This year’s Google I/O came and went without a new version of Android, and there was much griping on the internet. Even though Google isn’t required to announce anything of consumer interest at a developer event, the past few I/O conferences have made it clear this is Google’s big software show. Everyone watches and waits on the big reveal, but this year we got nothing--or did we?
While it may appear at first blush that Google I/O 2013 was a bust, it was actually an incredibly important step for Google. This is the event when Google finally beat fragmentation.
If you paid close attention to the developer talks and API announcements, there were some enticing tidbits about the future of Android. For example, Google made it clear that Bluetooth Low Energy (AKA Bluetooth SMART) was coming to Android, but not under existing OS versions. No, this Bluetooth 4.0 implementation would be part of the platform in API level 18. Jelly Bean 4.2 is API level 17. There were also various server log and benchmark leaks -- the kind of stuff we always see when a new OS is imminent.
Hints like this indicate there is a newer version of Android that is far enough along that it has a finalized Bluetooth stack and is being tested on internal Google devices. Rumors can’t always be trusted, but the word is that Google was prepared to announce Android 4.3 at Google I/O, but decided to hold back and make a point. What point? Simply, Google doesn’t need a new version of Android to rollout new services to users.
Look at the Android announcements that did happen: Hangouts, Google Play Games, app data sync, Play Music All Access, and synced notifications. Those are neat features, but no one is going to convince Android fans it’s as sexy as a new version of the platform. However, the impact might be even greater than if Google had announced Android 4.3.
Imagine that Google had shown off a new version of Android; let’s even say that it was extremely impressive. After hearing the news, most Android users would look at their Galaxy S3 or Droid RAZR Maxx HD, and feel a mixture of annoyance and apathy. When Google announces a new version of Android, it only has an immediate effect on Nexus owners, which make up a small percentage of total Android users. The new services Google announced affect almost every Android phone in the world.
Phones running Gingerbread or higher got these new features. According to the latest platform numbers that’s nearly 95% of active Android devices. Google is proving that it can improve the Android experience without waiting for every OEM and carrier to get device updates deployed. That's worth a small delay.