For this week’s Guest Post Friday at Musings, we welcome back Martha Sperry for another great tech related guest post. Martha (@advocatesstudio on Twitter) is an attorney with extensive experience in the insurance industry. Martha also maintains a research and writing practice, AdvantageAdvocates with emphasis on research and written product for professionals and web consulting. Her blog on law, research, writing and technology Advocate’s Studio. Martha also has let Musings invade the Studio today, so please check it out!
Android, the mobile OS, has been around for some time. But it still seems like the newcomer to all but the most tech savvy out there. Truthfully, though, Android’s time appears to have come, and this is as true for lawyers as it is for techies and civilians. In an effort to help us all “get with the times”, this post is all about “why Android?” and “What can you do with Android?” as a lawyer.
First a tiny bit of history. Android is Linux based, starting out as its own software company in 2003, but was financially backed and then bought by Google in 2005. Android was unveiled to the public in 2007. It has always been billed as an open handset OS, compared to Apple iOS’ very closed ecosystem. This means that Android is open source and is freely available to anyone to use and modify to their liking. Hence, the often criticized fracturing of the Android platform – different manufacturers, developers and basement tweakers have their own version and flavor of the OS, with better or worse results.
The first phone running Android was released in 2008 and as of late 2012, there were more than 750,000 apps developed for Android. The fact that it is low cost, simple, easily customizable had made it ubiquitous and not just for phones and tablets – there are TVs, game consoles and even cameras that run Android these days. And, because anyone can use it and load it, it currently has 75% of the smartphone marketshare.
Google wasn’t content to let all the device manufacturers have all the fun, so in 2010, it unveiled its own phone developed via partnerships with those same manufacturers and in essence competing with other Android products. The first Google Phone, the Google Nexus One, was built by HTC, followed by the Nexus S, the Galaxy Nexus built by Samsung and currently the Nexus 4, which I have, built by LG. Google also has its own tablet, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, with 7 and 10 inch screens respectively. What makes these devices special, in my opinion, is the fact that they offer the purest form of the Android OS, without all the add ins, bloatware and bells of the phones released by the different device manufacturers. And, in my experience, this makes a difference in the overall feel and operation of Android.
So, why Android? It’s all about the tight integration of those ubiquitous Google applications, and a “smooth as butter” operating system that makes iOS devices feel clunky and slow. No, really, I mean butter, as in Project Butter – Google’s initiative to improve UI through fast, slick animations and switching and something called vsync timing. I have both the latest Google phone and the latest iPhone and previously had the latest LG Android phone and the iPhone 4. Unlike my prior versions of the phones where the iPhone was the clearly superior device, the Google Nexus 4 feels like the modern tech, and the iPhone 5 feels significantly dated.
The bottom line here is whether Google is an important part of your working life – if you use a lot of Google apps regularly, then you really need to be looking at Android. You won’t believe how much better the experience is than with other devices where Google is a second tier player. Also, if you like notifications, especially unobtrusive and highly functional ones, then Android has it all over the other options. They show via a tiny icon at the top of the device, open with a swipe, can be expanded with another swipe or dismissed with yet another swipe. You can even perform some functions from within the notifications and never have to open the app.
Finally, if you need one more good reason and haven’t yet experienced Google Now, then you need to do so and if you haven’t yet done so on an Android device, make that the next step. Google Now is a very cool predictive resource that can “figure out” what you need now or may want to do next and provide you the relevant information before you even ask for it. The full version is only available natively on Android’s most recent Jelly Bean OS, but hopefully as more devices are updated it will become more widely available. Now “cards” pop up in your notifications – for example, I searched for a sporting goods store online the other day on my desktop and a Google Now card popped up on my phone with traffic information between my home and the store. Get reminded of calendar events and appointments, live sporting scores, flight information (if your flight info is in your GCal or Gmail), news of import to you, popular events as you travel and even popular photo spots. Bet you didn’t even know you wanted to know that. Cards can be called up on demand by swiping up on your home screen or, as noted above, pop up as relevant in your notifications. If you don’t see what you want immediately, all you have to do is say “Google” and the search box pops up. Google is adding “cards” all the time – which means more predictive fun being added all the time.
So, if I have sold you on Android, the next thing you probably want to know is what can you do on Android to enhances your life as a lawyer. The bad news is that Android does lag a bit behind the Apple App Store on app quantity and quality. The good news is that this is improving by leaps and bounds all the time. A lot of productivity favorites are available on Android, like Dropbox, Box, and Evernote. If you use Gmail and GCal, then you are going to love these applications on Android. They are much more robust and interactive, both with each other and with the predictive functionality of Google Now. Easily access voice search with the touch of a button. If Google Tasks isn’t enough, try Astrid as a task manager. How about cheap legal research with the Fastcase app? Of course WestlawNext has its Android app as well. Quickoffice Pro and Docs to Go are on Android as well. Handle PDFs with Adobe CreatePDF. CamScanner HD for iOS is available on Android too. Tripit and Kayak are there too. There are apps for backup, remote access, and pretty much anything you would need to do. If you are a Google Apps user, many of your desktop options have mobile versions. And don’t forget the Google tools themselves – the tight integration makes the transition from desktop to mobile phone to tablet pretty much seamless. Chrome bookmarks and history are available to you wherever you go and whatever device you are using, as long as you are signed in. Some apps work with Chrome extensions on the desktop that make it so easy to move from device to device – Chrome to Phone lets you easily share links, maps, and currently selected phone numbers and text between your computer running Chrome and your phone. With the Chrome browser extension on your computer, and Chrome to Phone app on your device, click the phone button in your browser bar while viewing the web on your computer and the browser will launch on the phone with the same page. Sending a Google maps link will launch the Google maps app on the phone. Select phone numbers and you will launch the dialer with the number already entered and ready to go on the phone. Now that’s Space Age.
This is truly just a surface overview of Android and why it is such a great OS and a serious contender for your next mobile phone or tablet. I encourage you to look into the Android option and, better yet, go check one out for yourself. Try the new Google Play version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, a pure version of Android without a lot of the carrier bloatware. The hardware and the software are just great. You’ll thank me. And thank Chris for letting me invade Musings with the good news.
Please head over to the Studio for Chris’ post about going paperless in a solo practice – It’s always a good time when we swap sites!