What do we even mean when we say ‘Android’?

What amused me most in Google I / O this year was the number of iPhone users who questioned Google's new focus on digital well-being and openly stated that Android outperformed iOS . As an avid Android acolyte, my reflexive response has been to say that Android has already been ahead of iOS in a number of important aspects such as its own applications, cloud services and digital assistant. But that made me think: that Android? Is the Android on your Samsung Galaxy A7 of 2016, or the Android on the latest Huawei P20 Pro, or the Android on Google's own Pixel devices? These are all different flavors of supposedly the same, but I'm not so sure.

I am beginning to believe that we need a more nuanced and differentiated language to analyze the developments within the Android ecosystem. The language of the past, the one in which "Windows" meant the same thing regardless of the manufacturer of the PC, and "iOS" still means more or less the same experience in most iPhones, is too narrow to cover the multiplicity of devices, businesses and experiences that represents "Android".



Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

First, there is the distinction between Android "new and expensive" and Android "old and forgotten". All the advantages of Android P exhibited by Google in I / O 2018 will be exclusive of two kinds of devices: the new ones acquired after the launch of Android P and the smaller ones that were too expensive for their manufacturers to get away with. upgrade. Phone reviewers like me tend to underestimate how big the problem is, because we keep jumping from one next-generation device to the next. So, for many of us, Android is represented by Google's best partners (or Google itself, through the latest launch of its Pixel phone line) that they can produce at any time.

But Android is not simply a marketing promise for the future, it is a reality lived by more than two billion users. And his experience is often like mine when I started an HTC One mini 2 2014 last year: full of application incompatibilities and without considering the latest updates. Let me tell you, the industrial design of that phone is still beautiful, its ergonomics are charming and its screen is still perfectly satisfactory. There's no reason why I should force myself to buy a new device just to keep applications like YouTube running on it. And if you think three years is a long time to back up a phone, ask your friends to have it.

Apple continues to update 76 percent of active iPhones to the latest version of iOS, while Google struggles on 5.7 percent of active Android devices.

Am I talking again about the problem of Android fragmentation ? Why yes, while it exists, we will have to visit it again. Because although Android P can give Google an advantage over Apple for a period of time, if Apple performs a corresponding digital wellness update on iOS 12, the effect and scope of the Apple update will dwarf the impact of the Google update. This fall, the Android P flagship device will be Google Pixel 3, which you will not find in operator stores ( or even in Google's own campus store ), while Apple's iOS 12 will land in All iPhone X, iPhone, 8, iPhone 7 and probable iPhone 6S device.

This is how these things work: Apple's iOS is a broadly consistent experience across all device generations, and its name is appropriate to use so much to describe what is to come Google's Android, faithful to its confectionery denomination scheme, it is distributed more in portions than in whole. Buy a Galaxy S9 and you'll have two slices, Oreo and the P taste, but you can never be sure when the second one will arrive and play a lottery waiting for a third. 19659011] Do not get me wrong, the new Android P Pixel theoretical versus the new theoretical iPhone this fall is a battle that tilts me in favor of Google's offer (in part because we have not yet seen what Apple is preparing for). iOS 12), but is that enough to say that Android is, as of now, better than iOS? Probably not. And should we even compare individual phones, whose hardware plays as important a role as the software, when we try to decide the superior operating system?



Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There is another question of Android evident in my eyes: what is Android in China? For me, Android is inextricably linked to the diversity of Google's excellent mobile applications, whether Google Maps, Google Photos, Google Keep or Google Drive. I am also relying more and more on the Google Assistant to accelerate basic daily tasks. The largest smartphone market in the world, however, does not allow the services of Google Play or Play Store, so the sending of an "Android" phone in China is a fundamentally different device that can be used in the rest of the world. world. It is fair to say that the predominant operating system in China is WeChat, which has been triggered from a chat application to a user experience of everything that sits on the traditional operating system. So a large part of the nominally Android users are in practice WeChat users.

The way we talk about Android today puts that label on the hardware manufacturers that send Android devices and the software that runs on them, and it does not differentiate between Android with Google services and Android without. When LG ships a phone with 54 pieces of preloaded bloatware, when OnePlus is caught collecting too much information about its users, or when Blu is downloaded from Amazon for its spyware, that's all "Android" in the minds of most people. When Samsung scares small children with their animated emojis and frustrates old people like me with their stupid Bixby button, it's also "Android".

There is a whole class of iPhone owners who think that Android is slow, outdated and ugly software, unworthy of the time of a modern user. And it happens that there is a full market of portable multimedia players with Android: the recent Fiio X7 II, for example, runs a defective version of the Android of 2015 5.1 – that meets those low expectations. Android is so diverse, in fact, that you can say almost anything about it and you can find evidence to support your claim.


Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

I will not propose any kind of "correct" language to describe Android, apart from urging us to start qualifying and to define more carefully what we mean when we use that term. The world had never before had an operating system of the scale of Android, with so many users, devices and versions intermingling, so it makes sense that we need to invent new ways of talking about Android.


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