Top 7 things Google needs to fix about Android to win the smartphone race

With Google I/O 2011 right around the corner, I think it’s time to take a quick look at the things Google could do to make Android even better. Our favorite OS is about to face some really fierce opposition from competitors like  Apple, Microsoft and Nokia. All three companies are doing everything in their power to erase Android from the face of the Earth, they despise it at the molecular level. Especially Microsoft and Nokia, whose future depends on beating Android. If Windows Phone 7 fails to gain traction, Microsoft won’t be able to compete in the mobile arena ever again and Nokia will eventually have to adopt Android. Now that we know what competitors will be doing (mostly suing Android supporters), what should Google do?

Media management

Ah Google Music, will you ever be released? Yes, the first thing Google needs to fix is the one thing they’ve been fixing for more than a year. Google Music was supposed to be released last year, then it was pushed to March of this year. March came and left and we didn’t see the mythical service released. The last we heard was that Google was still singing deals with record companies. So, we know Google Music will definitely be announced sometime in this decade, but why stop there. Google should throw movies, TV shows, ringtones, and podcasts in there as well, and call it Android World — or something like that.

This “Android World” service would sync all your pictures, videos and music using the cloud, making USB cables forever useless. Moreover, moving your stuff to a new device would be as simple as logging in with your Google account. With a one-stop location for all your media needs, Android would become the perfect platform for media consumption — while also getting rid of one of the few remaining reasons why anybody would choose iOS over Android.

Android Market

Google keeps improving the Android Market, but somehow I’m never satisfied. If Google wants to improve the Market experience they don’t have to look far, just look at Chomp. Since I found the Chomp app, I rarely use the Market app anymore. Why? It’s easier to find what you’re looking for, the app is fast and snappy, and it’s beautifully designed. The Market app falls short on all three categories. Google should acquire Chomp and just change the app’s red theme to green and slap the “Market” name on it. Problem fixed.

Fragmentation

The “F” word, I heard that if you say it near Andy Rubin he’ll suck your soul and condemn you to dance inside an Android costume for all eternity. While the Android team might say “fragmentation” is actually “diversity”, we know better and Android does have a fragmentation problem. There’s even three different kind of fragmentations, we have Hardware fragmentation, Look-and-feel fragmentation and Version fragmentation.

Hardware fragmentation is the least harmful of the three. When you have an OS like Android, hardware fragmentation is really inevitable. It’s actually good to have hardware fragmentation, in no other platform you have phones as different as the LG Optimus One and the Motorola Atrix 4G. There’s an Android phone for everybody out there, and that’s Android strongest point. With that said, hardware fragmentation does bring some issues. You know that guy with the T-Mobile Comet is going to try to play Dungeon Defenders and be very disappointed, Google shouldn’t even let him get to that point. Those people with low-end phones should only see low-end apps on the Market, and not those apps built exclusively for dual-core CPUs.

Next is Look-and-feel fragmentation, this is what HTC and Samsung do to their Android phones. The Android “experience” varies a lot from phone to phone. You might be very happy with your HTC phone but hate your cousin’s Samsung Galaxy S. Google can easily fix this experience disparity by allowing us to theme our phones. Imagine if you could download the official Nexus theme from the Market and make your HTC EVO 4G look just like a Nexus S. To do this, Google will have to give developers some new and special APIs that allow them to change how everything in Android looks — from the Notification bar to check-boxes.

Lastly, is Version fragmentation. This is the easiest one to understand and also the most frustrating about Android. It’s been more than four months since Google dropped the Gingerbread source code, so you’d think most phones would be running the OS by now, right? Right? Not a chance. I can count the amount of phones running Gingerbread with just my left hand. Most are stuck with Froyo, or worse, Éclair — ugh.

It’s not Google’s fault though, and people shouldn’t blame them for it. The update process is completely up to the manufacturer and the carrier. If you’re frustrated with Samsung and how long they take to update their phones, take a look at HTC phones or the Nexus next time you’re buying a phone. We also have to remember that this “updating phones” ordeal is a completely new concept for OEMs, and they’ll eventually get good at it — hopefully sooner rather than later.

App development

Have you tried building an Android app lately? It’s not that easy. For the average Java developer and Eclipse guru it might be a rather painless experience, but for the rest of the world is a nightmare. It’s in Google best interest to make Android development as easy as possible. That next great app might not come from a developer but a doctor, and Google should do everything they can to make sure that the person builds the app for Android first, and not iOS. How easy should Android development get? If you have to explain what an SDK is, it’s still too hard.

To make Android development as easy as using Photoshop, Google needs to start from scratch. First, they should build their own Android IDE as a web app. With nothing to install, nothing to update and no SDK to download. Just a web-based IDE for Android development, plain and simple. Secondly, make app design a first-class citizen and not an afterthought. People should be thinking about how their app will look and behave, and not the intricacies of the Java language. Third, integrate with other tools like Flash and Photoshop. Make it possible for people to design their apps with other tools and just wire it up using the IDE. Lastly, make app publishing and updating a trivial process. Publishing an app to the Android Market should be as easy as clicking a big “Publish” button right from the IDE. Want to see the Android Market app explode with great apps, Google? Fix this.

Gaming improvements

iOS has Game Center and Windows Phone 7 has Xbox Live. What does Android have? Nada. Google needs to get serious about gaming on Android as soon as possible. You know Microsoft is going to beat the Xbox drum for WP7 until the end of the world — and Android needs a good counterpart. The service needs to be social, easy and fun to use, and should make Android games even more addictive. Throw in achievement unlocking for good measure and you have a winner.

Security improvements

I find it quite funny that we need antivirus software for our phones these days. While it’s interesting that phones are basically computers nowadays, we shouldn’t need extra protection like we need on PCs. The most effective way to spread a malicious piece of software on Android is through the Market. That’s where Google needs to build a giant wall, put some more wall on top of that wall and then put laser guns on top of that wall.

The whole “open vs. closed” argument goes outside the window the second you get infected with a rogue app. That person that just got its identity stolen using an Android phone doesn’t care one bit about Android’s openness, and probably wishes it had bought an iPhone. I’m not saying Google should approve every app that gets in the Market, but at least put them through some kind of scanner that checks for suspicious code and then manually check those apps that get flagged.

The little things

Now that Android is reaching maturity it’s time for Google to start focusing on the details. Like, taking a screenshot on your phone. We shouldn’t have to root our phones to do this, Google. Get on it. I don’t know about other phones, but with my LG Optimus T I have to unlock it to turn down the volume. Really? That’s ridiculous, why can’t I just push the button without unlocking the phone. Lastly, get rid of the Menu button. Now, I know many people out there love the Menu button and I don’t hate it personally, but if you ever want to see your grandma using an Android phone, better get rid of as many buttons a possible. If Google wants Android to rule the world, it needs to make it as easy to use as possible. Getting rid of the Menu button and putting everything on the screen is a step in the right direction. This is something Google already did with Honeycomb, now they need to put it on phones as well.

Google I/O is only two weeks away and I expect Google to address at least one of these issues. But if they want to win the smartphone race, they’ll need to fix all of them. What do you guys/gals think? Anything else Google needs to improve? Let me know in the comments.