5 things Android devices should be doing but aren't

After many months of frustration with these thoughts swirling in my head, I have decided to write them down and share them. So here are 5 things that Android devices could be doing to leapfrog Apple in the market, but aren't.

First off, I love android. I really do. And probably the number one reason I love it is because I feel like I own, and am in control of, my mobile life. No app store lock in. No vendor deciding what apps I am allowed to install. No restrictions on replacing my battery or upgrading my storage. Smartphones and tablets are nothing more than computers, and virtually no one would buy a computer where every application had to be approved by the manufacturer. It astounds me how many people are fine with this when it comes to mobile devices. I love my freedom and this leads me to point #1:

1. Android devices should advertise freedom and functionality.

So many discussions are taking place on social networks that begin something like, "Time for a new phone. Should I get an iphone or a droid?"

The use of the term "droid" aside, this is a very straightforward question that many people have. Let's take a look at some of the advertisements these folks see when trying to make a decision. Imagine a woman in her 50's trying to decide between an Apple product, or an Android device. For Apple products, she will likely see an advertisement like this:

Now, Android users will immediately know that they have had similar capabilities on their devices way before Apple ever added it. But do people see this advertised on TV? Nope. Do the Android ads talk about the things that make their devices different or better? Nope. Any discussion of how Apple limits your freedom with their devices? Never. Instead, that same 50 year old woman will probably see an advertisement like this:

Jeez. I don't even know what else to say. You have elements that make your products better than Apple's!!!! Why is no one advertising them????

What should an Android device advertisement look like? Some should be showing off new features that Apple doesn't have like the new face unlock feature in Android 4.0. Others should highlight their restrictive model: picture the old Mac vs. PC ads, but with the iPhone checking with Apple before denying the user's request to install an app of their choice. Then denying their request to upgrade their storage. Then denying their request to change their battery. Then denying their request to visit a flash-based website. Then the tagline: "[some Android device]: Freedom included."

2. Android devices should include a darn infrared emitter/sensor.

With the many millions of smartphones being bought and used every day, for the life of me, I can't understand how we STILL don't have an infrared emitter on our phones. I'm sitting with a computer in my lap, and it can do all these amazing things, but it can't turn my TV on and off? Especially when the hardware needed to do this is a few cents and requires basically zero power (think about how long the batteries last in your TV remote).

Well, I suppose if I wanted to control my TV, I could get my TV on my home network, and then connect my phone to WiFi, and then have an app to talk to my TV. Now, imagine telling all that to the same 50 year old woman above. Or, I could start the IR remote app on my phone and hit the power button.

If Android devices had an infrared emitter (and possibly a sensor as well), think about the huge range of applications that could be made to use them. Low power wireless communication, robotics, temperature measurement, blood oxygen level and heart-rate sensors, light detectors, direct phone to phone communication for games, transfer, etc. (everyone remembers palm-pilots doing this YEARS ago). And those are just the immediate things I think of.

Appliance and electronics manufacturers for fans, air-conditioners, lights, radios, dvd players, tv's, and many more, all either include infrared control on their products, or would consider doing so if everyone's smartphone was potentially a controller. Once a device's config file shows up in the open database for IR control, then the app could auto-configure and control it! C'mon manufacturers: the reach of the smartphone could be much further than WiFi networks!!!!

3. Get a standardized dock/interface connector.

Most phone chargers have finally become standardized, which is a huge win. The next step is to standardize an interface connector so that manufacturers can build a plethora of Android accessories. Not Motorola Droid Bionic accessories. Not even Motorola accessories. Android accessories. This would open up a huge market to let people buy all sorts of add-ons for their devices. A person need only look at the aisle in their electronics store for iphone/ipod accessories. Now imagine a global market much bigger than that for Android accessories. But the main reason I want this interface connector is for the docks that could be made. These could be docks that know what type of dock they are, and have the phone respond appropriately. Docks for the nightstand, or the car, or the kitchen, or - most importantly - the computer desk. Which brings me to my next feature that Android devices should have...

4. Still be a smart device when docked to my computer.

Why is it, this computer with all these sensors, connectivity to multiple networks, cameras, microphones, FM radio, bluetooth, etc... just shows up as a dumb disk drive when I plug it into my computer?

To get on google+ and join a hangout, or to video chat with someone on skype, I need a webcam and a microphone hooked up to my computer. I don't know about you, but most of the desktop PC's I see don't have both just sitting on their desk. Especially at work. What's even more ironic is that the smartphone in your pocket has both of these things, but your computer can't use them. Why can't I use the camera on my phone as my webcam and the microphone on my phone as my microphone? I know there are some apps that can try to create this experience, but they are far from any experience I'd like to see. When I sit at my computer, I'd like to dock my phone next to my monitor. I'd like a nice "computer dock" screen to pop up on the phone, maybe that lets me enable the webcam and microphone for the computer (as opposed to the nightstand dock, which would likely look more like an alarm clock). I'd like to easily be able to sync items, or manually transfer items. Perhaps my task list and mail notifications should be shown nice and big. My phone and network connected apps should also be able to see my computer network and interact with devices and let other devices interact with it.

This means the phone would be an accessory to the desktop computer. But these docks could really work both ways. Along with using the devices on the phone as accessories to my computer, these docks could let me use the computer peripherals for the phone. For example, maybe the dock would allow me to run phone apps and have the display show up nice and big on my computer screen. Let me use my full-size keyboard and mouse. Let me use my computer speakers to listen to Pandora.

5. Let users earn revenue from data collection.

This one seems obvious to me, but I don't see it happening. More and more, people are realizing that data is a currency. Everyone wants your data. They can use it to make decisions, look at trends, detect traffic congestion, supply ads, test products, and make money.

So, if that is the case, why is a device with all these sensors not able to make me money? Google maps already uses GPS data to detect traffic flow... that seems valuable!! Why not pay these users the same way we pay them to place ads on their website? I've got ads right here on this blog. Why? Because google pays me to put them here. Not much, but enough for me to place them here.

If I'm driving in my car, and my phone is charging so there isn't a power concern, would I allow Google to gather traffic data from me? Maybe. Would I allow them if they paid me? Probably. What if meteorologists could tap into a vast network of smartphones in an area and look at barometric pressure readings? Would that be valuable? I bet it would. What if the mobile phone companies could get detailed logging of cell tower signal strength? I'd think they might pay for something like that. What about WiFi access point logging? Or FM signal strength? Or temperature data logging? Or pictures of public places? Or...

Now granted, this would have to be opt in, and would likely only be viable when devices are plugged in and charging, but I still think there is potential for a data collection network like the world has never seen before. And, like web ads, users are more likely to participate if they are able to make some money. Even if it is a small amount, if this could be credited on their phone bill, I think it would be a win for the consumer.

Those are my top 5. My next 5 would be things like:

  • better car integration
  • fingerprint unlock
  • embracing the linux community (possibly by partnering with someone like Canonical or Red Hat)
  • an effort to reuse old devices on your computer network (perhaps for data collection, home automation, etc.)
  • wireless charging to enable the first completely sealed phones that can survive submerged underwater
  • better phone-to-phone wifi support to play games across multiple android phone models.

Ok, sorry, that's 6. Let's get going Android device manufacturers!!! I want to see this stuff before Apple gets to it. Please leave a comment with your ideas on how Android devices could be better.


chris said...

Some great ideas I wouldn't mind seeing implemented. My old Treo 650 had IR and there were even programmable TV remote apps, I'm not sure why that stopped.

As for the ads... the original "Droid Does" seemed to do what these new silly ones don't. I'm not sure why they abandoned that campaign.

Alessandro Iacopetti said...

someone at google should hire this guy

Daniel said...

Wow. Good ideas. I have missed some of those features as well. To the phonemanufacturers: I like this guys ideas. Can you make them happen?

Pete Boyd said...

You lost me at "The use of the term "droid" aside". I mean, why would you even have an opinion about that? It's language, it's out of your hands. Mentioning your distaste in your article is just a distraction and makes you look like you take too seriously something that has no importance.

LazarX said...

The poster has it right on sone points, in particular the styling of commercials for Android phones seems to be marketed at undersexed males who play shootemup games and watch soft porn on thier phones.

Where he misses the point completely is that most users don' care about software ideology of "user freedom", especially when such a point can be easily countered by how much pretty damaging malware has snuck it's way into the Android market. As a person who does IT tech support, I find enough work protecting my computers from malware. I really don't want to have to spend the same amount of time on my phone as well.

The Apple ads have the targeting right on the money. Users for the most part don't give a damm on a feature list that only has meaning for a gearhead. They want to know what they can do with their phone on a practical level, and if they see a feature advertised on a phone, they're going to expect to do that right out of the box, or pretty damm close to it.

Nollij said...

@Pete Boyd The term "Droid" Is a Verizon term- Android devices on ANY other carrier, as well as countless other Androids on VZW, are not Droids.

Excluding #5 (which will call attention to something people fear), I fully agree with most of the article. Marketing for Androids is WAY too sci-fi/tech centric, while Apple focuses on the human touch. Especially for those not already tech-savvy, the complexity of a smartphone can be very overwhelming. Associating it with futuristic concepts does not help.

Unknown said...

On the IR in/out: devices should have a QR code that has IR control codes and button labels for the codes encoded in them. Scan the QR and your phone has all it needs to control the device. TV, Radio, Fan, Lamp, Defib... ok maybe not, those other things!

Bimal Rekhadiya said...

Really great ideas..!!!

David said...

"Low power wireless communication, robotics, temperature measurement, blood oxygen level and heart-rate sensors, light detectors, direct phone to phone communication for games, transfer, etc. (everyone remembers palm-pilots doing this YEARS ago). And those are just the immediate things I think of."

Even though I agree with most of the article, I've actually done some of those things successfully using Bluetooth and when that fails, the internet. IR is extremely unreliable, and apart from some niche applications I doubt it'd see much use on the real world. Even arduinos can come with Bluetooth now, so I don't think IR is really that needed, or at least needed enough to justify its inclusion.

Alessandro Iacopetti said...

your average 50 years old woman may well have troubles even unlocking
an android phone

Anonymous said...

I'd add item #6 to your list:

6) All carriers should let their users upgrade to the latest version of Android should the wish.

And as to the IR capabilities, the cameras on most Android phones are fantastic IR sensors.

Frank Lucifer said...

you're right.
i'm sceptical about the ads though. i know a few 50 year old women who can barely get to grips with their iphone. android would definitely be to much. the way i see it, the droid bionic ad is geared toward the android target-audience: male nerds & geeks - who get actually some use from the freedom, android offers.
sure to sell those phones to 50 year old women, they have to adapt the marketing. but the have to adapt the product first.

. said...

Maemo can do #4. When plugged in to a usb port it is seen as a disk, but you can leave wifi on and SSH into the phone and reach the sensors.

There are a few apps to use the phone's camera or touchscreen, but not much else.

It's one of the nice things about running a real linux system on a phone, rather than the virtualized layer that android gives you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent ideas. I will love to see that in Android Devices. Come on Google / Android Manufactures try to Advertise features, not just android brand. Excellent post. Renish

Anonymous said...

KILL IR its the devil... you have to pay for those codes...

why not ask your TV to include bluetooth ?
its a standard and has a standard for media control... oh wait some are starting to do that

air conditioning systems again you can pay for the IR codes or have bluetooth standard and so everyone could use it OR the aircon just uses their own wireless standard which happens most of the time

heart rate monitors... again hmmm lets see you could pay for an proprietary wireless standard or use... bluetooth

basically those that embrace bluetooth in the home products will win... as how many phones have bluetooth ?

Unknown said...

I just picked up a Vizio tablet that comes with an IR blaster and a universal remote application that works pretty darn good. Unfortunately it is running Android 2.3 and hasn't been rooted yet, but word is Vizio promises to upgrade it to Honeycomb at some point...

Shiruba said...

Some Android phones do have IR, including all Sharp Android phones sold in Japan.

The main purpose is not for remote control (though that is included), but to send/receive contact information with other, standard, Japanese phones.

Epikuruz said...

The thing is that Android devices compete with iPhone and ... Android devices from other vendors which have the same features and standarization makes creative positioning hard

Salvo Dan said...

Sorry to rebuke…
1. Manufacturer's Boot ROMs don't allow freedom. Google still hasn't released GPLed Android 3.x Code.

2. iR is passé. BLE is the future. RedEye for Android enables legacy support.

3. micro-USB. micro-USB-AB even supports host. HTC ExtUSB supports line audio too.

4. Nokia tried this years ago. Takes ages to configure all these "new devices". Windows Device Stage is a solution that nobody wants to use.

5. Why should Google share their revenue with you (the product). They're already giving you Android!

Kester said...

Yes please, finger print recognition for Android. Have had for years on laptops and love it. Why can't it be on a phone?

Gunstick said...

Yeah, I get money from google for my ads, but then I can't buy directly with that money from the android market. Why?

Unknown said...

Fully agree with you, dude! I DO want IR sensor/emitters, and not only on my Android but also on my laptop. Wouldn't be really smart to use your laptop/desktop as a video player AND use an Android smartphone to remote control it via IR?
To Salvo: RedEye costs 200 bucks. I prefer paying 10$ more my Android an having the IR technology (still widely used) always with me, not resorting to an external add-on.

crash said...

I NEED a GDMF universal TV remote control!

I read an article a year or 2 ago describing why no one would be interested in using their Android as a TV remote. It made me swear out loud. I have SEVEN so-called universal remotes in my house, (3 in the living room, 2 in each bedroom). There is no other app I would pay more money for then a TV/DVD/BR controller (that could be programmed to go on/off/change channels) I never spend more than $1 for an app, but I would spend $30 or more for this app and upgrade my phone if I had to.

Jakob Thusgaard said...

1.: Agreed

2.: Agree with the concept, but not with the technology. IR us a line of sight technology. The technology used for controlling any device in your household/office should be usable when not having line of sight. I think that where we're going is towards the internet of things where everything will be online and controllable through apps - online. That makes more sense since you'd be able to control your home appliances and electronics not just within reach, but just when you're connected.

3.: Partly agree. Just don't see the reason for the dock. With a mobile the concept of mobility should be center to design decisions. That's why the communication with a "dock" should be wireless and not require special or standardized connectors. The only time you should need a connector is when charging.

4.: Awesome. Agreed!

5.: Interesting thoughts. Not sure how that would get organized in practice. Who would pay and how.

werner said...

IR sensor and transmitter have disappeared and were displaced by BT and WLAN, but no TV or stereo I know can be controlled with BT... my old HP200 palmtop could print via infrared, I could control my TV with infrared, you are perfectly right with your idea, it is a step back in technology to abandon IR.
With my Dell Axim X51 I could send Vcards to my ancient Ericsson T39m mobile phone.
It was secure, simple and reliable.

hazydave said...

The Palms of the past had IrDA communications... low power IR for sensing contact information, largely. Some hacked these into R/C controllers, but they're really different things. The IR emitter in my Palm V could do this ... about 2 ft from my TV, only.

Bluetooth is really the answer for some of these things. NFC is the answer for some others. Which pretty much does leave IR for one thing it does well: multimedia remote control... well, not the PS3, that's Bluetooth.

The open standard for Android devices was a good idea, but a bad implementation. First of all, it's based on a hobby electronics kit, not something likely to show up in professionally made devices. And it requires the device to be the USB master, not the Android device.

But the big problem isn't the standard, but the mechanicals. Every iOS device can be put into a dock. Sure, they've changed a bit over the years, and you need some extra plastic to make some devices fit snugly. But while Android peripherals could use USB for everything as recommended, the only way to hook them to a peripheral is with a cable, since no two have the USB port in the same place.

That leads me back to Bluetooth. Android peripherals should have an optional USB cable to provide power for things like cradles, but use Bluetooth for most everything else, device to device. And oddly, that's how my O. G. Droid has been playing music for nearly two years.

Salvo Dan said...

If a RedEye is too expensive, you can always roll-your-own Bluetooth/WiFi to iR bridge with an Arduino.

Compatibility with Arduino and other Open Source Programmable interfaces is one of greatest things about Android Devices.

tomM said...

Someone already said it, but - how can an Android maker advertise OS features, when all competitors selling Android handsets have the same features? The only thing they to differentiate themselves is the hardware, so this is what gets advertised, along with attempts to make their product seem "cool" or "sexy".

Google could have run OS ad's in the past, but now with the Motorola deal they're competing on hardware same as all the other makers.

Unknown said...

Yes please, finger print recognition for Android. Have had for years on laptops and love it. Why can't it be on a phone?

Unknown said...

I also need a GDMF universal TV remote control!

I read an article a year or 2 ago describing why no one would be interested in using their Android as a TV remote