching up on the Google Pixel cameras for some time. With Google sticking with the same sensor for a few iterations, those brilliant Pixel cameras are starting to age less gracefully than they once did. With the next Samsung device release, we’ll see their camera technology surpass that of the Pixel’s. Samsung’s time in the camera sensor spotlight could be short lived, however. When the Pixel 6 arrives, Google will most likely have a trick or two up its sleeve to reclaim the title of top camera.

The Google Pixel Watch will finally be released

I’ve been predicting this for some time now, but I believe 2021 will finally be the year the Pixel watch will be released. Given how well Wear OS has improved over the years, I look for the Pixel Watch to be the one to finally convince the Android community that a wearable is a must-have. The Pixel Watch will be elegant, highly functional, and will have a battery life that easily bests the only true competition in the Android watch market space–the Samsung Galaxy Active2. This device will probably be announced along with the Pixel 6 and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google offered both phone and watch together at a reasonable discount to help sway users.

The Android upgrade process will finally start to smooth out

At one time, upgrading the Android OS was an absolute nightmare. I’m not talking about the upgrade itself as Google has done a remarkable job of making the upgrade of Android seamless. I’m talking about the release of upgrades across the board. Yes, upgrades will continue to reach the Pixel devices first, but I would expect that by the time Android 12 is ready, the process of getting the OS prepared for third parties will have smoothed out considerably. That means that owners of non-Pixel phones won’t have to wait as long before the latest version of Android reaches their devices.

Contact tracing services will be enhanced by AI

At the moment, Android has contact tracing abilities baked in. However, in order to take advantage of that, you must install third-party apps. I believe, by the end of 2021, we’ll see contact tracing in Android that doesn’t rely on third-party apps. Even better, contact tracing will be enhanced by AI, so it’ll be more efficient, aware, and reliable.

More user management of cloud backups

If you try to use the Android cloud backup service, you quickly find out that it’s really only there for when you purchase a new phone or restore your current phone to factory settings. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing, and it works quite well. However, the one thing the cloud backup solution lacks is the ability of users to really manage those backups. For instance, say you want to specify specific directories or apps to be backed up, or maybe you want to download specific backup data. Can you do that? You can, but it’s a challenge. However, with the release of Android 12, I believe Google will start handing a bit more control over those backups to users.

Much improved gesture navigation

Since inception, I’ve used Android’s gesture navigation. I find it far more efficient and enjoyable than the traditional method of navigating through the UI. But, the Android take on gesture navigation isn’t perfect, and it’s limited. Android 12 should find that system to be much improved. The best way I could see an improvement would be to give the app switching gesture a bit of attention. As it stands, you have to actually take the time to get used to opening the app switcher. I know some users who’ve grown so frustrated with that functionality, that they disable gesture navigation altogether. How could they fix that? What about a quick swipe up from the bottom of the display, instead of having to do a slow swipe and then a slight right swipe? I believe gesture-based navigation will see just enough improvements in Android 12 to make it palatable for the average user.

And there you have it, the predictions I have for the Android platform in 2021. How many will come true? Unless you’ve finally mastered time travel, the only way to find out is to allow 2021 unfold before us. Let’s hope it’s a better year than the previous.