Android for beginners

2013-11-03 14:00

There’s a reason it’s the world’s leading operating system. Toby Shapshak leads you through ups and downs

About a decade ago, people asked “Nokia or BlackBerry?” Today, the great debate is “Apple or Android?”

Android is by far the largest operating system in the world, a bit like Windows was for desktop computing. Because Google gives it away for free, it has been adopted by most of the major cellphone manufacturers – giving it a massive user base. Most makers add their own “skin”, or interface, as well as some of their own apps.

The marketing clout of Samsung, which is the largest seller of Android-based smartphones, and cellular in general, means it is often associated with the South Korean company.

What is Android?

1 It’s a free operating system (OS) for mobile devices that Google gives away to phone makers. But because of the nature of patents, some of these manufacturers have to pay licence fees. It was estimated last year that Android could be worth $1?billion (R9.87?billion) a year to Microsoft, which extracts a reported $5 a phone from HTC, for instance.

Google’s strategy is to extend the dominance it has with search on the internet on to mobile devices, which are the fastest-growing form of computing, and Android has enabled that. But the main beneficiary has been the consumer, who gets a powerful OS and useful services.

Why Android?

2 Because of the cloud. Google does cloud storage better than anyone and has cracked what the industry calls multiple sign-ons. All you need to do is log in using your Google account.

Once you’ve set up the syncing of contacts, calendar and email, it works quite seamlessly (though there is always the odd problem, no matter what phone or service you use). All this is a great advantage if you want the same view of your mail on a smartphone and on your computer.

Apps, apps and more apps

3 Because it’s a Google service, the Google Play store requires logging in to your Google account. The good news is that many of the apps, especially Google’s own superb Maps, have a web presence too. The choice of apps is pretty impressive and widespread.

It’s assumed that while iPhone users are generally more willing to pay for apps, the average Android user isn’t. It’s not altogether true, but you can be assured of better quality apps. Free apps often support themselves with a small strip of advertising. If you can live with that, it’s win-win for consumers and app developers alike.

Watch your data and battery use

4 In the Play store, be careful not to turn on the option to automatically update on a Wi-Fi signal if you’re using a MiFi or cellular data source. Also check that the “background sync” option is turned off. These are both very useful and helpful for keeping your apps up to date.

But be warned that they can be data intensive and that convenience comes at a price. First-time Android users often experience bill shock because they are so excited to use the large touch screen.

As with all smartphones, get a battery pack, car charger or desk charger, or all of them.

Shields up

5 Unlike the more totalitarian Apple, Android has what it calls an “open” store.

Horror stories abound of malware (short for malicious software) and Trojan programs that steal your personal details and/or surreptitiously subscribe you to expensive premium-rated services.

When you install apps, check their developers’ details, and be conscious of what permissions you give the app. Android, like Windows, requires security software for protection. It’s worth every cent.

»?Shapshak is editor and publisher of Stuff magazine (

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