Stop right now! Move your finger off of the buy button and walk away. If you were thinking of buying a new Android device, whether it's a phone, a tablet or a watch, Google just gave you a very good reason to delay your purchase. At its annual I/O developer conference, the search giant announced several game-changing phone features that will be available on new devices sold this fall, with no guarantee that existing products will ever get them. Unless your current phone just smashed on the floor and broke into a hundred pieces, you need to put off replacing it until these next-gen devices come out.
Both Android phones and watches are due for huge upgrades in Fall 2016
In fall, Google will roll out three major initiatives: Android N, the latest OS for phones and tablet, Android Wear 2.0 for smartwatches and the Daydream platform for mobile VR. Let's take the last of these first, because it seems obscure but it's the most important.
Google just osborned its entire mobile ecosystem.
VR is everywhere in 2016 and, for that reason alone, you need to make sure your next smartphone can pair with a headset to provide rich experiences. The Daydream platform will provide a huge ecosystem of VR apps, including VR versions of YouTube and Google Streetview. Imagine exploring a neighborhood on the other side of the world in virtual reality; how cool is that?
Though Daydream will be built into the upcoming Android N operating system, you'll need a "Daydream-ready" smartphone to use it. At I/O, Google announced that all the usual vendors, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Asus, Huawei and ZTE, will be releasing Daydream-ready handsets, along with matching headsets and controllers.
Google didn't say whether any phones on the market today will receive updates that make them "Daydream-ready," but even if the company did, I wouldn't hold my breath. Everyone knows that phone vendors and carriers are extremely slow to upgrade from one version of Android to another and sometimes they just don't do it. The update problem also gives us a good reason to wait for phones that come preloaded with Android N.
If Samsung and AT&T already sold you a phone six months ago, they have almost no incentive to upgrade it.
In addition to its VR capabilities, Android N will have a host of new features, including much-faster performance, tighter security and the ability to reply to messages from the notification drawer. It will also, finally, have multitasking features such as multi window mode and picture-in-picture videos. No doubt a number of apps will either benefit greatly from or require some of the operating system's new APIs.
Android N Multi-Window Mode
There's no doubt that some of today's top phones will eventually get an update to Android N, but if experience is any guide, you could be waiting for 6 months or more for your phone vendor and carrier to bring you the new OS. And, if your phone is not the latest flagship model, you may not get an upgrade at all.
Android Marshmallow debuted in October 2015, but only 7.5 percent of current phones have it. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge on AT&T just got a Marshmallow update this week and those were the company's flagship phones when the operating system came out.
The problem is that, unlike with the iPhone or a Windows PC, the manufacturer and carrier are responsible for developing their own versions of the update and pushing them out. If Samsung and AT&T already sold you a $700 phone six months ago, they have almost no incentive to upgrade it for you. As far as they're concerned, they already have your money and developing updates is an expense. Google's own Nexus phones are a welcome exception because the search giant sends their updates directly.
Android Wear 2.0 is even more of a game-changer than Android N. The new wearable platform adds a whole ecosystem of standalone apps and features that run well, even if your watch isn't paired to a phone. It also has a qwerty keyboard and handwriting recognition capability for writing messages, something which turns the watch from a passive receiver device into a mobile communicator. The new OS also supports automatic activity detection so your watch knows when you start running and starts up your fitness app.
We don't know yet whether any current-generation Android Wear watch has the necessary processing power to run standalone apps or the sensors to do activity detection. But, even if one of today's wrist pieces can run the new OS, it seems unlikely that most of them will get an update.
Android Wear Handwriting Recognition
Just as with phones, Android Wear watches require manufacturers to develop and push out their own updates. So what's the business incentive for Motorola to update its current 360 watch to Android Wear 2.0, instead of just coming out with a new model? Sadly, there's no such thing as a Nexus smartwatch, so we don't have a Android Wear product that's guaranteed to get the latest updates.
With today's announcements, Google has excited Android fans, but it also just osborned its entire mobile ecosystem, putting phone sales in jeopardy for at least several several months. The "Osborne Effect" occurs when a tech company torpedos sales of its current products by announcing new-and-improved versions way in advance so that customers decide to wait. Anyone who's been following today's announcements knows that it would be foolish to buy a current-gen Android phone. Apple studiously avoids osborning its products by only unveiling them right before they go on sale.
However, as a consumer, it's not your job to worry about Samsung and HTC's bottom lines. Unless you absolutely have to get a new Android phone or tablet this summer, it's time to hold your breath and wait.