As a result, Android has become more than the Windows of the mobile market -- the more popular but inferior rival to the Apple gold standard. Android is now a legitimate competitor on its own merits. That's a sea change from just a year ago.
However, not everything is rosy in Android land. Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility appears to have been a large waste of money. Held up by regulatory approval (notably by China) for months, the acquisition finally closed in spring 2012. Those six months of stasis seem to have frozen product development at Motorola, which has made only minor revs to its Android product line and has been very slow to provide first "Ice Cream Sandwich" and then "Jelly Bean." And perhaps to prove Motorola won't get an unfair advantage over other Android device makers, Google appears to have kept Motorola at arm's length to an extreme degree. For example, LG makes the Nexus 4, Asus the Nexus 7, and Samsung the Nexus 10 -- but Motorola makes no Nexus device.
Worse, Motorola's biggest advantage was its support of enterprise security, which could have pushed Android into the business world just as Apple's adoption of such technology in iOS 4.2 made iPhones and later iPads a force that IT could not deny. It's a big reason for iOS's dominance in business, providing the equivalent for IT of iTunes' hold on personal users. But Google shut down the 3LM group within Motorola Mobility that could have provided a common mechanism for all Android devices to be equal citizens in business alongside iOS devices. It's almost as if Google is unaware business usage informs personal usage as well.
Samsung understands that pattern and has brought such security technology into its Android devices -- becoming the "safe Android" option for businesses. Coupled with its greater commitment to innovation, Samsung's security efforts make it a force to be reckoned with across the mobile ecosystem, similar to Apple in scope. That may make for interesting dynamics as Samsung emerges as a powerful center of gravity in its own right, perhaps rivaling Google in public perception -- especially as Asus and HTC seem content to manufacture mere middle-of-the-road devices.
Although the Android platform made major leaps in 2012, Google has taken the opposite tack in its hardware strategy. Its original Nexus One and follow-up Galaxy Nexus (both made by Samsung) were meant to be design showcases, examples for the Android device makers to aspire to during a period of iffy Android hardware. But in 2012, Google seems to have changed course, with its three Nexus devices -- the Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10 -- marked by poor quality and other compromises, and a fourth (the Nexus Q) that was bad enough to force Google to pull it from the market just days before its planned ship date. The new Google device strategy seems to be to design Wal-Mart-style devices for a mass audience -- strange, and zero threat to Apple.
Still, Google's Android platform made a major leap on the software side in 2012 while gaining a renewed hardware design energy from Samsung. As a result, Android today is not merely a mass-market winner but critical failure; instead, it's a winner in both the market and in innovation.
This article, "2012: The year Android truly challenged iOS," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.