Google’s 2015 has been all about refining its smartphone business.
Whether it’s fixing thorny issues with the look and feel of Android or trying to make its operating system a more secure offering for its millions of users, the Big G has been engaged in a process of tinkering that shows no signs of abating.
Here’s how we think Google has got on over the last 12 months.
Google’s biggest success this year has been to improve Android.
Its newest update, Android Marshmallow, might not look hugely different to last year’s Lollipop edition.
But its tweaks to make a smartphone’s battery last longer, plus changes to app permissions that no longer see users hand over all of their data on installation, have helped make the operating system far more approachable.
Notification improvements are smart and fingerprint scanning to allow for mobile payments, Google has a platform that is at least taking on Apple’s iOS.
Its two new Nexus devices, the 6P and 5X, are the apotheosis of what Google believes its mobile offering should look like.
Both feature sharp design and offer Android without any bloatware. And they happen to be the best Nexus handsets that have ever been produced on behalf of the company.
For all of Google’s good work with Marshmallow, there’s simply no escaping the fact that Android is a fragmented mess.
At the time of writing, Marshmallow is installed on a mere 0.3% of all active Android phones. 2014’s Lollipop sits on a total of 25.6% of devices. 2013’s KitKat remains the most popular version.
This isn’t just a matter for mobile-phone nerds. The fragmentation of Android is a major worry when it comes to security.
Google says it’s going to release monthly patches for Android across the board, but just as with Android software updates, it’s down to networks to decide when these get rolled out.
That leaves potentially millions of users vulnerable to malware and puts swathes of data at risk.
Android malware is on the rise and while Google can try all it likes to grasp the fragmentation nettle, it simply can’t.
Partners release phones with old versions of Android or just choose not to update. It’s an issue that will not go away.
Areas for improvement
Google needs to fix fragmentation badly. That starts with forcing its partners to issue updates within a set timeframe.
This may cause Google to damage some relationships, but its OS has become a bloated mess that is susceptible to attack, far more so than iOS.
Things are getting better with custom Android skins, but it’s time Google also pushed its partners harder on killing off bloatware.
Grade: C+ – great new phones and operating system, shame about security woes and fragmentation failures.