Each mobile OS has its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, when choosing which platform or platforms to address it helps to know a little bit about what they are. We’ve talked a fair bit about iOS and Windows Phone already, so this week we’ll take a look at Android.

Android is Google’s mobile operating system for phones and tablets. In the last couple of years its adoption has accelerated massively. If you go into any mobile phone shop in the UK most of the smart-phones on show will be running some flavour of Android, be it HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola…the list goes on. The reason for its mass adoption is both one of its greatest strengths and also one of its biggest weaknesses. Lets take a look at what those are and why Android is an excellent choice for some things and a poor choice for others.

Open and Free

Unlike the other mobile platforms we have mentioned, Android is open source and, crucially, it’s free. Instead of being designed specifically for a single family of devices, such as Apple’s iOS, or being licensed to a select few with stringent hardware requirements, such as Windows Phone, Android can be used by anyone, for anything…just so long as you can get it to work. While it’s target market is phones and tablets there are others out there who are using it to target a much broader range of hardware, including the humble PC.

Because of this, hardware vendors have been quick to incorporate it into their product lines leading to the plethora of Android devices available today. You will often hear it quoted that Android has the biggest slice of the mobile pie (or something to that affect anyway!) But the truth is a little less black and white. The fact is this is a very fragmented slice of the mobile pie. With iOS and Windows Phone you know what you are getting. With Android you get different flavours to suit different price points; not all Androids are created equal. This has lead to a fair amount of confusion over who can get what update, which apps can run on which devices and even where you are meant to go to get the apps in the first place…if indeed that is even possible.

Wild at Heart

The situation does seem to be improving as Android continues to mature but the problem of platform updates is still an issue. You see, Apple is in complete control of when it issues an update. Microsoft has hard and fast agreements with those companies that license its platform to ensure updates are pushed out in a timely manner. But Android is..well, its released into the wild by Google, taken on board by a hardware manufacture, tarted up and then sold on. It’s up to the hardware manufacture as to what happens after that. If they don’t want their devices to access the android market, fine. If their device is destined to be incapable of ever being upgraded, also fine. This is a great strength for Android’s mass adoption over a vast range of hardware. But it’s proving less advantageous in the high end mobile phone arena, where Google has to convince hardware manufactures to keep their devices up to date.

This lack of control also means Android is by far the most insecure mobile OS at the time of writing. There is no approval process to get apps onto the android market. In fact, they don’t even need to go on the market in the first place but instead can be downloaded from just about anywhere. The effects of this are twofold: A market flooded with poor quality apps and, much worse, some serious security issues. There have already been reported incidents of malware and viruses on Android and this is only likely to increase. Whereas Google went the way of the PC and avoided a walled garden approach, the price has been costly. While Some may argue that this is negated by the freedom that it brings, the case is far from closed. Watch this space.

The March Continues

Android excels where other mobile OS’s fear to tread! Not content to be confined to mere phones and tablets, it’s march continues into as many areas of our lives as it can muster. Exciting new opportunities for Android are being found in cars, laptops, bespoke mobile devices, TV’s and if Google gets it’s way, it will be taking over our home and even extending its robotic handshake to lesser beings with the new open accessory toolkit.

So. Android is a mixed bag. It continues to get better and better and, it would seem, ever more popular. But remember that it’s popularity is not necessarily because it’s the best mobile OS; it’s simply the most adaptable. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.