Android

You say tomato, I say tomahto. You say potato, I say potahto. And that's where we stand on the state of Android, at least compared to Mark Spoonauer of Laptopmag. Mark, whose opinion we certainly respect, tonight in a "Spoon Fed" blog post titled "Why Android is broken," highlights four reasons why he believes Android is "more vulnerable than ever," despite activating more than 700,000 devices a day. 

So is Android really doomed? At the rate it's been growing, can it be doomed? Let's break down Mark's points.

"Amazon hijacking tablet sales"

No doubt about it, the Amazon Kindle Fire undoubtedly has grabbed a good share of the Android tablet market, especially over the holidays. Amazon's yet to give actual numbers, but hopefully that'll change on the Jan. 31 earnings call. But the numbers don't matter here. Anything positive for the Kindle Fire is positive for Android. Yes, even though Amazon has taken Android and basically stripped all of Google out of it, even going so far as to hijack search results to the Android Market. (And perhaps that means turnabout is fair play?)

When Google, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, decided to open-source Android, it knew this would happen. It counted on it. And millions of Kindle Fires means millions of Google searches. Amazon, with Android on the Kindle Fire, is doing exactly what Google intended.

"Google is fragmenting its own platform"

Fragmentation is everyone's -- ask around, we do mean "everyone" -- favorite argument against Android. Mark argues that "while ICS shares some UI elements across handsets and slates ... Google doesn’t go far enough," mainly that notifications are in a different location on tablets than on smartphones, as is the button to access the app drawer. Fair point. But that's a UI problem, not a platform problem. And it's certainly arguable that the Android UI on a smartphone doesn't have to be exactly the same as a UI on a tablet. In fact, the Android tablet UIs over the past 12 months have been more consistent than the phone UIs of the past couple years, and it wouldn't surprise us to see the smaller devices shift toward that consistency. 

There are UI issues that Google still needs to solve. (Hell, there are always UI issues to be solved. Interface design is art, not science. It can always get better.) And it will get better. The fact that the app drawer button is in a different location and that notifications have been moved in tablets versus smartphones does not doom Android as a platform. In fact, that a 10-inch device is able to run the same operating system as a 7-inch device or a 4-inch device (or a 1.6-inch device) with a different user interface is exactly what Google intended.

"UI skins are out of control"

They've run amok! They're out to get us! OK, maybe it's not that bad. Mark posits that the UI "skin" (we still don't like calling them that -- it's really more of a framework) and lack of a search button makes the LG Spectrum less usable and more unfriendly than, Mark says, the TouchWiz UI on the Samsung Galaxy S II. Thing is, the LG UI basically looks like someone sneaked into Samsung's offices late at night and borrowed more than a bit of code. And this isn't new. Look all the way back at our August 2010 LG Optimus Z review. You'll see what we mean.

Mark bemoans the differences between one UI and the next. But this isn't really a problem for smartphone civilians. It's a complaint of smartphone reviewers. Are UIs out of control? Nah. They're exactly what Google intended. (Though which UI is the "best" is certainly open to debate, as it should be.)

"Google+ is getting rammed down users' throats"

We addressed this one some on our podcast last week. Whereas the answer to every question about Android (or any of Google's products) used to be "It's about search, stupid," it's now split between search and Google+ (which ultimately leads back to search). There's certainly a discussion to be had about the way Google's going about introducing users to Google+. But we wouldn't call Google's inclusion of Google+ and Instant Upload of images to the cloud a reason Android is broken. It's not a bug. It's most definitely a feature. And it's hardly the only app that does so. To wit: PhotoCloud, Photo Auto Uploader, Photobuck Mobile and Picasa Auto Uploader, to name but a few. Such sharing features are built into Android as intents, so that any app can hook into them via the share menu.

(And Google Talk hasn't been pulled from the Android Market -- it was never there in the first place. Hell, if you don't have Google Talk, you also don't have the Android Market.)

No, Google+ is now at the center of Google's overall strategy. And Google+ is at the center of Google's Android experience. It's doing exactly what Google intends it to do.


Perhaps you've noted a theme here. There's lots to be debated about Android. There are lots of decisions that carriers and manufacturers make in regards to UIs and features that we don't necessarily like -- And you know what? Google might not think much of them, either. But that's not the point. When you've got an an openy and embedded operating system such as Android, you've got to take the good with the bad. It's what makes Android what it is -- and what's propelled it to see more than 700,000 activations a day.


Youtube link for mobile viewing

 
There are 42 comments

ziaodix says:

Although this may be more of a manufactures idea and not one of Google's, I'd go as far as to say that most of them "skin" their own brand of phones (HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Sony, etc.) so that when users upgrade they stick to their brands because they've grown accustomed to that particular "skin". I know I've grown really used to what HTC Sense has to offer and find myself having some difficulties sticking to ROMs for my HTC Evo 4G if they aren't Sense'd based.

Qoheleth says:

Spot on, especially noting that "fragmentation" is an issue for reviews, not for most users.

markabele says:

However, it can be a problem for developers...which can be bad for Android overall.

emuneee says:

Fragmentation is most definitely an issue for developers, especially with all the new components offered in ICS such as the new ActionBar. Many of these new components do not exist on Android 2.3.X devices leaving many developers having to use 3rd party libraries or other methods to write an application that maximizes features of Android 2.3 for existing users and ICS going forward.

superlinkx says:

Apparently you aren't an Android developer or you are a clueless one. The Action bar replaces the menu on ICS devices, but does not need external libraries to be compatible with older devices. Go look at the Developers blog post about it. Takes literally a couple lines of code to make the action bar appear for Honeycomb+ and the menu button to take over when the action bar isn't available.

15israellai says:

You're right, the issue can be addressed, but as a developer, it's still admittedly.a bit troublesome to code two UIs for one app.

DrDoppio says:

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

storm14k says:

Building an app right now and it does not require two UIs. If you really are a dev then go heck out the ActionBarCompat example. Allows the same code to handle action bars all the way back to 1.6 I believe. If you aren't a dev stop spreading unnecessary FUD.

gdbjr says:

Unless you want that newest app that isn't compatible with your brand new android device. I know you can just wait a few weeks until it is compatible, but if fragmentation wasn't a problem, you wouldn't have to wait.

ilkhan says:

The consumers don't see a variety of phone skins. At most they see a variety of options when playing with them for 2 minutes (or less, per phone), then they pick one, and play a little more with it while waiting for the tech to bring the phone up from the back of the store. Then they use that UI for two years.

Its strictly a reviewer "problem". Yeah, the Samsung phone looks a little different than the HTC phone. But its skin deep and not all that different anyway. Buttons look a little different but rarely is the functionality affected. Notifications, present. App drawer, present. Maybe it slides up/down smoothly, maybe it slides up/down as pages, maybe it slides left/right. Woohoo. Takes 2 seconds to figure that one out.

The camera app looks a little different. Tap to focus, press a button to take the shot, press another button to share the picture. If those 3 items are intuitive consumers don't care about the rest. Phone settings are presented differently. Again, they'll have 2 years to figure it out.

And beyond that, there are only 2 major skins, 3 minor ones, and however many alternatives. Touchwiz and Sense are the majors; stock, motoblur, whatever LG's is called are minor. Yes, stock is a skin and a minor one at that. Very few devices are sold without a skin these days. Reviewers should figure out those 5 and STFU about skins. It will be nice when switching between them takes 30 seconds, but we're not there yet and only enthusiasts will bother even at that point.

The point of this rant is that reviewers need to stop harping on skins. Its not a big deal. Bitch about battery life. Bitch about 50 character names. Bitch about 24 phones from a single manufacturer a year and what THAT does to consumer confidence. But dont bitch about skins.

icebike says:

Chevy Pretty much equals Honda.

Whoa, hold on here, fog lamp button in different place. OMFG! Car fragmentation.

Darkbotic says:

ROFL!

MarcSMASH says:

HAHAHA!!!! Nice!

dmonzel says:

You have just won yourself six internets with this comment.

icebike says:

Quote:
Mark bemoans the differences between one UI and the next. But this isn't really a problem for smartphone civilians. It's a complaint of smartphone reviewers.

Exactly! Spot on.

The average user buys one phone, learns it well and likes it. Doesn't matter if it is subtly different than his neighbors phone. Bugs us geeks when we start playing with other people's phones trying to help them out or (shudder) review another phone. But it doesn't matter to any normal user. They have one phone at a time.

Droid800 says:

I'm sorry, this post sounds like it was written by a Google apologist.

Look, I'm a big fan of what Google has done with ICS and the substantive improvements they are making with Android. But what they're doing with Google+ is absolutely shameful. They have apparently learned nothing from the anti-trust debacle with Microsoft, and your analysis totally ignores that fact. There is absolutely NO reason Google+ should be installed in a stock Android ROM, no reason it should prompt a user to join Google+ after they add a gmail account, and absolutely no reason why Google+ should, at this point, being given higher level access to Android than Facebook. They are literally setting themselves up for a fall.

All the other points are debatable, except for the Amazon one. Why? Because Google no longer controls that platform. I doubt Google ever intended Android to be used like this, in a way that allows a third party to circumvent the very reason for Android's existence. (to aid Google's search business) If Google attempts to count Fire sales as Android 'activations', everyone, including you Phil, should call shenanigans.

FrasierCrane says:

The only Fires or Nooks that count as activations are the relative few that get rooted and wind up having Google services on them.

Shadowriver says:

You could say the same about Gmail and general Google integration with the phone, besides isn't this what every mobile OS developer do, enforcing there services?

And google intetend to create 3rd party markets, if they would not they would not allow extranal apks to be installed, as they allowed it was just matter of time. Thru true is that Google didn't have intent to make Amazon do there market

gujupmp88 says:

so you have a problem with a first party app being installed on the phone? so maybe they should get rid of the market, search, talk and gmail as well. you seem to be fine with them forcing people to use gmail when they turn the phone on, how is g+ any different?

microsoft forces IE on people and apple forces itunes. every company is going to push their products. stop whining and get over it...

Droid800 says:

You didn't pay attention to the microsoft case. It was bundling in a first party app and then shoving it in user's faces at every point of their interaction. Google is doing the exact same thing with Google+. The other first party apps you gave examples of are apples and oranges. There's a huge difference between the market and an app like google+.

storm14k says:

Use some sense man. Its a primary Google service like Gmail and Talk and all of those come stock on the phones.

As for Amazon its amazing how people have forgotten that Android is open source. Where do ou think Fire users do searches? Google. Its their main income. Let Amazon hijack that and the users themselves will flee. Google won't have to do a thing.

Shadowriver says:

Well iOS users also do google searches ^^'

Droid800 says:

Amazon has already hijacked it.

There's a huge difference between Gmail and Google+. Total apples and oranges.

1966cah says:

Okay then, please explain why you see it that way. From where I, and most others in this thread seem to be sitting, they both appear to be oranges.

orlanka says:

Obviously being on an Android site isn't going to help me see this, but where are these types of articles against iOs? I'm sure there are plenty around that rip into Windows phones too but, again I only read Android news, why does it seem like we're always defending ourselves?

1966cah says:

Because Android is the new kid on the block, and because it has seen such explosive growth. The people used to the unified iOS offerings and stodgy Windows world are a bit befuddled by the variety of choices available on android offerings. What fans of android see as "choice" and "customization" they see as "fragmentation". To be sure, Android is changing and growing far more quickly than the others, so it's much harder to keep up with than the iPhone, which puts out something new every year to year and a half.

Can you imagine Phil's job if he worked for the other guys? "I reviewed the new iPhone. See you in Q3 2013!"

I agree with 3 points. Disagree about the skins. They really are out of control and do nothing but give huge inconsistencies to the user experience.

"they really do nothing"? I am an HTC Sense user. I specifically use their UI and Sense ROMs over other manufactures because I have found, while playing with other UIs that sense offers much greater functionality. Between the 3.0 lock screen, with its quick access apps and optional weather/ stock/ email preview, and the included settings and task switcher in the notification bar, I save several clicks in most things I'm doing. While it may not be much, that fact that Sense allows me to save that little bit of time the dozens of times I access my phone every day quickly adds up. The sense UI does A LOT for me. Not to mention it looks fn gorgeous haha

ScottJ says:

You lose at least some of the time you save to lag generated by the bloated Sense interface.

Shadowriver says:

Is there really point of fanboy-like battle response article like that on such minor debatable points? And i noticed that this is not first article like that here ;] I think better place for such debates are forums then general site articles.

kitchin says:

Fantastic choice of video. And anyone else wonder what shadowriver meant to say? Looks like some rough dictionary.com translation going on over there

aloy99 says:

Hmm...
FYI market runs perfectly on my phone without google talk. I am using cm7 though. On stock roms you CAN delete talk apk but market relies on the talk provider app, I think. Don't uninstall that.
On the topic about google plus, I think its fine to have it preinstalled, but it'd be better.if you could uninstall it(i.e non system app). I know there's the disable function, but stilll......
Oh and while googles at that maybe they should make the people app uninstallable. The contacts app is enough, I prefer to keep everything separate without syncing.of any sort xD
But on all your other points, I really,agree. Haters gotta take off their blindfolds if they wanna know what's really going on.

dmonzel says:

The GNex is the first phone with G+ preinstalled. If you go to the app details, there is now (in ICS only, I think) a button labeled "Disable" where it would usually say "Uninstall" for all system apps. Don't want to use G+? There you go.

aloy99 says:

And to those saying we should just accept g+, quoting examples like ie and windows or iTunes on Mac.os, just because others are doing something work doesn't mean you should join in.

15israellai says:

It's business, sir.

JonJJon says:

It is highly stupid to have the same UI on both tablet and phone, as exactly the same layout, there is different space on offer. Also Google+ is easy to delete and get out of as it is to get.

tmcquake says:

I've never understood why so many people detest the location of the app drawer button on android tablets. It doesn't bother me at all that it is in the top right corner instead of the bottom left. It's not a navigation button, so i wouldn't expect it to be with the back/home/recent apps buttons. Since phones are primarily used with one hand, it makes more sense to have the app drawer button near the bottom for ease of use; but tablets are mainly two hand devices (one for holding the tablet, one for navigating/interacting) so it really shouldn't matter where the app drawer button is located. Maybe someone can explain to me why it seems to be such a big deal.

Lee_R3D says:

I don't see a problem with G+ integration in Google searches. G+ is their product and search is what Google does. They'd be dumb not to take advantage and bump results from their own products up in searches. It's like saying Apple can't use Ping or Genius playlists or whatever little quirks are associated with iTunes because iTunes is only for media and apps. Don't mean to harp on Apple specifically, just an example.

flipdippy says:

I agree with Droid800. Phil has been too much of a google apologist lately.

I fail to see how the same arguments Phil makes about user choice (eg - let me turn off this Sense feature or that skin or uninstall this pre-loaded bloat) don't extend to what Google's doing with plus.

All of a sudden, and I don't recall being informed of this by Google, all my services are integrating and sharing through Google plus. My contact groups in gmail are now replaced with circles. Picasa is google plus photos, and the 200 GB of storage i PAID FOR now make me jump through hoops to share pictures outside of google plus. Etc etc.

I can't express how disappointed I am with Phil's response to the original editorial, which was a pretty lousy piece of journalism. Everything is not an attack on Google and being an Android blog does not prevent one from having critical discussion of the platform as it is today and where it shines or where it does not.

sdreelin says:

If you don't like the UI then customize it! Try that on other phones. Personally I love that I can choose from a high end do everything Android or a cheap one if I wish. In the ends the experience is still similar. It's like the car analogy icebike used (good one BTW, I can still get from point A to point B and may have to learn where the controls are, but it's not stopping me.

crankerchick says:

I don't understand why a company building its products into its operating system is a big deal. Why doesn't anyone complain about Books, Earth, etc being in /system along with Google+?

Whoever said Facebook should have higher access than Google+ is delusional.

I agree that a good portion of buyers don't care that their phone is running a framework different from stock Android. Some like it, some don't, and a majority probably don't care. It does hurt developers though. What more people care about over the skin is the bloat in general and apps they can't get rid of that they don't want, like Blockbuster, Twitter, etc--apps that they then go into the market and give a bad review because they have it and can't get rid of it. Skins fall into that category for some people, but they can't leave a bad review in the market and they can't necessarily get rid of it on their next phone purchase either.

I don't care that skins exist, i just wish there was more than one phone at a time running stock. That way those that care enough wouldn't have to switch carriers to get it or otherwise wait for the unlocking of their phone of choice in order to get rid of it.

Even in the world of choice with Android, there's still a lack thereof. Maybe we could focus on articles about that, not articles defending Android to folks that are already sold on Android being doomed.

zolttt says:

as a long time "never going to buy an iphone guy". Here is my main reason for my next phone being an Iphone.

They now pump these phones out at an insane rate, it has always been insane, but now it's getting even more ridiculous. I for example bought an evo shift, and loved the phone... all of a sudden they put gingerbread on it, and it started to run like garbage, they update it again, works fine for a week, and then back to running like garbage. EVERYONE says "o, just root it, that will make it work, and be better". Noone should have to root their phone to make it work, they pump these phones out so fast, and companies like HTC and Samsung do not keep up with updates for their products because after 1 year, that customer is already half way to buying a new phone that will be 20 times better than what they purchased. I dont think it is an android flaw, as I will own an android tablet, and I like the OS, but the tablets dont seem to have this problem, at least not yet.

However when it comes to phones, I am so sick of my gps not working this time, phone freezing when trying to make a call the next time, and then when I try to text and I hit the S key, it leaves my text or email and goes to my messaging screen, not having service for no reason at all and having to reboot. I dont abuse my phone, I dont drop it, or not take care of it.. this crap happened on it's own, and a large amount of people that I know that have these phones have problems after a certain amount of time using it.

so android itself is not broken, they need to stop making 17 droids a year, and 43 htc phones, and maybe make 1 or 2 a year and make them for each provider, and keep the updates flying out instead of stranding their users.