Mobility

Android Review 2018: Highs and lows

From Android Pie to malware—take a look back at the highs and lows for Google's pet operating system.

The year was 2018. The competition for mobile platforms, on the world stage, continued to be dominated by Android. Google's pet operating system was a force to be reckoned with and 2018 was, because of a single major upgrade, seriously good to the platform.

But what were some of the specific highs and lows for Android? Let's glance into the looking glass to see how 2018 shaped up to be a banner year for the platform.

SEE: Mobile device security: A guide for business leaders (Tech Pro Research)

The Highs

Happy 10 year anniversary

The biggest moment of the year came in the form of an anniversary. It was ten years ago since the HTC G1 (aka the HTC Dream) first rolled out. That was 2008, and Android was an awkward, buggy system that few believed could stand up against Apple's offering. However, with ten years under its belt, Android has evolved into the most stable, robust, and flexible mobile platform on the market. Given that most pundits didn't think Android had a shot at surviving, I'd say celebrating 10 years (while having the largest global market share for any operating system) is a pretty big deal.

Android Pie

Although Android Pie hasn't rolled out to a large percentage of devices, those who use it (such as myself) have declared it one of the best major updates for the platform since inception. That's a big claim, considering how many outstanding iterations of Android we've seen. But with the battery life, security, and performance improvements found in Android 9.0, those claims are easy to back up. And although so many balked at Gesture-based Navigation, I find it to be a far more efficient means of interacting with the platform than the traditional method. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Of every Android major update I've experienced (so far since Android 2.0), Pie has been, without a doubt, the most polished and impressive. In fact, most of the highs for Android come by way of Pie.

Pixel 3

Anyone looking for a pure Android experience, with the single best camera phone on the market, celebrated the release of the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel 3 form factor was the perfect size for one-handed usage, and Android Pie performed to perfection on the hardware. For many reviewers, the Pixel 3 shared the title of best phone of 2018 with the Samsung Note 9. However, the Note 9 isn't nearly a pure Android platform, nor does the camera stand up against the Pixel 3. Even so, the Pixel 3 was a serious highlight for Android.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

Google Home Hub

It had to happen sooner or later. Google was bound to release a product that would take a single aspect of Android (Assistant) and cram it into a piece of hardware to serve as a one-trick pony device. Fortunately, that one trick the pony did was pretty impressive. With Google Home Hub, consumers could interact with Google Assistant without needing their Android phone present.

AI

You cannot throw a virtual rock without hitting Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days. But with Android, AI has been tightly integrated. In fact, Google stated that Android Pie was "Powered by AI." This tight AI integration is how Android Pie gained serious ground with battery life. The new feature is called Adaptive Battery and goes a very long way to improve battery life on Android.

AI also enabled Android to make use of Smart Replies to apps like Gmail and Messages. Smart Replies guesses, based on learned typing habits, what you might say next. It's almost scary how well the system learns how you might reply to a message (as you type). Of course, you must use the apps and the feature, in order for the AI to learn your habits.

App Actions

Remember when Android Oreo introduced App Actions? The feature made interacting with apps much more efficient. Users could long-press an app launcher to see a pop-up list of actions based on the app. For instance, you could long-press the Gmail icon and tap the entry to compose a new message. That initial iteration was rough around the edges and often found itself shrugged off. With Android Pie, App Actions was greatly improved, making the feature finally worth using. Not only are the available actions more useful, the feature finally fits better into the overall design scheme for Android, making it more seamless and user-friendly.

Call Screening

This was a crucial update to Android, one that's often overlooked. With the release of Android Pie, a new feature, dubbed Call Screening, was released. With Call Screening, you tap a button for an incoming call that will automatically send a message to the caller that the call is being screened. This means that everything said within the call is dictated (with a frighteningly accurate voice to text) and saved. The end result is that most of those unwanted calls will slowly go away (knowing you are screening their service). It also makes for a very handy transcript service. The caller must also state a reason for the call, which you see. You can then decide how to proceed with the call, based on that information.

SEE: Mobile app development policy (Tech Pro Research)

The Lows

There weren't many lows for Android in 2018, so picking a few nits is a must.

Goodbye Inbox

I have to confess, I enjoyed Inbox. What Inbox did was keep the mobile email inbox clean and tidy. Yes, it took getting used to, but once you did, it was an efficiency aficionado's dream client. However, Google opted to do away with the app and turn all of its focus on Gmail. Although this was probably the smart business move, many users see Gmail as a lesser email client. Fortunately, Gmail is now on the fast track for serious improvement (silver lining and all).

Malware

That's right, it's still an issue. In fact, just recently it was discovered that 13 malicious apps were found within the Google Play Store (affecting more than 500,000 users). Even with the Android Security Bulletin showing fewer and fewer vulnerabilities, the malware hits just keep on coming.

SEE: Man-in-the-disk attacks: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

The Fine

The year 2018 wasn't so great for Google on one front: The European Union punished Google with a staggering $5.1 billion fine for abusing its power in the mobile phone market. The problem is that Google freely provides the Android platform to third-party OEMs, but requires those manufacturers to pre-install certain Google apps on their devices. However, it's currently unclear how Google will respond to that fine and how (or if) it will affect Android. Google could offer Android without pre-installed apps, but those apps include Google Service and Google Playstore. Android without those two services means users would install apps from third-party sources, which takes us right back to the malware issue.

Looking ahead

And there you have it—some of the highs and lows for Android in 2018. Even though there were a few lows, 2018 was certainly a year to remember for Android. What's to come? Android 10 and even higher highs (but hopefully not lower lows).

Also See

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Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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