If 2012 was a breakout year for Android, 2013 is the year it stakes its claim to the top of the market. According to ABI Research, Android will realize a 58 percent market share in smartphone app downloads this year, a full 25 points higher than iOS. We will see a handful of manufacturers release dozens of new Android phones, each with the potential to sell big. In other words, Android is in the mobile driver’s seat.
How will Android change the smartphone game in 2013? The writing is already on the wall. There are a number of trends that will only gain strength this year. We will see many new phones and apps for Android that steer the future of smartphones. Here are three of the biggest that could change our smartphone experience forever.
1. Big screens rule
If Android proved anything in 2012, it was that people like larger screens. It actually started with the original Galaxy Note, which Samsung released in late 2011. They sold millions of units, mostly in international markets. But then Samsung came back with two releases that were huge hits in the US: the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2. Both sold incredibly well, despite concerns that their screens, 4.8 and 5.5 inches respectively, were too large for the average consumer.
Samsung Galaxy phones are setting the trend in the market, and the market is to go big. Tech bloggers and other media might weigh in to say that they’re too large to be practical, but the market believes otherwise. Samsung is taking advantage, releasing even larger devices in 2013. The Mega will come in sizes of 5.8 and 6.3 inches, which truly bridge the gap between tablets and smartphones.
With Samsung realizing so much success in Android, it is inevitable that other manufacturers follow suit. LG has been on Samsung’s heels lately, releasing its own flagship Optimus G, while also working on phablet-sized devices. Even Apple is — or was — rumored to have a large-screened device in the pipeline. They might sound impractical, but consumers are loving them. Android manufacturers will continue to push the envelope on smartphone device size.
2. Chat from any app
The early returns on Facebook Home are less than stellar, but Facebook did unveil a number of interesting features in its Android product launch. The entire concept of Home is one worth exploring, and perhaps one other companies will try to replicate. It essentially turns control of your Android smartphone over to Facebook, making it your primary point of contact. While many users have expressed objections to that, there is one feature that should make its way into many Android apps.
The Chat Heads feature in Facebook Messenger allows users to continue messaging with friends no matter what else they’re doing. They can be surfing in a web browser, checking a fantasy baseball team, or even watching a movie, and they’ll still have the ability to send and receive Facebook chat messages. A little avatar, or Chat Head, sits at the side of the screen. Users can swipe these heads to see the latest message or compose a new one. It is certainly the best feature of the new Facebook Messenger.
Other messaging apps will surely copy this. Google should actually be first in line with Google Talk and the SMS function. Other messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, could follow. There is no shame in copying Facebook on this one. The ability to continue message strings from various apps creates a world of convenience. While task switching on Android has become an easy function, it can still get annoying to constantly flip between what you’re doing and a chat app. Chat Heads will certainly revolutionize how we conduct chats on mobile.
3. Custom home screens
While it offers much more, Facebook Home is essentially an elaborate Android skin. Of course, Facebook isn’t the first to do this. Almost every Android manufacturer — Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola — has a custom skin it installs and forces on users. When you buy a Samsung phone, you have the TouchWiz UI. When you get an HTC phone, it’s Sense. While many Android purists find this frustrating, the average user tends to enjoy the ways it differentiates the phone.
Facebook Home will only spark this trend further. Now not only will manufacturers have custom Android skins, but other services will follow suit. Imagine turning on your phone and having Twitter as the first point of contact. Yahoo could get into this game as well, perhaps partnering with Microsoft in the process. Since there are no restrictions on who can develop for Android, any media company can do the same. Expect many to give it a try.
Users have spoken: Android is the future. This isn’t because of Google itself, necessarily. It’s more about the ability to do so much more with Android than with iOS. Manufacturers can create devices with larger screens. Developers can create new, more fluid features. Media companies can create custom home screens that change the Android experience completely. Expect these trends to define Android in 2013 and the future.