Android applications have been the biggest driving force behind the exponential growth of the Google-owned platform for a decade. As of mid-2021, Android operating systems are numbered at 3 billion globally. According to Statista, 88% of all mobile devices sold in the world run some version of the Android OS. While affordability is perhaps the primary reason for Android’s dominance, one mustn’t overlook the sheer number of development support that comes bundled even on lower-end devices.
The Google Play Store—the definitive library for applications, movies, and games on Android devices—has an excess of 2.8 million apps at present. And this number continues to soar in the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, every month. The recent trends in the number don’t show to be slowing down any time soon either. Compared to the first quarter of 2020, the Play Store has seen more than an 11% increase in app volume. This is only further helped by the overall increase in quality on the platform too.
The "March to Progress" of Android Apps
It’s a tricky endeavor to map out the exact progression line for Android applications from the early days of the operating system (OS) simply due to its non-linear growth pattern. While Android itself has had generational iterations and upgrades, its apps have had a fine-tuning approach. Each year, the mobile operating system would roll out a substantial change and app developers followed suit. One way to chart the evolution of Android apps is through the company’s offerings.
Google isn’t just responsible for the OS that’s on most phones today. Most of its revenue and data collection (the primary driver for its revenue) is through its suite of applications tailored for Android and iOS devices. Google Search, for instance, began its life on Android as a clunky widget to be placed on the home screen. Gmail was a simplified list showing recent emails but plagued with syncing issues, especially on devices with lower-end hardware. Google’s Camera API cemented its footing with its Nexus 5X and 6P line of devices, while other more resource-intensive applications—Google Meet, Sheets, and Google Docs—were only recently added to the foray after the development of their web versions. The simple fact is that there is a constant catching up that apps have to do with the numerous hardware and software iterations and upgrades that roll out regularly.
Development platforms have seen a massive shift too. Android apps a decade ago were coded solely on Java, and despite being a simple language, it wasn’t easy to code. App developers attest to the fact that the process of creating apps for Android has gotten a lot simpler than ever before. And this trend continues with every new iteration of the OS. Kotlin—Google’s now primary development language—paved the way for more intuitive and complex applications. Quality wasn’t just reserved for iOS apps anymore.
Understanding Spying Apps
Back in the days of Symbian and Sony’s proprietary Java-based OS, phone hacking was a common theme among young users. It worked by connecting two phones via Bluetooth and reading through all the data saved on the target phone’s internal or external storage. While it was effective, its reliance on a slow communication protocol in Bluetooth meant it was plagued with issues and was nothing more than a serious attempt at phone espionage. What it succeeded with was capturing the minds of everyone when Android was officially launched and starting picking steam.
Google’s App Store—or Android Market as it was named then—started being inundated with similar applications. And because of the shared language in Java, most developers effortlessly ported their existing Bluetooth hacking apps over to Android. If you wanted to spy on a Samsung phone, all of a sudden, that was possible on Android too. But like any other half-arsed attempt, this was short-lived. Google’s emphasis on privacy meant tighter security protocols for Android phones and their various antennae, including Bluetooth. Workarounds needed to be made, and they were.
Today, monitoring applications exist, and they are more sophisticated than you might first think. Popular examples of reliable smartphone monitoring apps are Xnspy, TheTruthSpy, and Qustodio. These apps don’t require an inconsistent Bluetooth signal to work and are much more feature-packed than the early iterations.
These apps can monitor device usage live using screen recording features, view social media and instant messaging data, browse through all the photos and videos saved on a device, and mature alternatives like Xnspy can go a step further by showing the device’s live location too.
Spy apps or Spyware?
There is a lot of utility for reliable smartphone monitoring applications today. People from all walks of life swear by them and for good reason. The amount of control they bring to the table is unmatched by all previous attempts. But to the skeptical, its usage is similar to spyware. So are the two overlapping magisteria as their users would claim, or is there fire in the smoke?
Perhaps the biggest comparison that can be drawn between the two is in their data-harvesting methods. Spyware is notorious when it comes to collecting user data using browsing patterns, click detection, keylogging. Monitoring apps like FlexiSpy and Xnspy have built-in keyloggers too. These apps go in-depth with the data present on target devices, even snooping on emails and private conversations. And as notorious as the earlier information may sound, this is where the similarities between reliable smartphone monitoring apps and spyware end.
Simply put, the usage of monitoring apps depends on the intentions of the monitor. Spyware does not view data through the lens of human etiquette or need. It also does not have preferences in data collection and is more incendiary than controlled.
Putting Monitoring Apps to Practice
Spying and monitoring apps have two primary user bases: parents and business owners. Parents use them on their children’s phones for a myriad of reasons. The recent cyberbullying surge in online learning has led to the adoption of device monitoring apps as an effective deterrent. Other times, its utility can be actualized when trying to help cut down screen time for children. By setting specific exceptions on applications installed on devices, parents can limit mindless scrolling in their children.
Business owners make up the second-largest consumer of monitoring applications today. Companies and stakeholders in the financial, healthcare, and government sectors are prone to cyberattacks more frequently than others. It was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a massive influx of cyberattacks and data leaks from various technology and financial institutions. To curb this, most businesses now install reliable smartphone monitoring software on the devices provided to their employees to track and mitigate any confidentiality failures. Xnspy and other similar apps change the way spyware programs are seen in the broader context. And just like technology companies (like Google and Facebook) and government agencies, there is genuine practicality to using such spyware platforms.
What’s to come
The future of technology is uncertain. We tread a fine line between being subjugated by AI and transforming the world for the better. But if our focus is directed towards spying and monitoring applications, the aforementioned ‘March to Progress’ chart is still in its relative infancy. And this is true for Android applications in general. With its newest release, Google has updated the OS once more and provided a cleaner and more optimized UI for its users in Android 12. Material U has overtaken Material UI from yesteryear and the apps—as per custom—will follow suit in its implementation.
What Android has tightened further is security. To meet the changing demands of cyberspace, a stronger emphasis on privacy and security was required and Android delivered. And with their monthly security patches—more frequently found on Google’s native Pixel devices—t’s clear that the focus has shifted from "brand spanking new features" to a more secure and cleaner outlook. But does this impact smartphone monitoring apps? Can you still spy on a Samsung phone if you wanted?
For the time being, yes. The requirements for monitoring apps remain the same, i.e., requiring physical access to target devices and side-loading the APK file onto it. With a physical constraint such as this, it’s highly unlikely that the current crop of monitoring app users needs to be worried about the discontinuation of services.
In terms of innovation, the competition between monitoring apps is hotting up with every passing year. As more companies join the mix and content to be the prime choice for users, the existing bunch would have to innovate so they don’t play catch up. At present, these apps have glaring drawbacks. Requiring constant internet connection for one. The previously-cited Xnspy also has a specific data backup process before you start monitoring! But these existing pains are slight compared to the leaps and bounds already made.
For now, the iron is hot, and major players in this sphere are awakening to the potential on offer. How quick are they to strike remains to be seen, however!