For the most part, I’ve heard very few complaints about the way Google’s services tie into an Android phone. Some of the complainers, in fact, don’t even own an Android phone and claim, “Hey, my phone can use Google Maps, and I can get my Gmail.” Talk about missing the point! On an iPhone I looked at recently, Google’s “apps” were nothing more than a menu of Google shortcuts to mobile versions of their various sites. They work, but they don’t integrate. At any rate, I’ll give you a rough outline of how your Google account ties into the Android phone, and how it makes the platform easier to use overall.
When you first activate your new Android phone, one of the first things it asks for is your Google and/or Gmail login information. This does more than just set up your email account. What it does is tie all of your Google services into the phone. Native Google applications for an Android phone make full use of your Google account and all it has to offer, and tightly integrate them to the Android operating system.
One thing I really like is related to what Google does best: searches. If I’m using a Google product on my computer at home, my search history is saved and shows up on the phone. If I’m in Google Maps, for example, I can perform a search that pulls from my Google Maps history. So if I type in “main” as a search term, any search I’ve done for “Main St.” will show up in my history on the phone as well as on my home computer. Likewise, if I’m searching on Google’s main search site, I can easily recall past searches done anywhere simply by typing some or all of the word(s) I used for the search. The idea is to reduce the amount of typing you need to do, which is very important on a smartphone. In Google Maps, you are often inside of a vehicle and attempting to get directions to navigate, so if you have already searched once for the destination, just a few letters will automatically give you some choices to pick from.
Another nice feature: Google Contacts. If you set up your contacts using Google (which can include a mailing address, several phone numbers, a photo, and many other items), they are automatically transferred to the phone. Or I shouldn’t say transferred: they share the same database. Your phone and home computer are just two different ways of accessing that information. Changes made on one device will, of course, be reflected in all devices.
Google Voice also taps into your contacts. Google Voice, if you’re not familiar, is a service that lets you choose a local phone number and manage it through a web account, choosing which physical phones of yours to ring (forwarding and multi-ring), screening incoming calls, answering those calls with voicemail if needed (and using one of any number of voicemail greetings you choose for specific groups), and also providing free SMS text messaging. When entering a text message, typing in as few as two letters will begin to display matches from your contacts. Also, calls and text messages sent and received on the phone are saved in a Google Voice history that you can view on the computer at a later time.
Google Calendar also shares a database, so your appointments show up on all of the calendars you have set up. Notifications also carry across–you can get a couple of different types of reminders (even via SMS using Google Voice) at predetermined intervals, so you are not likely to miss your appointment.
If you use the Google Chrome browser, there is a neat plugin for Chrome called “Chrome To Phone.” If you are visiting any page on the web, click on the Chrome To Phone icon and that page will automatically load in your Android phone. This is a neat trick, as you can not only push certain pages to your mobile browser, you also get them in your history for future reference.
There are other ways that your Google account ties to an Android phone, but these are the most important highlights. The main thing is that you do not need to fear Google as a big, bad corporation using your data. What really is important is that your data is no longer tied to any one specific device–it is now out “in the cloud” so that you are sharing common data between the devices you use the most, without ever having to worry if any one of the devices is out of date. Google’s implementation of this “cloud” data is rock solid.