Android has enjoyed a very big year. The platform has been growing faster than the competition. A flurry of new smartphones and tablets has been launched. New form factors and innovations, from voice controls to curved displays, point the way to a brighter smartphone future. Our favorite mobile OS has achieved a number of milestones in 2013 and we’re here today to cast an eye back over the year that was.
Let’s kick off with some statistics. In the third quarter of this year, IDC revealed that 81% of all smartphone shipments were Android. In terms of total market share, Android overtook iOS back in May 2012 and it now accounts for 42.68% of all the mobile phones worldwide, with iOS in second at 21.97%, according to StatCounter’s Global Stats. That’s a big lead and it’s still growing.
How is Android dominating? Part of the story can be found in the biggest Android news stories of the year. Let’s take a look.
We can always rely on CES to start the year with a bang and it certainly did in 2013. One of the first surprises was Nvidia’s Project Shield, a handheld gaming system running Android. It wasn’t to meet with much success, but it did signal a new gaming focus for the platform, as interest in producing an Android device for gamers gathered steam (more on that later).
Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 800 and 600 chips at CES. The 600 would be used in devices like the HTC One and the Nexus 7 (2013), while the 800 would go on to be the processor of choice for everything from the Nexus 5 to the Galaxy Note 3.
Sony was the manufacturer to grab the headlines at CES, as it unleashed the year’s first broadside at the Android competition with the flagship Xperia Z. Cutting edge specs, beautiful design, and the waterproof USP made it clear that Sony was back on form. It also announced the Xperia Tablet Z in Japan towards the end of the month, but it wouldn’t land until the summer.
HTC chose to unveil its next flagship before MWC, and so we first set eyes on the HTC One on February 19; it was definitely love at first sight. Our HTC One review followed with the phone’s release in March. Widely regarded as one of the best looking premium smartphones ever, the One also brought dual front-facing speakers to the market and a new optimism for the beleaguered Taiwanese manufacturer.
There were too many new products to mention at MWC at the end of February. Asus confused Barcelona with the Padfone and the Fonepad, blurring the line between tablet and smartphone. HP announced the Slate 7 to try and compete in the small Android tablet category. We also saw the Huawei Ascend P2, and LG showed off the Optimus G Pro. There were a lot of other devices from manufacturers like ZTE, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, but Samsung held fire with its big announcements, choosing to show just the Galaxy Note 8.
Anticipation about Samsung’s next Galaxy S was reaching fever pitch by the time it was unveiled at a special event on March 13. Eschewing any break with the series usual design language, the S4 was definitely more evolutionary than revolutionary. But if Samsung took an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude with the exterior, on the inside, the South Korean manufacturer threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. The S4 is packed with features and it provoked a real divide in opinions, with some crying bloatware and others wowed by the sheer range of innovation on offer. It was released in April and so was our full Galaxy S4 review.
Amid the excitement about the S4, Google quietly pulled ad blocking apps from the Play Store. As a company deriving most of its revenue from advertising, we were surprised that it had taken them that long to do. There was also a warning for Facebook as Google blocked developers trying to circumvent the Play Store by pushing updates directly to users.
The Google Play Store was updated with a new look, but it was mostly an aesthetic change. We also began to hear a bit more about how wearable technology might be coming very soon, as some of the first Google Glass users shared their experiences.
Big news in April focused on the long rumored Facebook phone — a device that had already had a few false dawns was about to have another one. In the end, Facebook Home was basically a launcher for Android. The Chat Heads feature, enabling you to carry on conversations while doing other things, did spark a little bit of interest, but the phone that launched with it, the HTC First, was far from inspiring. The Facebook Home app was a blatant land grab as Facebook tried to figure out a way of securing all those mobile users for itself. If Facebook is the main thing you do on your smartphone, then Home is for you, but the average 2.5 rating on Google Play tells its own story.
Google I/O, the annual developer conference, took place this month and there were lots of interesting announcements about the Android platform. We learned that 900 million Android devices had been activated, 48 billion Android apps had been downloaded, and that 2.5 billion apps were being installed every month.
The most exciting development was the raft of new features for Play Music. The cloud music service, All Access, would open up a world of albums for a monthly subscription fee of $10, signaling Google’s entry into the increasingly competitive music streaming market. There were also major updates for the Maps app, Play Games, and Hangouts as the new Android messenger for Google purists.
We also learned there would be a Google Edition of the S4 with an unlocked bootloader and no TouchWiz or Samsung software onboard, but the direct sale $649 price tag would ensure low sales. This is how AA reacted to Google I/O 2013.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Ouya Android game console hit the open market in June. We saw some potential in our Ouya review, but despite a low price tag by console standards, the lack of compelling games was to sink the console, which received generally poor reviews across the tech world.
The excitement about wearable tech continued to gather pace with a number of rumors about forthcoming smart watches. One of the few manufacturers to have already entered the space, albeit without much success, announced a new version of its device, the Sony SmartWatch 2. It didn’t generate a great deal of buzz, but Sony was already making headlines in June because of its Xperia Tablet Z. The sexiest premium tablet to run Android was waterproof just like its smartphone brother, and the impossibly thin design was really eye-catching. With a dearth of good 10-inch Android tablets, the Xperia Z emerged as one of the first viable iPad competitors and the best large tablet on the platform since the Nexus 10.
At the beginning of the month, Samsung moved to quash rumors of a disappointing S4 release by announcing that 20 million S4s had been sold in two months. That made it the fastest-selling Android device to date, but it didn’t end the debate about whether it deserves the top spot or owes it to brand loyalty and powerful marketing.
In the first update since the Android 4.2 release in November, Google released “An even sweeter Jelly Bean”, Android 4.3 on July 24, and it rolled out to Nexus devices within the week. We got a sneak peek a day early after a build leaked, and brought you the news on what’s new in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. There was a new camera UI, a T9 dialer, Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) support, and a host of other small tweaks and improvements, including seven security features.
The Nexus 7 (2013) was the first device to ship with 4.3, as it went on sale in the U.S. at the end of July. This refresh of Google’s popular 7-inch tablet proved to be a fitting successor for the small tablet crown and it’s easily one of the best small tablets around, as we suggested in our Nexus 7 (2013) review. We also learned that the Play Store had reached 1 million apps.
Another small and unassuming device was released by Google at the end of July, in the shape of Chromecast. Looking like a USB thumb drive, it actually plugs into an HDMI port on a TV and allows you to stream Netflix, YouTube, and other content from your Android devices to your big screen. At $35 it’s the cheapest device of its kind and it quickly sold out. It could prove to be an important release in the battle for the living room.
Sneaking in at the end of the month was the Nvidia Shield, and, despite costing three times as much as the Ouya, it garnered some favorable reviews. The lack of market impact hasn’t stopped the company starting work on the Nvidia Shield 2. The quest for the first successful Android gaming device continues.
The rumors about the Motorola X Phone had been churning for months by the time it was officially unveiled. Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside teased the AllThingsD conference about it in May. Even with various leaked details, the Moto X proved to be one of the surprises of the year. The first real fruit of Google and Motorola’s union turned its back on the hardware specs race and introduced a new level for voice controls by enabling users to talk to their phone from across the room and bring the fast-improving Google Now service to life.
Google tackled a long time criticism of Android this month as the Android Device Manager began to roll out, offering Android device owners a way of locating a lost phone and remotely managing it.
On September 3, Google announced that it had reached the milestone of 1 billion activated Android devices worldwide. The following day Samsung unveiled its next Note alongside the Galaxy Gear smart watch. There was also a real statement of intent from Sony as it updated its top of the line Android smartphone series with the Xperia Z1.
There was also big news from Android competitors. We heard that BlackBerry’s long predicted demise was finally becoming a reality and Apple released the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C.
The big Android release in September was the LG G2 which blew our socks off. Cutting edge specs and an innovative design, the hardware buttons on the back, and some useful software features make it a real contender for the title of Android smartphone of the year title.
Later that month, on September 23, Android turned five years old.
A big month for Android kicked off with the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and it easily retained the phablet crown for Samsung, with the S-Pen and raft of software features combining to great effect on this device.
Eric Schmidt made headlines after a Q and A at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo when he claimed Android is more secure than the iPhone. The incredulous reaction shows the impact of countless malware scares driven by the security software companies and a willful ignorance of the low incidence of threats via the official Play Store. Third party stores and the Chinese and Russian markets seriously inflate the stats here and exaggerate the risk for your average Android user, but Google clearly has work to do to convince people of that.
Everyone was waiting patiently — or impatiently if we’re honest — for Key Lime Pie, but it never arrived. Instead we got Android 4.4 KitKat. With a focus on optimizing the Android experience and keeping lower specced hardware firmly in the frame, KitKat showed a determination to fix the fragmentation issue. It also introduced the usual wave of new features and improvements, but there was nothing earth-shattering, as you might expect from an incremental release.
As expected, the Nexus 5 would be the first Android smartphone to launch with KitKat. It also marked Google’s continuing faith in LG as a manufacturer and coming hot on the heels of the G2 it helped to mark LG out as an OEM on the up. The most impressive thing about the Nexus 5 was the affordable price tag, starting at just $350, despite having a cutting edge Snapdragon 800 processor and a stunning 1080p display.
As Android 4.4 continued to roll out, there was the Google Keyboard 2.0 update and an improved version of Hangouts. We also saw some improvements to Google Now which enables it to ask questions to clarify your commands. The Nexus 5 came in for some criticism, not least about its camera, but Google promised an update and it didn’t stop the device from repeatedly going out of stock as people rushed to snag one.
November was the month of the flexible display, or perhaps more accurately the curved display. The rumors about flexible display technology had been gathering pace and Samsung beat LG to the punch. The Samsung Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex are baby steps towards our dream of truly flexible devices, but they certainly pave the way for more interesting form factors in the short term.
The other big announcement in November was the Moto G. There was a collective gasp at the $179 price tag, as the Moto G easily grabs the best bargain smartphone title just in time for Christmas. Google’s influence on Motorola is finally being felt and there can hardly be a bigger indication of the change of direction than this budget release.
The winter holiday is looming and as December started Google released two minor updates to KitKat — 4.4.1 was quickly followed by 4.4.2. Both look to be largely about bug fixes and performance tweaks, as well as the promised camera fix for the Nexus 5.
One of the last surprises of the year was the launch of two new Google Play edition devices. Marrying top notch hardware with the purest form of Android, the LG G Pad 8.3 and Sony Z Ultra GPe are probably the best devices in their class.
We don’t expect any other major announcements before 2014. There are plenty of tempting devices battling it out for your affections in the holiday season, and we’ll let you know who the big winners were early next year. It’s been a good year for Android and we can see next year being even bigger. It will all kick off again with CES in January and you can rest assured we’ll keep you up to date with all the latest news in Android right here at Android Authority.
What was your pick of the Android news in 2013? Let us know in the comments.