One of the great criticisms that is constantly being levelled against Android is the various form factors it’s forced to work on. Unlike iOS – which only ever needs to work on two – the nature of the Android beast is that the OS will find itself on a variety of devices of all shapes and sizes from a variety of manufacturers. (The other criticism is the fragmentation around the OS versions but let’s be blunt, that one is completely legitimate).
This issue is, according to the aforementioned criticism levellers, that when app developers are working with iOS devices, it’s easier to ensure a consistent user experience because of the simple and limited set of hardware and screen-sizes. On Android however, it’s apparently a Wild West of rough frontier-style formats where an app developer’s lifespan is shorter than a shot of rotgut whiskey.
Ignoring what the Retina display did to iTunes' rarefied air of cognac and cigars, these points about Android aren’t exactly wrong – but I think developers need to get used to it because a wide ecosystem of form factors are here to stay.
Tablets are a great example – we’re seeing a big shift from 10.1in to smaller sizes across a number of manufacturers – a move design to echo the portability of the eReader. At the same time, people are noticing many tablets don’t make it out of the house: they don’t need that portability. So we’ll see devices in the future – and Toshiba have a number ready to roll – that will expand the screen size considerably, making the tablet more of a portable TV screen as much as anything else. (In fact Toshiba’s 13.3in tablet the AT330 will come with a built in TV tuner for the Japanese market).
At the same time Windows 8 is opening up its own Metro style app landscape which will need to work across tablet and laptops… and maybe both. The ASUS Taichi, shown off at Computex just days ago, is a Windows laptop that, when shut, reveals an HD IPS touchscreen. Similarly, the Transformer AiO, also from ASUS is an 18.4in all-in-one PC where the screen detaches to become a touchscreen tablet – albeit a huge one. Even more oddly, the Transformer AiO runs both Windows 8 and Android.
Even the humble single-function laptop is spreading its wings in new and varied ways. Toshiba released the Satellite U840W Ultrabook featuring a widescreen display with a 21:9 aspect ratio. It’s a bizarrely elongated looking beast but a truly clever idea.
The truth is that as individuals we have individual needs from our devices - sauce for the digital goose may not taste as great when poured on a gander. I’m a massive fan of the Galaxy Note, but I know people for whom it is too big. I cannot stand typing on a tablet, but I know people who’ve pretty much thrown away their laptops. And we’re not even looking at what the next crop of devices may be like, be they wearable, augmented or implanted (or, more likely, identical to what we’re using now and just thinner).
This is a big challenge for developers of all stripes, but I firmly believe that it’s in this situation of working to maintain to an enjoyable user experience for all, on all that we’ll see some of the true innovations – the rarefied flashes of genuine genius that comes from working under adversity.
Vive la difference - because it’s that difference that will be driving technology.