ANDROID is going from strength to strength. Around 600m of the nearly 2 billion smartphones ever sold use Google’s mobile operating system, estimates Horace Dediu, the boss of Asymco, a mobile-analysis firm. How odd, then, that nearly three-fifths of those that remain in active use, both old and new, rely on outdated versions of it. That is partly because old gizmos do not have enough oomph to run the latest iteration, called Android 4, and partly the outgrowth of Google’s choice to exercise only loose control over its operating system after each new version is released. The worrying consequence is that a vast number of phones do not receive software fixes, known as patches. Worse, many cannot be patched even if the owner wants to, says Rich Mogull, boss of Securiosis, an independent security-research firm. (..) As a result, tens of millions of phones run the version of the operating system with which they were shipped, perhaps with one or two minor tweaks. Even phones with the chips and memory to handle upgrades often do not receive them because of the support costs: handset-makers and carriers prefer to have consumers buy new phones than to provide technical support for old or outdated models.
Researchers at security firm Sophos have discovered that one in five Macs is infected with Windows malware, while one in thirty-six contains a Mac OS X-specific virus.
I think it’s important for users to know that no matter what permissions they grant to an app, a lot of data can be collected about you and your smart phone if the app chooses to look for it. Malware aside, I think the gathering of identifying data is more likely to be used by legitimate apps. In the upcoming paper “Unsafe Exposure Analysis of Mobile In-App Advertisement,” due to be released next week, the authors discuss how legitimate apps that include advertising libraries allow the associated ad networks to gather any data that the app itself can access.
Other than security and privacy, what improvements are some asking Google to make for Android?
- The new Aura Desktop Window Manager treats browser windows as windows that can be moved, to reveal a desktop area, and can be separated into discrete UI elements. The Chrome browser in Chrome OS now works more or less like it does on Windows or OS X hardware. It even includes a taskbar for launching Web apps.
- Better hardware. The current crop of Chromebooks is underpowered and not particularly innovative. Look at what Apple has done with the MacBook Air and at what some of the makers of ultrabooks have accomplished. Now make something better, and offer both high- and low-end models. You’ll never attract power users with underpowered, under-equipped devices.
- Web-based IDE. Buy Cloud 9 or hurry up and roll out “Brightly”, your long-rumored Web-based IDE. If you want developers to create Web apps, give them tools that allow them to do so using Chrome.
- Support local storage. Stop with the “nothing but the Web” nonsense. Pichai once said, “I don’t think we need files anymore.” And somehow, no one else at Google mustered a coherent rebuttal. The notion is absurd. Files represent ownership. They offer a defense against lock-in. You yourself make a big deal about this with your Data Liberation Front. Files are freedom. Without them, one’s data exists only at the pleasure of one’s service provider. And that’s no way to live. Chrome OS will be able to challenge Linux, OS X, or Windows when it offers broad support for storing data locally and mirroring local files in the cloud.
- Offline apps. Your notion that cloud computing can completely replace local computing is as absurd as your nothing-but-the-Web conceit. Google Apps needs to run offline and to be at least as responsive as Microsoft Word in the absence of a network connection. Really, any Web app should run offline. We have the technology, even if HTML5 local storage might not be mature yet. Of course, you don’t want people to operate offline because you cannot deliver ads or collect data when there’s no network connection. But you would do better to provide services that people want to use rather than trying to steer customers toward services that fit your business model.