Android is in a very different place than it was when 2016 began. ile the last 12 months were filled with much of the usual pomp circumstance surrounding the release of new hsets, connected gadgets, OS refreshes, the state of Android has never been more promising or less predictable. stepped out from behind the curtain into the spotlight. Headsets took over smartwatches as the trend of the moment. And Samsung’s phablet woes opened the door for smaller players to make big gains.
Through it all, one thing was constant: Android’s dominance. Throughout 2016’s wild ride, the mighty platform continued its reign, extending its penetration to a near-90 percent of the global market, all but ending the OS wars once for all. And somehow it still seems like Android is still just getting its feet wet. So before we step into what’s shaping up to be an exciting 2017 for Android, let’s take a look at everything that made this year so memorable:
The great exploding Galaxy Note7 debacle
For years, Samsung has dominated the end-of-summer headlines, positioning its best-in-class Note phablet as the definitive ione competitor. And this year was no exception; the Note7 was something of a Galaxy S7 ge o, offering a slightly bigger 5.7-inch Super AMOD curved screen with a similar metal chassis specs, but adding an iris scanner upgraded S n support. Initial reviews were stellar (including ’s), it looked like it was going to eat the ione 7 us’ lunch.
But the headlines quickly changed. A few weeks after its launch, pictures of charred phones began appearing on customers’ Facebook pages. Then a Southwest jet was evacuated after a Note started smoking. And a ep caught fire. Dozens of incidents two recalls later, Samsung officially halted sales of the Note7 urged anyone who had bought one to return it. It remains to be seen what kind of long-term impact the debacle will have on the Galaxy or Note brs, but all signs are that Samsung is gearing up to release a splashy slate of hsets in 2017.
Android ar 2.0 delayed
At its I/O conference in May, seemed wholly committed to the wrist. ile the early developer preview of Android ar 2.0 might not have been the kind of dramatic overhaul some were hoping for, it was definitely a serious upgrade to the somewhat rushed first effort, smoothing out the rough edges adding a bunch of cool new features designed to make the next round of wearables act as smart as they looked. Among the new additions to ’s wearable platform included ay Store support, richer watch faces for iOS users, a decreased reliance on a nearby phone. so tweaked were the user interface the messaging experience, bringing them more in line with Android proper.
But our watches will have to wait a little longer before they get any smarter. After the third beta release in late September, announced that Android ar 2.0 wouldn’t be released until early next year, a move that capped a rather bl year for wearables. , novo, Huawei neglected to release much in the way of new wrist hardware, while Motorola announced it was rethinking its entire smartwatch strategy. In fact the only real movement on the Android ar front came in the form of me-too moves from traditional manufacturers such as Kors, Nixon, Fossil. But with Android smartwatches struggling to make much of a dent in the lscape anyway, maybe a little extra time will do everyone some good.
joins the VR party with Daydream
Even without a new crop of smartwatches, people everywhere were strapping high-priced gadgets to their bodies—but on their heads, not their wrists. In 2016, headsets were far away the coolest wearable on the block, everyone wanted to get in on the act.
Ever the trendsetter, Samsung got the ball rolling some time ago with its Gear VR, an Oculus-powered headset compatible with its top-end Galaxy phones. Not to be outdone, this year HTC began selling the consumer version of its Steam VR-powered Vive, a high-end virtual reality experience that requires a pretty powerful , not a phone. And the Oculus Rift headset finally led on store shelves.
blew the Velcro off the original Cardboard VR viewer player with Daydream, a fabric-wrapped, somewhat fashionable headset that put a premium on comfort. ‘s answer to Gear VR, Daydream is a stard that supports multiple phones one-ups Samsung’s offering with a motion-tracked controller. The platform is still finding its feet—as the library of apps (or lack thereof) will attest—but VR looks to be the real deal.
Android Auto for everyone
still haven’t gotten the native ze app support that teased at I/O, but Android Auto is hardly spinning its wheels. A bevy of 2017 models have signed on to offer support—among them the Subaru Impreza, Dodge Charger Challenger, every new vehicle made by Ford— Nougat quietly exped the connected car concept from the entertainment system to the cockpit, giving car manufacturers the ability to create full Android-powered automobiles.
But the coolest development happened right on our phones. th the latest Android Auto app, a new set of wheels or in-dash system was no longer a requirement to enjoy the Android Auto experience. Suddenly anyone with a phone running llipop or later had a cutting-edge navigation system right in their pocket. Of course, a br-new Mercedes C is preferable, but the Android Auto app should kick adoption into high gear.
It wasn’t all that long ago when tablets were the both the current next big things. For several years, it was customary for Android manufacturers to offer large-screen devices to complement the small ones that fit in our pockets. But as our smartphones have gotten bigger, tablets have declined in popularity, in 2016 they were barely existent.
There was nary a single truly significant tablet release over the past 12 months, those in the market for a really good one are looking at the same xel C Nvidia Shield that were on shelves last year. That’s not to say those are terrible options, but without any killer apps or dedicated Nougat features, it might be time to say goodbye to the dream of an Android tablet one day replacing our laptops.
One Assistant everywhere
If there’s one thing we could have accurately predicted at the end of last year, it’s that 2016 would be the year of AI. th Siri, exa, Cortana, Now all fighting for supremacy, it was clear that the next frontier would be peppered with virtual smart helpers, all vying for your attention.
Enter Assistant. More than a voice-powered concierge, Assistant is ’s attempt to unify all of its devices with a single intelligent thread, from your smartphone to your car. From the xel in our pockets to the Home in our living rooms, the Android ar watches on our wrists Android Auto in our car, has created a seamless, personal experience that follows us wherever we go.
It’s the next big evolution of Now, has only just begun to reach its tendrils into all the services devices we use every day. The coming year should see Assistant on loads more devices, support for a lot more online services.
makes its move
’s Nexus devices have become something of a punctuation mark at the end of a full year of Android releases, but this year’s xel phone wasn’t simply a vessel for an unadulterated version of Nougat. It was the beginning of a new strategy that repositions at the center of the Android universe.
It starts with the xel phone, ’s first real move to challenge Apple Samsung for high-end hset supremacy. Not only is there a logo on it (a first for a Nexus-style phone), it also introduced its own launcher to set it apart from the other pure Android hsets. It’s also the first phone to sport the new Assistant the first compatible with Daydream VR.
Then there’s voice-activated Home, an exa-inspired living room device that answers your questions controls your smart devices. And finally, there’s -Fi to connect it all. Add it all up, we may be looking back at 2016 as the year started to take back Android.
B-C front center
For years, pretty much every Android phone had two things in common: a micro B port a headphone jack. That’s not the case anymore. ile many phones still have them (like Samsung’s Galaxy S7, for instance), there’s a definite move away the old stard.
Most of the phones released during the second half of the year have adopted B-C, bringing fast charging eliminating the need to fumble with persnickety cables. But far more attention was paid to the manufacturers brave enough to follow Apple’s lead dump the headphone jack in favor of Bluetooth B-C audio. It’ll be interesting to see which phones keep the 3.5mm jack which don’t in 2017, but rumors already suggest a major domino is falling in Samsung’s Galaxy S8.
Dual cameras get their shot
The most important feature of any new smartphone is the camera, in 2016, they got a whole lot better—twice as better, in fact. The next phase of smartphone photography is all about sharing the shooting responsibilities between lenses, many of the year’s top Android phones came equipped with double rear cameras, G5 V20, Huawei , Honor 8.
The purpose of the second lens varied, with using its system to take wider shots others utilizing the second lens mainly to aid with depth perception, but the message was the same: There’s no need to buy an expensive DS to take professional looking photos. ( think a DS in the right hs is still miles better than any smartphone camera, but tell that to the phone marketing departments.) And the dual-camera movement doesn’t seem to be a phase. Rumor has it that Samsung’s Galaxy S8 will sport twin rear shooters as well, which should make the one of best smartphone cameras even better.
Modular phones emerge
might have canceled oject Ara this year, but the modular phone dream is far from over. In 2016 two modular concepts were brought to market, with varying results: released its G5 hset, which sported an array of slide-out “Friends” that could be added on to it, Motorola dropped the Moto Z its system of magnetic Mods.
ile ’s snap-on accessories failed to make much of an impact on consumers, the Moto Z proved that the modular concept actually can work. th a growing family of accessories— many more planned for the coming year—Motorola may have come up with a viable concept for exping the smartphone beyond its constrained proportions. ether the concept exps to other phones remains to be seen, but as hset makers run up against the inevitable innovation wall, modular attachments could very well become the next big thing(s).
oking ahead to 2017
So while Android’s 2016 certainly had its ups down, the year definitely closed on a high note. And the months ahead looks to continue the momentum as we wait to see what goodies has in store for us with new xels, Android ar 2.0, Android O. (ke perhaps a Nabisco tie-in with Oreo cookies?)
But even as will looks to strengthen its position with a tighter Assistant integration a new pair of Nexus-style flagship smartwatches, in the near future all eyes will be on Samsung. After spending the last few months cleaning up the Note7 mess, the company will need to bring some serious firepower at its first Unpacked event of the new year, especially in the face of stiff competition from the Oneus 4 HTC 11.
know they’ll be fast (thanks to the probable inclusion of the Snapdragon 835 chip), but what other surprises await us? Dual cameras? Modular add-ons? Bezel-less designs? at does have in store for the successor to the xel phone? There’s a lot to watch in the new year, we’ll be covering all the excitement as soon as the calendar changes. So make sure you come along for the ride.