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Android in 2020: how much will it change in five years?

Android Rocky Road?

By David Nield | Jul 23, 2015, 03.30 PM IST
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Cast your mind back to late 2008, when the first Android-powered handset saw the light of day. Obama won his first Presidential election, Apple launched its App Store (the iPhone had appeared the year before), Google announced its own Chrome browser and we got our first look at the company's new mobile OS on the T-Mobile G1 .

The Android of 2015 is a world away from that 2008 version, where the Android Market was in its infancy, there were no native video playback capabilities and the G1 had no multi-touch support. But Google is going to have to keep innovating and improving its mobile OS to keep the lion's share of the smartphone market.

We've taken a peek into the future to consider what Android might look like in the year 2020. With new Android monikers now appearing about once a year and Android M on the way , its codename should start with an "R" - Rhubarb Pie, Rocky Road or Rice Pudding, perhaps? Or maybe even Rolos, giving Google another chocolate brand tie-up?

Here are the four key features we think could play the biggest part in Android's ongoing evolution over the next seven years:

1. Maps in Android in 2020

Apple's Maps app may not have set the world alight when it launched, but it's here now (alongside Nokia 's offering), and that means Google needs to up its game to stay ahead. Recent Google Maps refreshes have brought with them a greater level of customisation based on your personal searches, and this will only increase in the future.

With Google Now tracking your every move, you might already be seeing directions to your favourite pub appear on-screen every Friday lunchtime or to the 5-a-side pitch every Monday evening, all handled automatically.

Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored
Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored

By 2020, if the pub in question has an Android-powered bar installed, you might even find your tipple of choice waiting for you when you arrive - there's going to be more automation and personalisation in the future, as Maps surfaces what's most important to you.

As for all of the services hanging off Maps, Google is already hiring out the Street View cameras and enabling you to peek inside buildings - you can expect Android 2020 to offer better imagery of most public buildings, as well as tappable info as you move around.

Google augments its own data with user-generated content to provide an even more up-to-date view of the world, and once initiatives such as Jump become more established you'll be able to see most parts of the world in stunning detail.

2. Android messaging in 2020

Google has already made its intentions clear with the Hangouts and the central role in plays in the company's new Project Fi platform . With Facebook, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype et al to battle against, there's no doubt we'll see Google push further into the universal messaging game, covering SMS, email, instant messaging and video calling with tools that are baked into Android and can be accessed from the web too.

In fact it's a surprise that Google still hasn't unified all of its messaging components. Hangouts seems to be making slow progress and there's still a separate SMS app available in Lollipop.

Project Fi may be limited to Nexus 6 owners in the US for now, but it seems to indicate where Google is heading: it eliminates Google Voice, jumps between Wi-Fi hotspots and cell networks as required, and (like Google Voice attempted) uses the cloud as the starting point for calls, texts and other types of communication.

Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored
Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored

That means a unified messaging system - phone calls, texts, IMs - that is associated with your Google account not your SIM card, and which can be accessed from your browser the same way its accessed from your smartphone. It's only just appearing now, but by 2020 it could be commonplace.

Remember Google has its own fibre broadband network to Don't be surprised to see free 5G video calling and texting between Android devices by 2020, with all of your conversations grouped by person rather than platform, and archived and searchable in Gmail.

Eric Schmidt has already predicted that every human will be online by 2020 (no doubt still holding out some vain hope that we'll all have a Google+ page too), and the more people his company can help get connected the better for Google's bottom line.

3. Android payments and security in 2020

2015 has been the year when mobile payments have really started to come into focus ( thanks Apple Pay ) but there's a lot more to come in terms of phones replacing cash and verifying our identities (everything from getting through the door at work to logging into Facebook).

The Android phone of 2020 could automatically log you into Gmail when you sit down at your laptop, for example, or pay for your flight when you step on a plane. Android devices can already unlock Chrome OS instead of a password, so to an extent this technology is already here - but by 2020 it should be almost seamless.

Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored
Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored

We've seen tattoos and pills shown off as possible authentication triggers of the future, and Android 2020 will play a big part in proving you are who you say you are, whether it's at a coffee shop or Google I/O.

Basic face recognition is already available, but in the years to come it has the potential to get much more accurate. Fingerprint recognition is coming in Android M and technology such as iris scanning is now coming into play too. Whatever technology emerges at the front of the pack, the good news is you won't have to remember any passwords in 2020.

4. Android hardware in 2020

Hardware innovations are going to play a big part in Android's roadmap. Besides the obvious smaller, thinner, faster improvements for our phones, bendable screens should be in place in the near future - the likes of Samsung have the tech already in production, and Android will change to adapt itself through scrolling rivers of news, status updates and other notifications.

Ever-changing, ever-optimising displays will be the order of the day, and the batteries and mobile processors of 2020 should be able to keep up.

Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored
Android in 2020: the future of Google's mobile OS explored

Google Glass managed to generate plenty of buzz before it was yanked from sale, and as Glass and the Apple Watch show, devices are getting smaller all the time. By 2020 Android's main market could be wearables rather than smartphones - it's going to need to be nimble and versatile, which is why apps such as Google Now are so useful.

Perhaps you won't need to take photos any more, since Google will simply pick out the best pictures from an unedited stream of the day's events. Nor will you need to decide what to eat for dinner - Android 2020 will know what you've been doing today (and what you're probably doing tonight) thanks to your Android Wear smartwatch , and will pick out the most suitable foods for you.

Android: the 2020 edition

The only certainty about Android's future is that it has a fight on its hands to stay competitive. Apple's iOS 9 has given Google plenty to think about - mostly by borrowing features from Android, like the new "proactive" elements of Siri.

Android's continuing integration with Chrome and the desktop/laptop will make for an interesting story too - they're both run by the same man, Sundar Pichai, remember - and perhaps Google's biggest challenge will be to convince us that we can trust it with more and more information about where we are, who we communicate with and the way we live our lives.

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