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Here's why 2018 has been a great year for Android

Say what you will about 2018. I know a lot of my friends and colleagues like to view it as some kind of intangible monster that's left nothing but wreckage in its path, but if you ask me, this has been a damn good year, at least as far as Android is concerned.

A few years back, it felt like every phone review from every tech blog (present company included) ended with the same allusions of "it's fine, but it'd be way better with stock Android," or "you should just buy a Nexus/Pixel." It feels like those days are behind us — which isn't to say that "stock Android" (however you still define that) and the Pixel line aren't still great; I use a Pixel 3 every day and couldn't be much happier with it. Just that nearly everything else is pretty great now, too.

Almost every Android manufacturer puts out good software these days.

With a few exceptions (I'm looking at you, Oppo), you almost can't buy a phone with truly bad software anymore. Sure, you may prefer certain interfaces over others, but even past offenders like Samsung, LG, and Huawei, who have all received plenty of flack over the years for their clunky or cluttered software, have perfectly usable software in 2018 that in most cases add to the base Android experience, rather than detract from it.

In fact, Samsung's new One UI brings some ingenious new design elements that I desperately hope make their way to the next big Android OS update — namely the overscroll effect that lets you keep scrolling once you've reached the top of a list, filling the top of the screen with blank space and making those menu items reachable with a human thumb. Android's various one-handed UI modes have always felt half-baked to me, especially compared to Apple's Reachability function, and this feels like the perfect solution I've been longing for.

Speaking of OS updates, Android OEMs still take too long to roll them out, but Google has made some efforts this year to tackle that issue. Starting in about a month, Android manufacturers will be required to push at least four security updates to their phones within their first year, and release any security patches within a month, with harsh consequences for noncompliant companies. We'll have to wait and see how all of that plays out, but if nothing else, it's a step in the right direction.

So Android phones are almost universally good these days. Great! There's just one problem remaining: for as much as Android has improved as a platform over the last year, its apps haven't really followed suit. I'm not talking about first-party apps developed by Google or your phone's manufacturer. In a lot of cases, third-party apps from even major companies are still severely lacking on Android compared to their iOS counterparts.

Look at Instagram. Maybe I'm just hyper-aware of the feature gap because I handle AC's Instagram Stories, but it feels like Android always gets left out of even simple features. It took Android months just to get the ability to switch cameras while recording a Story video, and there's somehow still no locking grid to help you line up objects like text and forms in your Story — something iPhone users have been able to do for ages. Even the timeline doesn't work great on my phones; swiping left or right from the main feed (which should take you to your Stories camera or direct messages, respectively) rarely ever works, which was never an issue when I used an iPhone X.

The Grailed app is a disaster that deserves to be yeeted into a hole — how do you do, fellow kids?

Then there are apps from smaller companies like Grailed (opens in new tab), a site I use every so often to buy limited edition shoes from other users — yeah, yeah. The Android app is borderline unusable; you can't even zoom on images or even filter for your size which, you guessed it, works just fine on iOS. Even the website works better, which just makes me wonder why they bothered building an Android app at all.

That's a bit of a niche example, I know, but my point is that the longstanding cliche of iOS apps being better than their Android counterparts still very much holds true, whether we like it or not. I don't know that there's really a solution here; even with a higher market share, the sheer number of different devices just makes Android harder to support than iOS. But I'm always hopeful that the app situation will improve with time. We're getting there.

All in all, I think Android made a lot of great strides this year. Pie itself isn't radically different than Oreo before it, but OEMs have gotten dramatically better at making their own software, and the groundwork is laid out for updates to be at least a little bit more timely. I'd call 2018 a resounding success, even if there were a few flops along the way.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

14 Comments
  • Really good read.
  • I think the biggest flaw with android has to be OS updates and text messaging. I like how Google is taking an active approach with Project Treble and allowing many other manufactures to start working with a new version of android before it comes out like OnePlus and release it faster. I really hope Google can push RCS a bit more to fix androids lack of an iMessage competitor. Although at the same time since RCS isn't encrypted I feel it may be another attempt at better message thats doomed from the start like Allo, or may never compete with iMessage because of needing the app + carrier to support it. Anyways 2018 has been amazing for Android and I hope 2019 will be even better with Android Q.
  • Very well summed up. If only we could have Oxygen OS in a Samsung made device!
  • In my opinion 2018 was a terrible year for android as an os, with Google turning it's back on customisation even further... Apparently everything looks best in light grey on white :( It's all subjective I suppose.
  • How do you figure? This is the most they have invested in dark mode roll outs ever.
  • They removed substratum support, i can darken my notification shade, play store, Facebook messenger and many other things in Oreo, which is why I'm refusing the Pie update. Also it's really not, did you join us on Android after lollipop? You should look at KitKat, it was beautiful... And visible lol.
  • I still fire up my old phone running kitkat from time to time and kicked that lollipop update out of the house… that candy ain't ruining my pretty chocolate. Also one thing is that I'm still impress just how good kitkat aged. Still runs impressively smooth after all this years and if it isn't for version compatibility of some of my important apps and its crappy battery then I might still be using it today.
  • I agree with you that 2018 was a bad year for Google Android. I had nothing but problems with Bluetooth connectivity to my car or earbuds with my Pixel 1 into Pixel 2 from 2017 through 2018. The lack of advanced text messaging is another big flaw and I know some will say to just use Whats App or whatever but then I have to convince other contacts to use the app also just to text me. Add in how much better the Apple Watch is and Google/Android is still behind. This is the first year I didn't upgrade to a new Android phone. The gestures on the Pixel 3 was the final straw. I decided to cross the barrier and go iPhone and Apple Watch. Maybe in a few years Google will catch back up to iOS and Apple and I can move back.
  • "my point is that the longstanding cliche of iOS apps being better than their Android counterparts still very much holds true, " Utter horseshit, always has been. It's flawed because the writers of this crap start with iOS apps and then compare against Android apps. I can do the exact opposite and take a great Android app and compare it against its iOS counterpart and come up with the exact opposite conclusion. It's all entirely brown to what you take as your reference and cherry picking your apps you wish to use to make your clickbait point... I can play that game, my most used app is for a local cab company, offering a Uber like app (there is no Uber where I live). Android version is really good. There is no iPhone version.... #launchesonandroidfirst
  • So the best example you could come up with is your local taxi firms app? That's not great... Come on, even Google's own apps get features on iOS before Android... It's sad but true. You should stick to American muscle cars and 70s rock music.
  • If you can get a WiFi or LTE connection on iOS these days :-(
  • I get wifi when I'm home, and lte when I'm away on both my android and iPhone.
  • "you're holding it wrong" lol. Seriously though, if iOS has those issues, they're hardware or os issues and don't really have anything to do with the subject of an "app gap", as our windows phone friends used to call it.
  • On iPhone vs Android apps, the problem I've had is that there are some cases where the iOS apps are better. This is almost always due in my experience to the developer being an "Apple shop" where Android is an after-thought. It frustrates me that there are still some developers that are willing to work at making an iOS app and then completely ignore Android or slap something minimal together. Video and sound equipment vendors are perhaps the best example of this, especially the ones that say they have an Android app "in the works" only to reveal that it has been "in the works" for the last 5 years.