Open Radio, and why long lists don't work in Android Auto

We've picked nits here and there about little things in some of the apps that are available for Android Auto. And mostly they're issues that could be cleaned up by Android Auto itself. And we've largely let them slide given that this is a new platform for Google and Android.

But we've finally found an Android Auto app that's left us scratching our heads.

Normally we don't bother covering apps that, frankly, aren't that good. There's not much of a point to it, and I'm not in the business of being mean to well-intentioned developers. But given that the Android Auto app space is so new, and that there aren't all that many apps for it — and that I'm pretty determined to take a quick look at as many as I can because they're all highly visible — well, here we go. (And to be fair, I gave the developer a heads up about most of what I'm about to tell you.)

This is Open Radio. As the name suggests, it's an Internet Radio app that's also compatible with Android Auto. And it's a bit of a mess. So much so that I honestly wonder if anyone at Google actually tried it before approving it.

The good news is that the app is relatively simple. You start with four top-level categories — All Categories, All Countries (as in nations), Country's Radio Stations (and it properly identified me as being in the U.S.), and Favorites. All Categories breaks down as expected. But if you've been paying attention to the headaches of Android Auto, you'll immediately spot a pain point. The list of categories is long. And long lists in Android Auto are bad, because after just a half-dozen taps — and you'll use those up sooner than you think — you're greeted by the dreaded "For safety reasons, no more items can be displayed" screen. Taking the simplest route (as in tapping the first thing you can on the screen) to an actual stream nearly uses all the taps. All categories>Classical>Baroque>3MBS Radio. That's four steps. And don't bother with voice search. Even if you knew what you were looking for, it doesn't work here.

Then there's this:

Going through the "All Countries" section gets you to some streaming in just three steps, but there's another problem here. In the phone app you can scroll all you want. In Android Auto you get stuck in the Bs. As in you can't scroll any farther. So you can get from Andorra — that quaint little country nestled between France and Spain — to Bulgaria, but that's it. I also ran into a number of stations that simply didn't work, or countries that didn't actually have any streams within them — empty list items.

One bright point is that you can star stations for the "Favorites" section, making them easier to get to. And streams tended to work more often than not. (Though not at all on the Galaxy Note 5. Weird.) But that's about it.

Long lists do not work. Google knows this. Developers need to know this. And apps that make use of them as badly as we see here in Open Radio need to not be approved for Android Auto. But, really, I'd rather see Google do something about that scheme. Scrolling through lists in a car is not a good thing. And curated apps being approved with this many issues is even worse.

Phil Nickinson