2014 in review: The year in Android

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 30 Dec 2014

The last few years in the world of Android news have been kind of a snooze fest. Sure, we had the usual barrage of software updates gadget releases, but nothing seemed truly worth a sting ovation. at’s worse: it felt like Android was no longer in ’s control, that companies like Samsung were actually the ones that were ruling the pack. It was hard to tell who to root for. 

But this year Android underwent a metamorphosis of sorts—one that was long overdue. To commemorate this event-filled year, we rounded up some of the year’s biggest news stories that helped contribute to the transformed Android ecosystem we see today.

64-bit mobile processors

nvidia tegra k1 specs

The 64-bit mobile processor was a big announcement for Android.

Nvidia delivered a big bang at the beginning of the year when it announced the Tegra K1. A 32-bit variant eventually showed up in the Shield Tablet  oject Tango, but the 64-bit version didn’t hit until the launch of the HTC-made Nexus 9. Qualcomm began shipping 64-bit processors this year as well, but it started at the low-performance end of the stack, where it matters least. High-end 64-bit Snapdragon processors are coming early in 2015.

But 64-bit chips aren’t all that’s required; you need a 64-bit operating system as well, delivered that with Android llipop, which features optimizations for the new ARMv8 64-bit stard.

The potential benefit of 64-bit in mobile processors is still unrealized, but with the processor shipping with the Nexus 9, we should start seeing more Android developers rewriting their apps to advantage of the new ARMv8 instructions.

novo buys Motorola

moto x touchless controls

novo bought Motorola at the beginning of the year, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that the deal was finalized. 

No one saw this one coming. novo, one of the top manufacturers in the world— the fourth biggest smartphone maker—announced in late nuary that it was acquiring Motorola Mobility for $2.91 billion. The acquisition wasn’t finalized until late October, however, we still don’t know what’s going to change for Motorola, or whether the two companies will begin to consolidate business plans. It’s likely we’ll see more evidence of this merger next year when the smartphone release cycle starts up all over again.

reins in Samsung other OEMs

touchwizroidl YouTube

’s trying to keep OEMs like Samsung from veering too far off on the beaten path.

Around the same time as novo’s Motorola acquisition, Recode reported that was pressuring Samsung to scale back on its Android tweaks app bloatware. saw the results of this apparently covert agreement later on the year when Samsung debuted a slightly pared down version of its Touchz Nature UX on the Galaxy S5, with the option to download all those extra apps features that usually came already installed on its new phones. Other OEMs followed suit, like HTC, every new Android phone you buy now starts up with a more prominent “wered by Android” logo. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues on in the new year.

Android’s side projects

project ara 01 Norman Chan

’s modular smartphone, oject Ara, is evidence that Android is destined for something more.

oject Tango  oject Ara are both “projects” that run Android, but exist for entirely different reasons: Tango is essentially a spatially-aware device that can create a 3D map of its environment, while Ara is a modular smartphone with hot-swappable components. Both also serve as clues to where Android is headed in the future.

’ve already seen NASA do some really neat things with oject Tango, we’ll hear more about how ‘s coming along with oject Ara at its second annual developers conference in nuary of next year.

Blackone, Cyanogen, all those other forks

oneplusone 9220

Oneus had high hopes for the One, but there’s still a lot of work to do before Android forks become the norm.

Not only was this a big year for ’s Android, but it was also the dawn of some new Android forks. Cyanogen, Blackone, even Nokia pushed forth with their own versions of the operating system based on the Android Open Source oject (AOS in hopes that it would capture a special subset of the market who were in search for something completely different.

But despite the prevalence of forks, there’s still a lot of work to do before they’re considered mainstream, the bad press isn’t helping. For instance, Oneus had a particularly rough year because of its weird sales strategy, not to mention the extremely offensive marketing campaign it tried out a few months back. As for Microsoft, it quietly put the kibosh on Nokia’s Android strategy by announcing it would shift its future plans away from products like the Nokia X. So much for that.

ether this forking trend ever manages to become mainstream in the U.S. will depend entirely on whether the companies hawking them will be able to compete against Android’s main acts. One thing is for sure: we’ll likely see plenty more of these forks crop up in the new year.

Android ar

roid wear offline music beauty 2

Android ar was a big deal for Android’s wearables strategy this year.

It turns out that Glass wasn’t the extent of ’s wearables strategy. Android ar’s debut in h proved that had more plans up its sleeve.

The best part of Android ar is that, like the Android operating system for phones, it’s open to manufacturers to build all kinds of different watches. That’s why you can now buy smartwatches from the likes of Samsung, Sony, , Motorola, even Asus. 

I/O 2014

google io sundar smiles

made so many Android-focused announcements at I/O that it’s a wonder they don’t just have a separate conference for the operating system itself.

ne was a big month for Android. made a gaggle of announcements during the annual I/O keynote. Including:

Android One: Android One was announced as Sundar chai’s vision for Android in emerging markets. Rather than let all the OEMs distribute less-than-stellar custom versions of Android based on AOS would work with partners to release inexpensive phones running stock Android, complete with all the usual services. A variety of manufacturers, including Asus, HTC, novo, have all opted into Android One program, which also guarantees consistent software updates for up to two years.

Android 5.0 llipop:  didn’t learn its full name until its launch in October, but llipop is turning out to be one of the biggest— best—Android version releases ever. Of special note is the dramatic interface overhaul that reimagines the dark “Holo” interface into something bright colorful. Our review of the software walks through some of its new, ambitious features.

Android Auto: weren’t exaggerating when we said I/O was the biggest thing to happen to Android this year. also announced Android Auto during the conference to get automakers on board with its new “Android on everything” strategy.

It’s exceptionally easy to use: all you have to do is literally plug your phone into a compatible car entertainment system. More than 25 car brs have signed on to include Android Auto in the future, with more likely to come. Thus far, we’ve only seen it in action inside a Honda Civic a Hyundai Sonata, though Android Auto is still in beta.

Android TV: Android TV was a bit of a surprise, since ’s all but aboned whatever its plans were for TV. Android TV was announced as its replacement the company hopes it’ll not only help bring ’s apps services to your living room, but that it’ll also make it easier for developers to make apps for the TV screen. It will eventually be found built in to TVs set top boxes, but you can try Android TV right now by bringing home a Nexus ayer.

Material Design

roidl layering

Material Design is Android’s new design paradigm it’s gorgeous.

Material Design is Android’s new design stard I like to call it “Android all grown up.” ’s suite of apps now all have matching interfaces bold color palettes, while other third-party Android apps are slowly following suit. And while it debuted at I/O, Material Design deserves its own section precisely because it was such a big part of Android’s transformation this year.

covered much of Material Design’s changes in our llipop review. is still tweaking its apps to adhere to these new stards, it seems like every other week is now devoted to interface feature tweaks for apps like Hangouts +. Other developers are starting to roll out updates to make their apps look act in a fashion that fits the Material Design stards, as a result, our Android phones are starting to look, feel, behave in a more logical consistent fashion.

Executive shuffling all around

did some major executive shuffling this year, though not all who departed were directly affiliated with the Android team.

Sundar chai Sam Churchill

’s Sundar chai was promoted to head honcho of the product team.

t’s start with Sundar chai: he started this year as the head honcho of both the Chrome OS Android divisions, now he’s the Head of oduct at , in charge of Android, Chrome, Apps. The move was a result of ’s fear that its spectrum of products will feel less innovative over time. th chai at the helm it’ll be interesting to see how grows both its software product ecosystem.

Vic Gundotra via +

Rubin left with hardly an explanation.

The next big shakeup was Rubin’s departure. Rubin was originally a co-founder former leader of ’s Android division, though he migrated over to the X robotics team later on in his career with the company. His departure was a bit of a surprise, though promised that it would continue on with its robotics division despite the ing change.

vicg googleplus Vic Gundotra via +

promised that Vic Gundotra’s departure doesn’t signify the end of +.

stly, Vic Gundotra left the + team for new horizons. His departure had many of us wondering what the future holds for +. ’re still waiting to hear on that as—let’s be honest here— hasn’t really done much with the social network since his departure.

Android is still king

Despite the major changes shakeups, Android is still on top of the charts worldwide. More than a billion Android hsets are expected to ship by the end of this year, according to IDC analysts. That’s about 82.3 percent of the smartphone market—an amazing percentage.

2014 could be labeled as the year that shifted its Android strategy. It’s still about spraying the market with devices, accommodating its developers with all the tools they need, but it’s also about presenting a unified front.

’re still curious to see how all the third-party OEMs will deal with the changes whether the multitude of forked devices will gain any traction in the new year. Be sure to follow along with us in 2015.