Having spent the better part of the last four years as a loyal Blackberry customer, I have come to associate myself with the wildly fluctuating fortunes of RIM (now Blackberry) and its half-hearted attempts to reinvigorate itself in the smartphone market.
The buzz that surrounded Blackberry when the world was initially introduced to the wonders of ‘push-email’ has well and truly eroded.
Apple, via iOS, and Google, through Android, have started to push the frontiers of smartphone capability.
As my beloved Blackberry Curve started to indicate that it was nearing a slow and painful death, I was now faced with a perplexing dilemma. The smartphone market had expanded to a point where I could choose between four platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone or continued support for Blackberry.
Given the range of devices to choose from, and the near dominance of the platform in the global market, I opted for a switch to Android, and chose a mid-range smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S3 mini.
At first look the new Android OS, Jellybean, simply blew me away. It was fast, fluid and incredibly easy to become familiarized with.
As I entered the Google Play store, the first thing that android did was to pinpoint my location and send me a list of recommended apps that, based on its data, were popular for users in my region. When I downloaded the Facebook app, the phone automatically synced all my contacts and added them to the address book, saving me time from manually exporting email addresses and phone numbers from my old phone.
Facebook detected that I am the admin of a few pages so it sent me further app recommendations that would help me manage those pages separately. An impressive beginning I thought.
The powerful android platform really starts to shine when you explore the depth of the Google Play store. With almost a million apps currently existing there, it was necessary for a display that allowed users to search for apps depending on their function and setting.
The home screen gives you an array of options to choose from. You could start searching for apps through a list of categories that vary from games to medical, education and travel.
Alternatively you can simply browse through what Google recommends, in broad categories such as ‘Top-Free’, ‘Top Paid’, ‘Top Grossing’, ‘Trending’ or ‘Editors’ Pick’. Again the minimalistic design actually works in Android’s favour as searching for apps is a simplistic task, made less cumbersome by a ‘search’ icon on the top right of the screen, which you can use if you remember the name of a specific app that you want to download.
Clicking on any category from the initial list will open a screen that further lists the apps available according to popularity and their availability as free or paid apps, as well as those that are recommended by Google and currently trending.
There usually isn’t an exhaustive list and by swiping down the page there will be more and more apps that appear on your screen, giving you a range of options that can only be rivaled by the iOS.
Once you’ve clicked on an app that you like and wish to download, there is further information that Google proffers before you eventually make your decision.
It is possible for you to read reviews that other users have written about the app, and, if unsatisfied, Google will also recommend a list of other apps that are similar to the one that you have selected. It is quite often that this list will lead you to finding apps that you may not have stumbled across otherwise, thereby adding to the overall experience.
The play store will also have a video showcasing the app, accessible via YouTube, which you can watch before downloading, and screenshots from the app itself. You can also see how many people have +1’d (recommended) the app, its overall rating, and a precise figure of how many people have ranked it according to a scale of 1 – 5 stars.
Again, the range of information about each and every single app available on the store makes it impossible for the user to make an uninformed decision, which is particularly useful if you are about to pay for an app.
The Play Store will now, unlike previous versions, prompt a warning when you are about to download an app of a very large size (typically 70 MB or above), and give you an option to download via Wi-Fi only, thereby preventing excessive data usage and high bills. This is a thoughtful feature, which earlier versions of the Android OS did not have.
Similarly, by accessing the settings option, you can choose to update your apps automatically via Wi-Fi, which saves you from the hassle of checking for updates constantly.
The overall experience of Android is only truly worthwhile when one starts harnessing the power of the Google Play store.
Crisp, fluid and easy to use, the app store ensures that one gets maximum utility from their device.
There is something for everyone – for a hardcore gamer running android on a new Samsung Galaxy S4 there are titles such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Pro Evolution Soccer that capitalize on the 2GB processor and 16 million colour screen and provide an experience that will enthrall most.
Similarly for a business executive constantly on the go, there are apps that will help in driving directions, booking flights, finding hotels and even nearby restaurants and bars (depending on your location.)
It is predicted by industry analysts that android will soon surpass iOS in terms of the number of overall downloads from its store. iOS currently leads with approximately 50 billion downloads, but has a few years head start working in its favour.
According to current trends, users download approximately 2.5 billion apps from the Google Play store every month, with the number projected to increase. Coupled with the fact that the android is an open source platform, and thereby accessible to all developers, there really is no stopping this behemoth.