2012 was a banner year for Android, and I’m very thankful to have been a small part of it. New apps, new operating system features, and a bunch of new and exciting phones and tablets have given us a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. Below is a short list of my own personal highlights from the year, so be sure to check out anything you may have missed.
Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 and 4.2)
Officially announced on June 27 at the Google I/O conference, Jelly Bean was exciting primarily because of the buttery smoothness it promised to bring to the Android experience. It also allowed Android to take the lead with voice-control, putting Apple’s Siri to shame.
There were actually two releases of Jelly Bean this year: 4.1 on June 27th and 4.2, which was just released on November 14th. My personal favorite feature of 4.2 is multi-user support, which is a necessity for anyone who shares tablets at home. And as a developer, the latest release of the Android tools includes a one-click installer for your Android developer environment (something I had already created for Treehouse) and a new multi-config editor that let’s you see how your app will look on a variety of devices in one screen in Eclipse.
Apple can no longer brag about how superior its app ecosystem is. The number of quality apps for Android has grown exponentially and it is now seen as an equal or leading platform as opposed to an afterthought after developing an iOS app.
This brand new location-based game from Google has a ton of potential as an immersive real-world game. It’s in an invitation-only beta release right now, so head on over to http://www.ingress.com to sign up. Check out this thorough review on Android Police if you’re interested. My own limited play time so far has been very promising!
This app has been around for a while (formerly known as Read It Later), but I am particularly thankful for it this year because I’ve used it and its related Chrome extension and Mac app a ton this year. With Android’s easy sharing ability I can quickly “Add to Pocket” any link in pretty much any app so I can come back and catch up on my reading list as I wait for my three year old to fall asleep at night. [Get it on Google Play]
My love affair with TweetLanes has ended because, sadly, it has fallen victim to Twitter’s new limitations on its APIs for 3rd party apps. That said, it was my favorite Android Twitter client this year and I am thankful to its developer, Chris Lacy, for making it available. He’s working on a new style app launcher called Action Launcher, so stay tuned for that!
Though I’m not crazy about the initial device that was announced last year in September, I am thankful for what it did to the market for Android tablets this year. Before the Kindle came out, Apple was still dominating the tablet market with the iPad’s robust 61% market share. Android tablets were fragmented and not much more useful than Android phones. But Amazon (thanks in no small part to their marketing, massive content library, and infrastructure) moved millions of units at the end of last year, paved the way for 7-inch tablets, and forced Android developers to start considering Android tablet layouts more seriously. A year later, the iPad’s market share is down to 50% and Android tablets (and their apps) are better than ever.
Where do I begin? As expected, this was a very exciting year for Android users and gadget lovers. Here are a few of my own biased MVPs:
Samsung Galaxy S3
My personal phone has been a joy to use. It’s by far my most-used gadget and I have been thrilled by its screen, performance, and blazing 4G speed. My only problem is that there are so many exciting Android phones coming out that I want to try them all!
One complaint I have about my S3 is the cheap-feeling plastic case. Everything besides the screen feels cheap compared to the beautiful iPhone 5 my wife just got. Thankfully, the Nexus 4 has arrived as an Android phone that competes with Apple in its physical design. I have yet to try out one of these hard-to-get beauties, but all reports are that they look and feel like phones on par with Apple’s industry-leading industrial design.
Though the Kindle Fire was the first popular 7″ Android tablet, the Nexus 7 showed us what a small tablet with top-of-the-line hardware can do. As an owner of the original iPad, I never thought I’d want to switch to a smaller tablet, but as noted Android-hater MG Siegler puts it:
For me, the key is the size. Again, I was skeptical at first, but for many situations, I’ve come to love the 7-inch frame. The iPad is brilliant when you’re sitting on a couch or camped out in a coffee shop. In my view, the 9.7-inch iPad is slowly but surely becoming a laptop replacement. I expect this to continue. But a 7-inch tablet is different. The iPad is clunky to read in bed, for example. The Nexus 7 is perfect for that.
Samsung Galaxy Note
Another phone originally launched at the end of last year, I am thankful for the Note because, despite its awkward appearance, it proved this year that there is value in offering different sizes and different types of devices to consumers who have very different desires and expectations. And isn’t that what Android has been about since its beginning? I remember first thinking that the Note looked ridiculous when I saw someone using one in public, but then I tried one out at the store and I really liked it. Don’t knock it until you try it! I seriously considered getting one but decided to wait for the S3 instead because I wanted the souped-up hardware, but anyone in the market for a new phone should at least try out a Note 2.
“The best camera is the one that’s with you.” This one isn’t only for Android, but with my second child born at the end of last year, I’m more thankful than ever to always have a camera on me, especially one that’s as good as most point-and-shoot cameras these days. The camera on my S3 takes awesome pictures (a lot of the photos I post on this blog are from my S3). And it excels at something that is sometimes more important than the quality of the picture: the speed at which you can get it out and snap a picture. With two little boys in constant motion, this is something I appreciate on a daily basis.