It is no secret that I am a big Android fanboy. It is now almost a year and a half since I joined the Android bandwagon. I have been able to use the awesome open source operating system from Google on several low-end and high-end devices though I only own the latter. The general conclusion is that this is the best mobile operating system out there. I’ll skip the tablet part because I am yet to use Android OS on a tablet though I have used a rugged, still-in-development version of it on a PC.
Despite the awesomeness and the goodness of this operating system, I have a few bones to chew with my favourite OS.
This has been an issue to many and I am particularly disturbed at the high level of fragmentation on Android. While offering variety is a very good thing, there has to be some uniformity to ensure consistency and retention of consumers/users. There are so many Android devices out there and many more are coming out each day. What is disturbing is not the number of devices or models that are shipped by various OEMs every quarter but rather how consistent the firmware they run on is. Take for instance the small fraction of Android users still stuck on Android 1.5 though they bought their devices early last year. Or the large percentage that has Android 2.2.x (Froyo) still running on their devices. This becomes a big headache to many involved parties. First it’s the users who will feel left out every time a new version or iteration of the operating system rolls out. Look at how users of Microsoft’s flagship mobile OS, Windows Phone 7 (Mango) felt when they recently learnt that their phones won’t be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 (Apollo). Secondly it’s the developers who have to make sure their applications are optimized for a whole train of older devices running even older OSs. Yet across the street, Cupertino giant, Apple has managed to safely make all the users of their iOS feel wanted and loved.
2. Slow or no updates
Imagine going to the shops today, on a day that Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) has been announced and buying an Android smartphone running Froyo or better off, Gingerbread. For heaven’s sake the OS is already outdated by at least two versions! For us in East Africa we are lucky because our mobile service providers are yet to start offering phones on a plan thus we just pay for a device at a retail price once and for all. For those in countries where their service providers place Android devices on a 2 year contract, they usually have a big headache. Imagine buying a smartphone that is already two OS versions behind and being forced to stick with it for two years till the end of the contract. Sucks doesn’t it?
Android has a bad history of neglecting devices as soon as the next OS iteration is out. Look at most results released in the last month about the adoption of Android per each version of the OS and you should not be surprised at the meager under 8% of the current Android user base who are early (it’s already late now that a successor version has been unveiled) adopters of Android 4.0.x, Ice Cream Sandwich. A big number are still stuck on previous versions Froyo and Gingerbread and there is no miracle that they will ever see an update to their already aged OSs.
It’s disturbing that if a user with a device that runs an older OS wants to upgrade then they have to go through the hustle of looking for third party firmware, custom ROMs, that are compatible with their device. Users have to risk voiding their warranties and bricking their devices in order to get firmware updates. This one totally sucks. Look at Apple, even an older device like the iPhone 3GS is still supported on the current iOS version 5 and will still be supported when iOS 6 rolls out to devices soon (it is currently in beta after its recent announcement at WWDC). Let a user’s intention to flash a custom ROM be driven by other factors and not just wanting to update, that is lame. Very lame.
3. Rapid fire releases
Towards the end of last year (in October), Android 4.0 was announced and later released with the flagship Samsung Galaxy Nexus. However, barely a year later, Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, is already here with us. Yes it’s a good thing to keep the updates coming but they should come when Google is sure its user base is also moving with them or at least that existing devices will be upgradeable. This is usually not the case and all we end up with is a good, sleek and smooth new OS with an appealing UI but no users. Look at Ice Cream Sandwich and its current user base. What tells you that Jelly Bean will be a big hit soon? In fact I am convinced Android updates roll out at the same pace at which Mozilla Firefox updates are released. Rapid fire updates are only of interest if everyone is able to move. Otherwise it is the cheapest way of alienating loyal users who may not be immediately able to buy a new device running the newest/latest operating system.
Not unless you are using the $400 plus Android devices, forget about a smooth experience. Having used this operating system mainly on low-end phones, I can confidently tell the world that the lag time on those Droids is just annoying. This is something that needs to be looked into because the lag tends to disappear when one is using custom ROMs but it is a total turn off on stock firmware.
5. Battery life
My oh my! This is the biggest headache of any Android user anywhere in the world except the lucky few who got some battery minding retainers like the Galaxy S III or the One X. There are always applications running in the background that consume a lot of your juice even when your device is idle. Add that to the several sensors running on your device and you are a lucky person if your battery lasts well over 4 hours on a single charge and on your normal daily usage. I believe something can be done about this on the software side by making the OS less resource demanding while still retaining the core features that have made the Android OS appealing to everyone. Of course after that it is the task of OEMs to make sure the hardware they provide also does not major on the excess of destroying a smooth user experience that comes with longer battery life. This battery issue is what has led many to get secondary devices to supplement their Droids.
Note: Don’t bother getting those many task killing applications out there and installing them. They are a total waste of time and many surveys and my own experience with them has shown that they do little to lengthen your phone’s battery life.
6. Second fiddle in app launches
Recently, there has been an overwhelming rush by Android users whenever applications that launch earlier in rival platforms and become huge success stories eventually land on the Android platform. Remember Instagram and the madness that came with its premiere on the Android platform? What about Flipboard that was ripped off its “exclusive” offering with the Galaxy S III even before its official unveiling on Android? Then there’s Temple Run, Draw Something and so many others. The list is long. Why not have quality applications on Android and as a result demand on rival platforms prompt launches there?
Playing second fiddle to rival platforms like iOS is really disturbing. I would want to use an app that is being talked about by the Apple fanboys without a lot of hustle on my Droid too. We all have Dropbox apps and it’s not a big thing to users on either platforms. Now what if it was only available on iOS? That’s my point exactly.
7. The developers’ question
Many developers don’t see the Google Play Store as profitable as Apple’s App Store or the Blackberry world thus many end up developing very good and quality applications for those platforms before eventually (actually lastly) developing similar applications for the large Android user base.
Something has to be done to make apps development on Android attractive and also paying on the side of the developers. I am sure many people will readily pay for quality.
No sooner had I finished my rants here than Google went ahead of me and addressed many issues with the release of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. However most of the questions I have raised here (90%) remain unanswered. Read about Android 4.1, Jelly Bean here.