AC Talks: Robert Kato on Android Trends

At AscentCore, we invest in world-class talent to ensure we can build and deliver innovative digital products for our clients. Part of investing in our team includes encouraging and cultivating their interests both inside and outside of their day-to-day activities at AscentCore. 

AscentCore CTO Cornel Stefanche recently sat down with Robert Kato, Berti as the team calls him, one of our Android senior developers, to talk all things Android in 2023.

Cornel Stefanache: Let’s dive right in! What Android hardware trends do you think we’ll be seeing soon?  

Robert Kato: Well, to be perfectly honest with you, not a whole lot. I say that because we’ve reached a level where just incremental performance increases are no longer visible or beneficial. Just look at the latest three flagship phones from Samsung, from S21 to S23. Yes, each of them has been better than the last one, but if you look at day-to-day use, they just work. 

Cornel Stefanache: Do you think we’ll see more foldable phones this year?

Robert Kato: Foldables are still an edge case, and I don’t think many users want a phone that flips out into a bigger screen, so I don’t think we’ll see more of those. If you look at the market, most applications and tools are designed to the small form factor, so you only have a subset of very specific applications that you could use for foldables. And if you’re a professional and you have to work in, let’s say, Excel, you probably don’t want to work on your phone.

But, having said that, Samsung Displays (not to be confused with Samsung, the mobile phone manufacturer) has presented a lot of new concept screens, which are basically tablets that can extend to a bigger screen and you can just pull apart the phone and make it a bigger screen. Another one was also presented that’s basically like the Samsung Fold, but instead of having two displays, it only has one. And you can also fold it inside, so there’s no display visible, or fold it outside, so you have two phone size screens. These things could probably produce some interesting devices in the next few years, but honestly, I don’t see the next big thing yet on the market unless Apple and Google’s VR/AR glasses are perfect.

Cornel Stefanache: If you had to make a bet for a big investment in hardware, would you make an investment in battery life, screen, performance, or something else?

Robert Kato: Honestly, battery life can already be extended, our phones are so laughably thin now that if you want battery life, you can just make it two or three millimeters thicker, and you get battery life. But as long as the industry target is one day of use, they won’t invest in that. The battery breakthroughs will probably come from electric cars and such, and then they will move on to phones at one point. 

I think screens are the next big thing if someone can manage to create a good under-screen camera, for example, that would be a big hit because we’ve grown too accustomed to the notches and dynamic islands and all the different screen cutouts.

Cornel Stefanache: We all know that the iPhone dominates culturally, but is there anyone that can compete with them from a hardware standpoint?

Robert Kato: Definitely Samsung. Their phones are really top quality, but they would need to give up their “we want to make it our own in software” attitude and stop bloating their devices. Android 13 and the Pixel 6a or 7a both have Android 13 by default as the operating system, and everything occupies around 15 gigabytes of space in the phone storage. On the S23, it’s 60, and that’s just Samsung doing something very wrong. 

But there are manufacturers that adopt the lightest – or most basic – version of Android with no customization. For example, in the Asian markets, it’s Nokia and Motorola, those cheaper phones. Other than that, if you talk about conventional OS, I think OnePlus has been doing a pretty good job, but they’ve messed up a bit on the hardware side lately. Their latest phone, the 11, just seems to be going back to the roots a bit. And Motorola has some very good stock Android phones in the mid-range market, but basically, they didn’t mess with the OS or the  teaming, they just added a few of their own applications and released pretty stock phones. Nokia, for example, which is a surprising contender, makes very good stock Android phones. But all these companies are most active in the mid-range market.

Cornel Stefanache: Let’s pivot to software. What innovations do you think we’ll see from Android in the next few years?

Robert Kato: I think we can expect to see Android branch out even more. If you look at Google’s material design team, their design guidelines have started with the phone and the web, and then in the last few years, they just threw it away and no longer impose phone restrictions. So from that, I suppose that we might see some laptops coming soon with Android. But Google does like to kill projects, so we’ll see how that shakes out. 

Cornel Stefanache: Do you think we’ll see or hear any new features announced?

Robert Kato: I think we’ll see incremental improvements across the board but not anything that wows us. We’ll see how the advancement of AI bots influences the assistance – so if Siri or Google can truly understand us and have a conversation. For example, the wife of Linus Torvaldz from Linus Tech Tips is named Yvonne Ho, and the Google assistant just can’t get her name right and refuses to call her. That seems like such a big oversight if you have an assistant that’s meant to make a phone call for you. So that’s something that really needs to be improved. 

If they could integrate a proper AI bot, hopefully with ethical data sets, etc., then that could bring about an innovation with AI assistants that’s actually useful. And I’m also interested to see how this could translate to assistance in cars.

Cornel Stefanache: Privacy and data collection are, of course, hot topics in these areas. Does Android have any plans to become a privacy-protecting ecosystem?

Robert Kato: They’ve taken several major steps in this area, starting with improving their permissions. So you can see now on the store that every app has to declare the data they’re using and why they’re using it. If they’re caught lying or not declaring certain types of data, they could get ranked lower in the store or even get banned. There were some Asian game makers that were mining crypto, and they had hundreds of alternative accounts, and all of them disappeared, so Google has the power to do that.  

But Android doesn’t analyze your behavior, content, or everything you do locally. And while there’s data recording, there’s no diagnostic data processing done on the phones. Google has been caught recording any access point you’ve gone to, even with WiFi and Bluetooth disabled so they’re using it as a source of endpoint, not necessarily as a processing tool. 

Cornel Stefanache: Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned Google Glasses. Should we expect Google to become a bigger player in the AR world?  

Robert Kato: In the next five years, I think AR glasses will become pretty relevant because it’s a huge benefit for tech companies. After all, we’re already constantly looking at our phones, and with glasses, no matter where you go, you’d be staring at the screen. And they can record and track your interactions based on where you focus your attention, so it’s great for ad placement. Right now, with phones, you can’t really do that. 

Cornel Stefanache: Let’s end by talking about competition. Are there any real competitors to Android and iOS?

Robert Kato: No, I don’t see any chance for a competitor to appear at this point. We’re at a point where even Apple and Google are fighting for scraps in the market, and if the two giants are fighting, there’s no place for someone to edge out a spot. It would take a real revolution in the ecosystem as a whole for a competitor to come in and shake that up. But we’ve seen a lot of things happen in the past few decades that we couldn’t have imagined, so never say never, right? But whatever happens, we’ll be tracking it and ready to leverage it for our clients.

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