This Year in Android: 2013 in Retrospect

As we enter the final days of 2013, we quickly approach the culmination of one of Android’s biggest years to date. We’ve seen major new hardware, new software and corporate changes at Google that set up an exciting future for the year ahead. In this special final instalment of This Week In Android, we’re going to take a look back at the last 12 months and some highlights of the Android news that filled them.

January: CES

Like every year, January 2013 brought the traditional slew of news from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The Android world was, of course, a dominant source of news at the show, with OEMs introducing flagship new devices, such as Sony’s Xperia Z and Xperia ZL.

The Samsung T9000 fridge-freezer. Image courtesy of Engagdet.

CES brought more than simply new tablets and smartphones. Numerous Android partners introduced the software on differing lines, from set top boxes to fridges. Archos showed the TV Connect and GamePad, a product for powering your TV with Android with access to apps delivered through the Google Play store. Samsung, on the other hang, revealed the Samsung T9000, a $4000 fridge-freezer with a built-in 10-inch display powered by Android.

February: 4.2.2, HTC One and PS4

February brought the incremental update Android 4.2.2 to devices, enhancing WiFi and Bluetooth toggles and adding progress indicators to app download notifications. However, the main bulk of news in the second month was a slew of new device announcements, such as the LG Optimus F5 and F7, the 10-inch Sony Xperia Tablet Z, the ZTE Grand Memo and Asus PadFone Infinity and Fonepad.

The HTC One’s full metal body.

HTC also announced their flagship phone, the HTC One, in mid-February. The 4.7-inch device powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor would later go on to become an official Google Play Edition phone offered in stock Android. In the Sony world, the company announced the PlayStation 4 and it’s companion PlayStation App for Android and iOS, offering gamers a second screen experience to complement their next-generation games.

March: Galaxy S4 and Andy Rubin

One of the biggest Android announcements of the year took place in March with the launch of Samsung’s 5-inch Galaxy S4. Designed similarly to its predecessor, the Galaxy S III, the Galaxy S4 was powered chiefly by a 1.8GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, shooting rear-facing images at 13-megapixels. Like February’s HTC One, the Galaxy S4 would also later become a Google Play Edition device with the option of stock Android over Samsung’s skin.

The “life companion” Galaxy S4.

As Samsung prepared for the release of its new flagship handset, Android, or rather Google, had its own news. Andy Rubin, the head of Android at the company, announced his plans to depart Google, his position to be filled by Sundar Pichai, Google’s previously-exclusive lead on Chrome and Apps.

March also saw the unveiling of Sony’s Xperia SP and L, two mid-range handsets for the European and Asian markets, the launch of the Google Keep note-taking app for Android and the announcement of a release date for Android-powered gaming console, the OUYA.

April: Facebook Home, Glass and More S4

April didn’t let Android slow down, hosting a plethora of new announcements and unveilings.

Google Glass, Google’s attempt at producing a wearable computing product, was revealed in April to be powered by a fork of Android. Alongside that announcement, Google also revealed details of the Mirror API, the development interface for Glass app development, noting a number of specifications about the device, such as its 640 x 360px display size and 5-megapixel 720p camera.

Google Glass, Google’s attempt at a wearable computing solution.

At Facebook, April was all about the launch of Facebook Home, an Android homescreen replacement tailored around the social network. Facebook Home was downloaded more than half a million times in the first nine days with availability through Google Play. Addressing rumours of a Facebook-made phone, Facebook Home first launched on the HTC First, a new 4.3-inch device running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with the Facebook Home launcher.

Samsung showed off the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and Galaxy Mega 6.3 in April, respectively two smartphones featuring 6.3-inch and 5.8-inch displays, while Amazon expanded the availability of its Android Appstore to more than 200 countries outside the US, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan.

May: White Nexus 4s and Unskinned HTC Ones

In a rather quiet month for news, May offered the stage to Google’s own, announcing a white model of the Nexus 4, then the smartphone in Google’s own Nexus family. However, May was also the month Google adopted its first non-Nexus phone onto the Google Play store, announcing the upcoming sale of a special Google Play Edition model of the HTC One running unskilled, stock Android.

Same phone, new colour.

Meanwhile, Samsung launched the Galaxy S4 mini, a 4.3-inch entry into the Galaxy family. Motorola also teased their own comeback with the Moto X, although details were kept quiet at the time.

Google’s Vice President of Google Wallet, Osama Bedier, also left the company in May. After joining the company in 2011 from PayPal, Bedier said he wanted to use his time for “other opportunities”.

June: Galaxy, Galaxy, Galaxy

Continuing a trend of releasing new variants of existing Galaxy products throughout 2013, June was the launch pad for three new variants of the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy S4 mini (or, at least, the official recognition of last month’s news), the Galaxy S4 Active, a more rugged device, and the Galaxy S4 Zoom, featuring a point-and-shoot-esque camera lens on the rear. Samsung also started offering five new colours of the S4, Blue Arctic, Purple Mirage, Red Aurora, Brown Autumn and Pink Twilight.

Mini, Active and Zoom variants of the Galaxy S4.

Samsung also announced the Galaxy NX camera, powered by Android. The camera, supporting interchangeable lenses, runs Android 4.2.2 on a 4.8-inch rear display, powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM. Also joining their 2013 lineup was a new family of Galaxy Tabs, offered in 10.1-inch, 8-inch and 7-inch sizes.

Meanwhile, Sony announced its own new take on an existing product, the Xperia Z Ultra. The handset sported a gigantic 6.4-inch 1080p display, powered with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Toshiba also showed off its new Excite tablets while Asus unveiled the 6-inch FonePad Note handset and 10.1-inch Transformer Pad Infinity.

July: Pebble, Droids and Android 4.3

In July, Google announced Android 4.3, an update to the operating system which brought new features for multi-user devices, such as the ability to limit app access on certain profiles, support for Bluetooth Low Energy and Open GL ES 3.0. Along with the software update, Google also updated its 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet with a higher-resolution 1920 x 1200 px display, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with 2GB of RAM, dual stereo speakers and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera.

Google’s 2013 Nexus 7.

Meanwhile, Motorola, taking a break from teasing their upcoming Moto X, introduced three new Droid handsets with Verizon. The Droid Mini, Droid Maxx and Droid Ultra all ran on Motorola’s own-branded dual-core SoC, the “Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System”. The Pebble Smartwatch, which works in conjunction with an iPhone or Android handset, also launched in retail locations for the first time in July.

August: Moto X and Hugo Barra

Following the March departure of Andy Rubin, August saw the departure of another high-profile Android executive, Hugo Barra. Barra, formerly Google’s Vice President for Android Product Management, stepped down from his position to join Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi as Vice President of Xiaomi Global.

The Moto X, in multiple colours.

In August, Motorola unveiled the much-rumoured and long-awaited Moto X, a 4.7-inch device running on a 1.7GHz dual-core version of Motorola’s dual own X8 Mobile Computing System. The Moto X is offered in a variety of colour and texture options customisable by the end user at the point of sale and runs a near-unskinned version of Android. The device launched with a Skip accessory, allowing owners to use NFC to unlock their device without the need for a passcode or pattern to unlock.

In other August news, Google began rolling out the Android Device Manager utility (a “Find My iPhone”-esque service for Android) to users with handsets running Android 2.2 and above.

September: KitKat, Galaxy Gear and Kindle Fire HDX

September saw the announcement of a specially-sweet version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. In partnership with Nestle, Android 4.4 pays homage to the biscuit of the same name. The partnership goes both ways, however, with KitKat’s carrying the Android logo with competitions to win a Nexus 7 or Google Play credit.

Android goes sweet.

Samsung and Sony both announced new products in the month of September. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear — a device UK readers will likely have seen on the wrist of Kevin Bacon than in the real world — the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, with Samsung’s 1.9GHz 8-core Octa chipset and 3GB of RAM, and the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3. Sony showed off their Xperia Z1 in September, a waterproof handset with a 5-inch display, and an update to their own smartwatch, the SmartWatch 2.

Amazon also announced new models of their Kindle Fire, the company’s own line of Android-powered tablets. The Kindle Fire HDX launched in 7-inch and 8.9-inch variants with a headlining feature, Mayday, designed to allow screensharing with Amazon support representatives.

The Kindle Fire HDX, with Amazon’s “revolutionary” Mayday support service.

In other news, Google acquired Bump, the company behind the data sharing technology; the Nexus 4 was discontinued; Google Wallet availability was expanded to all devices running Android 4.3 and above; and a special version of Moto X for developers was announced, allowing for more software customisation.

October: The Nexus 5

October’s biggest story was the end of the Nexus 5 rumours… with the launch of the Nexus 5. The device, a successor to the popular Nexus 4 handset, is a 4.95-inch device running on a 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM. The Nexus 5 launched in white and black, 16GB and 32GB, with stock Android 4.4 KitKat and the option for a black, red, grey or yellow case at additional cost.

The much-anticipated Nexus 5.

October also saw murmurings of a mysterious Google showroom floating at sea on a barge, allegedly designed to showcase Google Glass to the world. In more confirmed news, Motorola also teased plans for a modular smartphone with Project Ara, a concept of building custom smartphones with modular, swappable components.

November: Ellipsis and Moto G

Verizon, the US-based carrier, announced its own tablet in November, the 7-inch initial entry into their Ellipsis product family. The 7-inch device runs at a resolution of 1280 x 800 px and is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM.

The $179 Moto G, with a variety of case colour options to cover its rear shell.

Meanwhile, Motorola expanded its product family with the entry-level companion to the Moto X, the Moto G. The Moto G features a 4.5-inch display, powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM. Like the Moto X, the device runs a minimally-skinned version of Android close to the stock experience.

Meanwhile, November saw Android 4.4 KitKat’s release on existing models of Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. Google also revealed some more development information about the Glass Development Kit for Google Glass, while detail about upcoming changes to Android’s camera API were leaked.

December: Google Play Editions

Finally, the last month of 2013 settled down and brought news back home to Google with the launch of two new Google Play Edition models of existing handsets, the Sony Z Ultra and LG G Pad 8.3, the first non-Nexus tablet to be offered through the Google Edition program. Both are available through Google Play running stock Android. Google also added a white rear shell option to its 32GB models of the Nexus 7.

The festively-timed white Nexus 7.

Meanwhile, Google released Android 4.4.1, an incremental update which addressed a number of complaints about the Nexus 5’s camera, “improv[ing] the camera with faster focusing, especially in low light, faster white balancing, for truer colors, the ability to pinch-zoom the viewfinder in HDR+ mode and less shutter lag”.

To 2014!

It’s now time to look forward to the next year of Android news, 2014. With CES around the corner in January, we’re likely to see brand new Android devices as early as next fortnight. If you’re excited about anything particular, be sure to share your wishes for the new year in the comments section below!