Hot on the heels of Apple’s Special Event in September, will be Google’s hardware event on the 4th of October. Their invitation hasn’t let any cats out of the bag but it’s rumored that Google will use this event to announce the release of two Pixel phones, an updated Chromecast video streamer with 4K support, more details on the Google Home smart home platform, Google’s own Daydream virtual reality headset and even a possible Android and Chrome operating system (OS) merge. These anticipated platform announcements from Google should take device and smartphone users to another level within the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The big question now is will this heat up the platform war between the tech giants, Apple and Google?
The Platform Wars
To a very large extent, the OS platform wars have been won by Android and iOS in the mobile device arena, with Android the leader in the number of devices sold. According to a June 2016 Internet Trends report by Mary Meeker, the percentage of Android-enabled smartphones shipped in 2009 was 4%, compared to 14% of Apple iOS-enabled smartphones. By December 2015, the scales had tipped to 81% Android to 16 percent iOS.
Google purchased Android Inc. in 2005, two years after it was founded. Android Inc’s initial aim was, in the words of one of its four founders, to create “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”. By the time Google purchased the company, the focus had moved to producing an operating system for smartphones that would compete against Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
At Google, the work continued to produce an open-source mobile device platform, powered by Linux kernel, that Google then marketed to various handset makers and carriers on the promise of providing a flexible, upgradeable system. As a result, users now have the freedom to choose their preferred mobile device with a generic-type OS that doesn’t tie them down to a proprietary device with its own proprietary software.
Apple, on the other hand, produced their highly secret iOS in 2007, exclusively for its own hardware, the first iPhone, and has continued to roll out the iOS to other Apple devices, such as the iPad and iPod touch. This use of proprietary software accounts for the huge difference in the quantity of Android-enabled smartphones sold in 2015 versus sales of Apple’s iOS-enabled smartphones.
The Internet of Things – IoT
First coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a British entrepreneur, the term ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) has come to encompass the networking of physical and man-made “Things”, over the internet, to collect and exchange data. IoT is expected to go beyond machine-to-machine communications. In addition to smart home appliances, gates, lights, etc., “Things” can also be devices, such as biochip transponders on animals, analytic devices for environmental/ food/ pathogen monitoring, heart monitoring implants vehicles with built-in sensors, or field operation devices that assist, for example, firefighters in search and rescue operations.
The initial technology envisioned to connect devices globally was RFID. Integration with the internet will require that devices use an IP address as a unique identifier. However, due to the limited address space of IPv4, objects in the IoT will have to use IPv6 to accommodate the extremely large address space that will be required. The global adoption of IPv6 in the coming years will be critical for the successful development of the IoT in the future.
And here’s another challenge: The IoT suffers from operating system fragmentation and a lack of technical standards. Developers will find it difficult to create solutions across all known operating systems. Users, though, will probably be less inclined to use proprietary software and will rather opt for open-source software because it won’t tie them down to one company.
Android Chrome OS Merge
A merge of these operating systems, taking the best of both, would be Google’s next step to offering split-screen multitasking on all Android devices and making it simpler for developers to create apps for one OS, as well as a necessary step to making their smart home solution seamless.
Folding Chrome OS into Android will enable Google to target even more devices with its mobile platform – think laptops and 2-in-1s. As Android has just released the new Marshmallow OS, it’s thought that the new merged operating system – thought to be called Andromeda – might not be ready for launch next month, and that the October event will be used to announce progress.
Google Home Smart Home vs Apple HomeKit
Apple and Google are heavily invested in the smart home sphere. Other companies have tested the IoT waters but there haven’t been the same kind of moves that Apple and Google have made. Users will want simplicity of activation and operation and it remains to be seen whether it will be Google’s strategies or Apple’s approach that will ultimately pay off.
Google Home will be powered by the voice-activated version of Google Assistant. There is no information yet on how Google Home will work or any of the features in its launch version, but the anticipated unveiling of the new smart home offering in October is generating a lot of interest.
The Last Laugh
Numerous articles have been written detailing the pros and cons of Android and iOS. Others list and discuss why Android is better and vice versa.
When Instagram became available to Android users, some iPhone users showed an elitist streak by saying they were being “…forced to see what poor people eat for dinner” and were “…over Instagram now that they let in all the Android riff-raff”.
While there may be Android users who think Apple users are elitist, and iOS users who are hooked on the Apple brand, regardless of the cost or proprietary software, apps and iOS, the bottom line is that users will quickly switch to another brand if their needs aren’t met. Brand loyalty doesn’t last forever. Look at what happened to Nokia and Blackberry. Give customers what they want and need, make it easy to use, and steer clear of telling them what to do. The customer is always King as they control the purse strings. Now it will be interesting to see if it will be Google or Apple who meet the real needs of customers worldwide.