Part 3: Official Google Apps
As the saying goes, the hardware is as good as the software running it. Taking that into context, we realize the importance of one thing when it comes to latest-generation consumer electronics: apps. Made famous by Apple and the iPhone, the whole software ecosystem now relies on apps for functionality, productivity and enjoyment. Without apps, a gadget can be easily made irrelevant as people clamor for more features than what is expected of the device. Apple currently dominates this space with the immensely successful App Store – what does Google, primarily an advertising company, know about such things? Well, with the introduction of its Android mobile operating system, Google has advocated open-source access and thus spawned a new breed of consumer audience; those who prefer free apps, and free app development.
With that in mind, Google is set to contend with Apple in terms of applications both in sheer number and pure quality. Today, this section only covers the basics of Android apps – the stock Google Apps found in Honeycomb. These are meant to optimize productivity and media value of a stock Android device, without the need for 3rd-party solutions. So, how do Google’s services work, and what can they do for the consumer and end-user? Let’s find out.
Ah, the Google Market. This is the one-stop hub for everything Android; apps, games, widgets, mods and media are all right here in the platform’s official app store. The open-ended app distribution model of Google as opposed to Apple’s more stringent approval process makes it enticing for a considerable number of people, who are interested to publish their work in this less-restrictive environment. But this also has resulted in a number of incidents – low-quality apps, stolen/defective copies, and even malware-infected ones. However, that is the price we have to pay for maintaining this free-market ideology; intelligent consumers who know how to sort through the crapware are usually greatly rewarded with rare gems. And with Android’s stunning growth at over 350,000 handsets activated every day, the Market has also exploded in terms of app count and app quality – around 220-300,000 apps are already available in the Market alone. The gap between the App Store and Market is inching closer and closer, as more and more developers are seeing the potential in selling their products to the Android platform.
Now, let’s take a look at the user interface of the Market. Honeycomb users will be greeted with a largely horizontal-based layout of the Market, which frankly looks a lot cleaner and more professional than the mobile version. Over at the top is a menu bar that categorizes between apps and books, as well as a search bar, shortcuts for your installed apps and a context menu with options such as accounts, purchase history and content filtering. Just below is a scrolling gallery of images which feature top new apps, and tapping one takes you to the respective app. Also at the main page there are categories for featured tablet apps, top free/paid and Editors’ Choice applications; these are automatically updated to showcase the most recent trending high-quality apps for Android. The right-hand side has the Categories panel, which organizes all apps into specific classes like games, books and sports apps. Pressing on one of them takes you to the category’s sub-menu that splits into a Best-Selling and Top Free list.
When taken to a specific app, there are some elements unique to the Market UI from others. The left panel has the name, picture and overall rating of the app, and buttons to download (or purchase) and manage it. Also within this area is the content rating, latest version number, file size and download history of the app. The right panel hosts the most content; text descriptions offer an overview of the app’s function, highlighted by some key details and a separate list contains the patch notes for each latest update version (for users to keep track of tweaks and new features). There are also preview screens or videos showcasing the app’s design and usage – tap on one to see it in full view. User Reviews is probably the most important part of this panel; one can read people’s thoughts about the app, both positive (great optimization, cool functions, etc.) and negative (force closes, lack of usability, etc.) for the consumer to know if it’s worth downloading/purchasing or not. Right below are links to the developer’s site and email address, as well as shortcuts to applications relevant to the category.
Purchasing an app is done by selecting the Buy button, which takes you to a pop-up menu which requires you to select a payment method (credit card, or carrier billing) and accept the Permissions list for the app. Once the transaction is done, the app will be downloaded and an email directed to your GMail account will immediately be sent pertaining your purchase receipt. Should you be unsatisfied with your product, there is a Refund button to revoke the purchase as long as it’s within the 15-minute period upon buying the app. This is kind of problematic since 15 minutes is very short to test all the features and quirks of the app, but this was done by Google so that people won’t be able to finish full-length games in one sitting and refund them once finished.
Under the My Apps section, one can easily keep track of all installed apps as well as those purchased, but not installed on the device. The grouping splits if there are apps that are available for update; those are immediately grouped at the top of the list for easier access. These apps could be updated individually, or in a batch by hitting the Update All button. Should the user wish to have his apps updated automatically, he can select that particular app, enable the checkbox for Allow Automatic Updating, and off it goes. All update options are done over-the-air; no cables, no syncing software required, only an internet connection and access to the Market.
Click on page 4 for to read about the new Honeycomb Browser