Following only two months behind iPhone 2.0 (but at a significant installed-base disadvantage), Android still has a long way to go. But there is definitely some early potential. Here are our favourite apps of the year.
I still think Android, and its openness toward developers, can do some magical things and give iPhone a run for its money. But as we stated before, a lot needs to happen first—Android devices need to be a lot more numerous in consumers' hands, numerous enough for third-party developers (along with Google's first-party talent as well) to have a major incentive to drive the platform forward. It also has some major network power-management issues to overcome; the G1's battery never makes it through the day for me, and while that may just be because it's a shitty battery, Android's always-on approach to network access and background processes surely plays a part.
The Android Market is not yet the iPhone App Store, but here is a taste of what is, hopefully, a lot more to come.
Anycut: Anycut takes advantage of one of Android's fundamental strengths—the distillation of every possible event your phone can do—send a text message, go to a specific URL in a browser, etc—into a system-wide Intent, which any app can in turn access. Anycut allows you to take any intent and create a desktop shortcut for it—say, opening all of your Gmail messages labelled with a specific tag, or sending an SMS message to your most-texted contact.
Compare Everywhere: Like a hybrid of Japan's QR codes and Google SMS's UPC price check feature, Compare Everywhere reads barcodes (of just about everything, from a Criterion Blu-ray of The Man Who Fell to Earth I just watched to the stick of Right Guard sitting on my desk) and gives you a list of best prices—from online sources as well as physical brick-and-mortar shops near your GPS coordinates. The haptic buzz indicating a successful scan is unbelievably satisfying, and saves you money.
Shazam: Shazam's same great song identification skills—able to snatch notes from the barroom's speakers and pick the song in seconds—here on Android, co-existing with its identical iPhone version and similar ones for dumbphones. It's an amazing trick, regardless of the platform, and good to see one of the bigger hits on the iPhone quickly and smoothly ported over.
TuneWiki: Still jailbreak-only for the iPhone since apps can't access your iPod music, TuneWiki can show its full potential on Android, grabbing lyrics (that scroll karaoke style) and videos for all of your music as it plays.
Video Player: Video player plays H.264 MPEG4 clips, making up for a glaring hole left open in Android's first release: no video player. It gets the job done, and is a prime candidate for something to get sucked back up into the core Android distribution, as is an open source project's frequent wont.
Power Manager: Another necessity that's both a blessing and a curse, Power Manager lets you take limited control over the things that influence how long your battery will live—turning on/off all the radios, GPS, adjusting screen brightness, etc according to your current power level. It shouldn't be a necessary app for G1 owners, but it is; on the other hand, it shows how easy it is for a developer to fill a need and access hardware directly without having to ask permission. System-level functions like this, in large part, are not available to iPhone developers, and that's notable.
WikiTude: One of the apps we were most excited about at launch, WikiTude could still use some polishing, but it shows just how cool augmented reality apps can be. Overlaying link to geo-tagged Wikipedia articles on your camera's live view image utilising the G1's built-in compass and accelerometer, it's an amazing thing to fire up on my roof in Brooklyn. Not so useful in the living room, but it's a great proof of William Gibson's classic notion—overlaying data from the web onto our live view of the world.
PhoneFusion Visual Voicemail: Solid visual voicemail support for Android. Another example of something other platform/carrier combos make you pay for (ahem, Verizon) or don't let you access at all.
Chomp SMS: Well, what do we have here. This looks familiar. Chomp is a replacement SMS app that mimics the iPhone's iChat-inspired text interface, and also happens to include a great soft keyboard looking exactly like the iPhone's, but adding haptic feedback—something coming to future Android distros. It also ties into Android's system-wide notification services, so if you want to drop the default SMS app altogether, you can.
Locale: In early versions, Locale was cool: it changed your ringtone or a few other phone settings based on your GPS location. Then, the features started coming, like the ability to send Tweets or use several other of Android's Intents, and it became clear exactly what Locale is—a framework (like Applescript, essentially) for triggering anything on your phone according to your location. When I'm at the office, set Facebook status to frowny face. When I get home and it's before 4PM, tweet "meet me at the bar" and start playing "O Happy Day."