Android in 2012: What to expect

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Android 2012

From Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich, 2011 was a huge year in the ever-expanding world of Android. Major platform changes aside, the past 12 months brought a bunch of significant steps forward, like the launch of Google's Android-centric movie streaming service, the advent of Google Music, and the more recent introduction of integrated song purchasing within the Android Market. We saw the first Android tablets and the first Web-based interface for the Market, too (believe it or not, that was a 2011 invention -- feels like a lifetime ago, eh?).

So what's next for the once-little platform that could? Few people know the full list of surprises Google has up its sleeves for the coming year, but there are some things we can expect to see over the 12 months of 2012.

More phones and tablets. Lots of 'em.

Seems obvious, I know, but since nearly all of the Apple 2012 stories out there are oohing and ahhing over the prospect of a single new phone and tablet, I figured it was worth mentioning. Yes, we'll see a lot of new Android phones and tablets in 2012, many of which will be high-profile devices like Samsung's new Galaxy S III phone, rumored to make its first appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next week.

But more specifically...

Quad-core tablets.

Asus kicked off the quad-core craze with its Transformer Prime tablet last month, and it shouldn't be long before everyone else starts following suit. Watch for power-packed slates from a wide range of companies over the next few months and beyond; dual-core isn't going away anytime soon, but with a new top tier established, you can bet other manufacturers will want a piece of the high-end pie.

Quad-core phones.

Quad-core technology won't be limited to tablets, and 2012 is almost certainly the year the superspeedy chips will make their way into smartphones. Nvidia, which makes the quad-core Tegra 3 chip used in the Transformer Prime, has said it expects to have quad-core phones on the market within the first three months of 2012. Qualcomm has a quad-core chip of its own in the works, too, and reportedly plans to ship phones with the processor by the end of the year.

Rumors suggest a device currently known as the "HTC Edge" could become the world's first quad-core phone. Regardless of which gadget ends up taking our quad-core virginity, though, rest assured: There'll be plenty of choices before long.

Ice Cream Sandwich on many more phones -- and tablets, too.

Ice Cream Sandwich may be available in theory, but in reality, not too many of us are feasting on its fancy flavors just yet. Watch for a slew of upgrades to Android 4.0 as the year rolls on, with both phones and tablets tasting Google's latest creation. Asus says it'll deliver ICS to its Transformer Prime starting next week; several other manufacturers, including HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, are promising upgrades to high-profile devices within the first few months of the year. If past Android upgrades are any indication, once that first wave of rollouts gets underway, the pace will start to pick up pretty quickly.

(Remember, you can keep tabs on your device's upgrade status at my Android 4.0 upgrade list; it's always kept up-to-date with the latest info available for all phones and tablets.)

Something new with Google TV.

Google's Android-based Google TV technology hasn't exactly taken off so far, but 2012 should hold a renewed push from the G-Team and its manufacturing partners. Both Samsung and LG are reportedly working on new "smart televisions" built around the Google TV platform. Whether they'll fare better than the initial Google TV offerings remains to be seen, but one way or another, something fresh should be coming along soon.

Android-powered appliances?

At 2011's Google I/O developers' conference, we heard about a new initiative called "Android @ Home." The program promised to bring Android-connected appliances into our lives, with everything from lights to dishwashers interacting directly with our Android devices.

At the time, Google said it expected to have the first compatible hardware available by the end of 2011. Seeing as that the 2011 launch clearly didn't pan out, there's a decent chance the "Android @ Home" stuff could now surface sometime in 2012. We saw a similar effect with Google's Chrome OS Chromebooks; the concept was introduced in 2009 with a promise of consumer availability in 2010. While the Cr-48 test notebook did arrive in December of 2010, widespread consumer availability of Chrome OS didn't actually occur until the following June.

So keep your eyes open: The Android-powered appliances may be on their way yet.

An Android upgrade alliance...that actually means something?

Another revelation from 2011's I/O conference was the creation of what Google called its Android Upgrade Alliance. The group was said to be a collection of carriers and manufacturers -- initially including Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodaphone, Motorola, and AT&T -- that would commit to providing timely OS upgrades for all new phones and tablets during their first 18 months on the market.

Since that announcement, nothing much has been said about the alliance -- and numerous tech sites have taken Google and the various companies to task for the apparent lack of accountability. While some manufacturers have been following through with reasonable upgrades for recent devices, others seem to be letting things slide as certain handsets lose their buzzworthy sheen.

There's certainly no guarantee that we'll see further progress on this front in 2012, but given the attention paid to the Upgrade Alliance at Google's last big bash, we can only hope we'll have some kind of transparent progress in the year ahead.

The next major version of Android.

Ice Cream Sandwich may be barely out of the gates, but you can bet Google's Android team is already hard at work on its successor. Given Google's upgrade history and the fact that Ice Cream Sandwich was unveiled at last year's I/O event, it's entirely possible we'll get our first glimpse at the next big platform step at this year's I/O, scheduled to take place in late June.

Not much is known about the next major version of Android just yet -- understandably so, given the fact that ICS just shipped -- but unofficial reports suggest it could be called Jelly Bean.

Aside from Android "J," as we'll call it for now, we'll probably see some incremental upgrades to ICS over the months to come. Google frequently rolls out fixes and feature additions to its Android platforms in between the major launches, and odds are, ICS will be no exception.

Android Power Twitter

As I said at the start of the story, of course, this is all just scratching the surface of what's in store for Android in 2012. Between Google and the numerous Android-focused manufacturers, there's no telling what other surprises could show up along the way.

One thing's for sure: With CES next week, the Mobile World Congress in February, and Google's I/O convention in June, the coming months will be anything but quiet.    

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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