Android's two killer innovations since the iPhone 5 launch

Android's two killer innovations since the iPhone 5 launch

Summary: Since Apple announced the iPhone 5 over 7 months ago, Android has made two big leaps forward. One came from Google and the other from a third party app.

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TOPICS: Software, Mobility
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android-jelly-bean-statue-cnet-04-2013
Image credit: CNET

It's been 229 days since Apple announced the iPhone 5 and iOS 6. In Silicon Valley time, that's roughly a millennium.

And we're unlikely to see major updates to the iPhone, iOS or any other major Apple products until this fall, based on CEO Tim Cook's comments during the company's latest earnings call.

Meanwhile, Android has lengthened its stride. 

I'm not talking about the Samsung Galaxy S4 with its flurry of software features, or the HTC One with its amazing hardware design. I'm talking about the killer feature in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean as well as the latest version of the one killer app on Android that you can't get on iOS. 

Here's why those two big leapfrog innovations matter. 

1. Google Now: The killer feature

We first saw Google Now last June when Hugo Barra demoed Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" at Google I/O. While the demo had its share of whizbang-ness, it wasn't something that looked like a game-changer. It even appeared a bit gimmicky. But, with a steady stream of software improvements and the fact it's stunningly useful once it's activated and starts doing its thing, Google Now emerged as one of Android's biggest advantages over the iPhone. 

As I noted earlier this year, Google Now has given us one of the great "Ah, ha!" moments in tech in recent memory. It automatically alerts you when you need to leave for a meeting based on current traffic conditions, or warns you that your flight has been delayed, or reminds you that one of your favorite teams is playing tonight, or has navigation directions ready for you on that restaurant you just searched for — and it does all of this without you even having to configure anything. It's truly a big data moment, and although Google has indicated that it would like to bring Google Now to iOS, for now it's only available on Android and the iOS version will obviously never have the same deep integration. One of the things that makes Google Now so great is that it goes hand-in-hand with Android's other killer feature: notifications.

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2. SwiftKey 4: The killer app

This one doesn't have anything to do with Google, but it has everything to do with Android. It's one of those apps that cannot exist on iOS because Apple doesn't give developers access to enough of the fundamental layers of the operating system, but Android does. Occasionally that can lead to malware threats and configuration issues, but other times you get amazing pieces of software like SwiftKey.

A replacement for the native Android keyboard, SwiftKey allows you to move a finger across the keyboard in one continuous motion over the letters of the word you'd like to spell and SwiftKey magically interprets that word at a high accuracy rate — especially for standard dictionary words. Often, it also predicts the next word you are going to type and if it's correct then you can select that word with one tap and then keep inputting new words. 

This is significantly faster than using the standard touch keyboard on Android or iPhone, and SwiftKey took another big step forward with the release of SwiftKey 4 in February. In the two months since it was released, it has saved me 7,749 keystrokes and made me 33% more efficient, according to the SwiftKey stats. It honestly feels even more efficient than that. Those of us who used a Palm Treo or a BlackBerry with a hardware keyboard before moving to virtual keyboards on iPhone or Android know that we definitely traded typing accuracy and speed for the benefits of better apps and ease-of-use. SwiftKey now helps overcome the keyboard drawback on Android.

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Apple's challenge

It's been a very quiet year so far for Apple. While the iPhone remains simpler to use and still gets many of the best apps and app updates before Android does, Google Now and SwiftKey 4 are two powerful advantages that the iPhone is unlikely to match in 2013. 

That puts an important challenge on Apple's shoulders. The iPhone needs a unique next-step-forward innovation before the end of 2013, or else Android is likely to take its mantle as the platform where the future is unfolding.

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Topics: Software, Mobility

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156 comments
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  • Swype...

    .. has given me this innovation since 2010, though only when swiping. I've become so efficient at swiping that typing on a normal keyboard feels real slow to me, haha.
    addicted2088
    • The beauty of Swiftkey...

      ...is not the Swype-like function, it is that it learns what you type most often, anf with permission it can look at your Facebook feed, your Twitter feed, your Gmail, and an RSS feed for a blog and learn from that. From there, it starts to predict what you're going to type after the word you just typed (for instance my tablet knows that when I type Windows, the next word is probably going to be 7, XP or Vista), with autocorrect taking into account what you're most likely to type as well.
      douglasac10
      • predictive text function

        is standard in WP7 and WP8 and largely makes the swiping aspect redundant.

        For people that jailbreak, there is an app called iswipe in Cydia that does the swiping on IOS as well, no prediction though.
        sjaak327
        • re: predictive text function

          You mean Android and iOS don't have predictive text? The only smartphones I've ever had are WP7 and WP8 phones and, you're right, they both had it. Hard to imagine the others don't.
          Sir Name
          • predictive typing

            iOS certainly does have predictive typing. Unfortunately, it doesn't read minds, so it is often more trouble than it is worth. It is essential that you read a message before sending it as iOS will change things to make it seem you are saying things you never meant to say. Beware! I would turn it off, but it makes typing easier, I just have to proofread everything.
            rphunter1242
          • That is not predictive text

            You are describing auto-correct. Or maybe a combination of the two, the first thing I do after an IOS upgrade is switch this off, as indeed it is more trouble than it is worth.

            Predictive text in WP is good because it appears above the actual text box, and tapping it can speed up the text entry, which I prefer to the ios way, where it is done inside the text box, which indeed means you have to proof read everything.
            sjaak327
          • Android has that too

            Start typing, and a list of possible words displays below the text field, speeding up typing. Been there as long as I can remember. Probably where WP learned it from.
            anothercanuck
          • Probably where Android learned it from, actually

            Windows Mobile, Windows Phone's predecessor, and its predecessors had it as well, for at least a decade.
            CageySee
          • Because Apple implemented it backward

            Instead of opting INTO suggested replacements, you have to continually opt out, over and over and over while you're typing. It's asinine. Thus you end up turning it off, which was only made possible after thousands of people bitched about it.
            dgurney
          • I Love My Lumia's Predictive Text...

            All I have to do is type 1 letter, and the word I want is there EVERYTIME !!!!
            Steve@...
          • Although The Talk To Text Is My Favorite...

            I've learned, through it happening, that when my Lumia 920 is Bluetooth connected to my car's navigation system, all my incoming texts are read to me, and I don't have to touch a thing. The translation of my voice to text is always spot on, and I never take my eyes off the road !
            Steve@...
          • Its predicitive words not predictive text

            Jason is referring to Swiftkey's ability to predict the next word in addition to standard predictive text while completing the current word.
            It is just one of those things that make life much easier. I have an ipad and an android phone. The app seems like an incremental innovation but if you type a lot you realize that it is a great convenience.
            ecobranon
          • And WP does that too.

            WP has predictive text where it spells words out based on one letter entered, as well as predictive words which show up before you type any letter of the next word.

            When I'm texting with my 920, I often just type the first word and the entire rest of the message I just select a word from the predicted list across the top.

            When I use an iOS device, I can't believe this feature still doesn't exist.
            spaulagain2
          • Actually it is predictive text

            The WP8 keyboard adjusts the size of the key "hot" areas based on the current word it believes you are typing to reduce mis-keys. It also displays the words it believes you are typing so that you can have it finish the word for you. After you finish a word, the next word it believes you will type comes up automatically. It has guessed entire sentences for me on some occasions.
            jebailey1120
          • BS

            More than 1 letter has to be required unless you keep typing the same 5 words over and over
            JonWayn
          • naw...Android does have predictive texting...

            It does start showing words that it will think that you are going to use according to the user's input patterns. It will start trying to predict the word you are typing and then try to predict three words above the keyboard.
            Cory Ducey
          • not with WP...

            When using Windows Phone it will actually predict what words you might use next based on the context of the previous words. Sometimes I can write and entire text message having only typed one word. I love this feature, saves lots of time. And what's even better is it learns patterns in you typing and will adapt accordingly.
            spaulagain2
          • WP may have predictive text but

            The SwiftKey feature, as described here, would trump it because it learns your diction and adjusts accordingly, whereas, with WP7/8, the predictive entries are fixed. Futthermore, I find that WP's offering of PT does not speed typing up, in fact, it slows it. If you have to take your eyes off the keyboard to see the PT list, and then move to the list to select the needed suggestion, that slows rather than speeds typing.
            JonWayn
          • Of course it speeds up typing

            unless you only use three letter words. Unfortunately would require two letters + a tap (three taps in total) as opposed to 13 taps when spelled out completely.
            sjaak327
          • So does Windows Phone

            The same adaptive learning happens in Windows Phone. How the hell does that slow it down in WP? I "type" so fast on my WP. And the nice with WP is it gives you some options. Your just an Android fanboy!
            spaulagain2