Android grows in 2012, aims to match iOS on content

Android captured a reported 70 percent of the global smartphone share in the last quarter of 2012, solidifying its position as a popular and solid iOS alternative

Though Apple and its iOS devices get most of the press, Android and its manufacturing partners have turned their alternative ecosystem into a serious competitor.  Android devices span almost every form factor and tablet/smartphone market, from branded devices like the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook to the open, tinker-friendly tablets like the Nexus 7 and 10.

In October, the Google Play store matched Apple’s App Store in content quantity.  While app quality is what matters, Google Play’s continued growth shows how far Android has come.

With Android devices being a popular gift this year, I thought it might be nice to highlight popular software and customizations available to Android device owners.  Here’s a look at what’s out there:

Launchers

Unlike iOS, which doesn’t let users customize much about the interface (without jailbreaking), Android allows users to change several aspects of the home screen and user experience.

“Launcher” applications let users customize the home screen and surrounding interface elements, adding new features, themes and appearance elements not found in the standard Android interface.

Launchers can be downloaded from the Play store like any other app and are configured through Android.  A few solid free options are Go Launcher EX, Launcher Pro, Apex Launcher and Nova Launcher.  Some launchers also have paid, “pro” versions that unlock more features, but most users are okay with the standard options.  Themes and features vary between launchers; be sure to try a few to see what you like.

Apps

The Play store already offers a wide variety of apps, with most estimates putting the store at breaking a million available apps by this summer.  Whether the app is for productivity, organization or entertainment, the Play store should have it covered.

Most of the big social and personal data management services, like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, have a presence on Android.  Likewise for organization apps, such as Evernote, Dropbox, Bump and LastPass.

Google’s products are well represented, with apps available for Google Voice, Drive, Search, Calendar and Plus, to start.  Google’s various mapping platforms also have apps, like Earth and Street View.

Apple owners looking to get into Android shouldn’t have much trouble converting, unless they rely heavily on a specific iOS app without an Android counterpart for the majority of their mobile computing.

Games

Apple’s iOS App Store, does have Android beat on the sheer number of quality games available, but the latter isn’t completely void of content.  As Android and mobile grow, developers will eventually find ways to make the platform worth developing for.

Along with the various iterations of Angry Birds, the Play store offers popular titles like Temple Run 2, Bejeweled 2, Minecraft: Pocket Edition and Grand Theft Auto III, among others.

Games are the one area where Android does need to catch, but placing highly in marketshare quarter after quarter will make the platform hard for developers to ignore.

For more information on the apps available to Android users, peruse Google’s Play store at http://play.google.com/ or through your Android device.  Along with apps, the marketplace also sells books, magazines and video content compatible with Android devices.

Note: Not all Android devices have access to the Play store out of the box.  Some, like the Nook and Kindle Fire, require users to go through the manufacturer’s specific store for apps and content.  Adventurous, resourceful users might find ways around this limitation, though.

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