Software

The ups and downs of Android in 2017

For Android, 2017 was a banner year. Jack Wallen highlights some of the best and not-so-best moments for the Google platform.

The past year was certainly a banner 365 days for Google's Android platform. Although much of the ballyhoo was centered around the release of Oreo, there were a few highs to be found elsewhere. There were also a few lows.

Let's gaze into the wayback machine and revisit some of the big ups and big downs for the Android platform.

First ... the "ups."

SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)

Android Oreo

This title has to go to the release of Android 8—aka "Oreo." Of every release Google has unleashed on the world, Oreo is by far the smoothest and securest. With the help of Google Play Protect, users no longer have to concern themselves with third-party antivirus and antimalware solutions, and they could trust their devices to be free from malicious code.

Oreo also turned out to be a significant step forward for battery life and user-interaction. The developers managed to squeeze the perfect amount of form and function into the release to polish and build upon what they did with Android 7. On every device I tested, Oreo made the experience better—in both performance, ease of use, and UI experience.

Google Assistant

Next up comes Google Assistant. Of every digital assitant to have ever existed, Google Assistant is hands down the greatest. Not only is it incredibly easy to use, it gets things right. It's a very rare occasion that Assistant misses the mark. Assistant is so good that it can help you troubleshoot your Pixel 2 (to a certain degree). It integrates with other Google apps such as Keep, can play games, make calls, send money, and much more. No other digital assistant like Siri or Bixby comes close to this next-step evolution of Google Now.

The Pixel Phones

The release of the Pixel devices was one of those rare occasions that could easily fall into both a "best of" and "worst of" category. Not that the devices weren't amazing—they were. Upon initial release, both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were heralded as the greatest Android phone to have ever been created. There was a reason why Google drew on the talents of Too Many Zoos as a soundtrack to their advertising campaign—because the Pixel Phones were that good. Not only was the hardware spec'd to seriously perform, they both contained the single best cameras on the smartphone market.

But then the shine slowly faded to reveal issues. The Pixel 2 XL suffered some pretty significant burn-in on the screen and many Pixel 2 users experienced strange sounds emanating from their devices. Google was quick to attempt to solve those problems by way of patching, but the jury is still out on whether the fixes will work long-term.

Even still, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are both remarkable devices that stand at the top of the Android heap.

SEE: Reducing the risks of BYOD in the enterprise (PDF) (TechRepublic)

So many near-perfect devices

The 2017 year also saw the release of a lot of phones that were so close to being perfect, but fell slightly short. One doesn't need to look far to see how reviewers wanted to love the Essential PH-1, if it weren't for that camera. Or the Galaxy S8+/Note8 and their poorly placed fingerprint sensor. Or maybe the Pixel 2 and its massive bezels. Or the HTC U11 and it's incredibly slippery surface. Or the glaring lack of a headphone jack on so many new devices.

You see where I'm going with this. There were so many flagship, or near flagship, Android devices that came so close to hitting that mark of perfection, but fell short for one reason or another.

Don't get me wrong, some of these devices are really, really good. In fact, I recently purchased an Essential PH-1 as my daily driver. Outside of the camera, the phone is amazing. And with Essential working hard to resolve that camera issue, my guess is the PH-1 will be the phone to have in the first part of 2018. It took me quite a long time to conclude the PH-1 was the device for me—that's how good the playing field was, even with the various "flaws" in nearly every device.

And now ... the not so good.

OnePlus benchmarks and Big Brother

OnePlus is a company that produces seriously amazing, flagship level devices at non-flagship prices. My daily driver for the past two years was a OnePlus 3, and it served me very well. When the company released the OnePlus 5, it was discovered the company was fudging the benchmarks. To make matters worse, OnePlus was found to be collecting data on its users and even installing backdoors that could steal data or root your device.

See: OnePlus phones have 2 factory-installed backdoors that could steal data or root your device (TechRepublic)

Not cool, OnePlus. Not cool.

Instant apps ... not so much

Instant apps had a lot of promise. Little of which was delivered. The idea behind Instant Apps is the ability to try an app before you install it. I've always found one problem with that premise—installing and uninstalling Android apps is incredibly simple and fast. The idea of "trying" a free app before you install it seems slightly redundant. If this were put in place for paid apps to serve as a sort of "trial" that would certainly give myself and many others pause to try these types of apps. However, I can install and uninstall a free app on Android almost as quickly as I can "try" it. On top of which, there is a very limited collection of Instant Apps available (Hollar, NTYimes - Crossword, Buzzfeed, Onefootball Live Soccer, Red Bull TV, dotloop, and ShareTheMeal). That's it. Looks to me, the idea of Instant Apps has yet to really catch on, and might not ever.

Malware

It seems even with the release of Android Oreo and Google Play Protect the platform couldn't escape malware. One of the nastiest malware "trends" for 2017 was the multi-stage attack. A multi-stage malware doesn't contain malicious code itself. Instead, the malware downloads payloads from other locations with the goal of installing malicious code onto the device.

See: New Google Play Store malware highlights disturbing trend of multi-stage Android attacks (TechRepublic)

By September of 2017, those that ranked among Android malware victims numbered in the millions, according to Forbes—quoting researchers from Check Point—that number is above 21 million.

Hopefully, with the continued help of Play Protect, 2018 will see a drop in malware on Android. If that's not the case, Google will have a serious problem on their hands.

The conclusion

As 2017 draws to a close, it's pretty safe to say that outside of the malware issues 2017 was a resounding success for the Android platform. Certainly there were devices that could have used a bit more R&D and bug squashing before release, but even with the problems those devices could easily serve any user very well.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what 2018 has in store for Android.

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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