Android has been accused by many, including some here at AndroidPIT, of not doing enough to innovate. Perhaps it is the case that Apple is outplaying Android when it comes to innovation. Maybe Google needs to do more. Or maybe Google's progress is simply flying under the radar in the form of technological evolution.
Innovation is dead; long live evolution
I believe the main reason for the perception of Android as slow or reluctant to innovate is mostly down to the way Google implements new features. It does it through a primordial ooze of betas that creep towards an infinite horizon of completion. Apple, on the other hand, tends to release new features in a more digestible, rounded way, in a state that, at the very least, appears complete.
However, many of these features, both from Apple and Google, are things most consumers and smartphone aficionados would be reluctant to call innovative. Nothing in the past few years could be thought of as the Next Big Thing (shut up, 3D Touch). But then this isn’t so much a fault of Google or Apple as the natural pattern of the plateau. Smartphones have little room left for innovation, and if there is to be a Next Big Thing, we probably won’t see it coming.
In this environment, I argue that creeping innovation, or evolution, should be the primary focus, and it’s what Google excels at.
Google Now was first released over four years ago, Popular Science named it Innovation of the Year almost three years ago, and now it’s morphing into Google Assistant, an advanced AI capable of two-way dialogues.
While Google Now and Google Assistant could well be considered innovative, they have been in development for a long, long time, and they’re not the astonishing slap in the proverbial face that people associate with innovation. They're a prime example of creeping innovation, and Google is lightyears ahead of Apple, and any other company for that matter, when it comes to machine-learning algorithms and their practical applications.
Google Wallet began its life five years ago, two years before Apple Pay, and it saw Android Pay born out of it in February 2015, as a more direct competitor to Apple’s service.
Google Wallet and Google Pay both represent a form of evolution, taking a service we have had and relied on for a long time – bank cards – and translating it into something less cumbersome and more practical.
And Google is making huge strides in other areas too, such as augmented reality, through Project Tango.
Google is the creepy king
In this game of evolution, played out at a glacial pace, Google reigns supreme. Through a slew of betas and refinements, Google's various strange and wonderful subdivisions are coming up with and developing some of the most interesting features smartphones have ever seen, and are also beginning to extend their utility towards the internet of things through Google Home and Android Auto.
Try not to mistake a slow pace for a lack of ambition. We all love the narrative of the world-changing spark of genius, but this is a desperately rare thing, if it's real at all, and it's certainly not worth waiting around for or lamenting for its inexistence. If it is to happen within our lifetimes, we certainly won't be expecting it. What we can count on, and what Google deserves credit for, is its patient pursuit of projects that grow into the crevices of our lives gradually like the snuggly form of a digital kitten.
Even the baked-in support for VR in Android Nougat, through a platform called Daydream, is a long-in-the-works outcome of years of development and the natural maturation of a technology. Virtual reality, and augmented reality along with it, could well be the Next Big Thing we permanently believe that we need, but it won't come suddenly: it will come because Google has built the groundwork and found ways to make these things merge as seamlessly as possible into our everyday lives.
Do you agree that Google is doing more to push the evolution of smartphones than any other company?