Managing a huge smartphone platform like Android is tough, so sometimes the managers need to get tough. There are a lot of ways this can fit into any words about Android, but one that's especially bad if you're a developer is that companies like OnePlus, Huawei, Samsung, and Xiaomi build phones with software that can randomly kill any app that's not on a list of apps that get special treatment.
I wrote about this 18 months ago and said that Google needed to find a way to get this fixed. I'm saying the same thing now, even though the prospects of it actually happening any time soon are slim.
If I sound disappointed, it's because I am. Google participated in a Reddit AMA and the top question was about this very issue. That's because for any developer who isn't working on any of the top handful of apps in Google Play is seeing Android phones from the top manufacturers shutting down their apps indiscriminately as some sort of half-baked add-on to Android's power management system.
Google is aware of the issue. In the AMA, the team responded:
Background kills is a complicated topic that our team has been working on for a while - it doesn't help that each manufacturer does it differently. We feel the developer community's pain and are committed to solving it. We've been in discussions with many device manufacturers to understand the reasoning behind their implementations, not just to preserve battery life, but also to protect users from misbehaving apps. At the same time, we've been working to move them away from using extreme methods such as app force-stop which renders the app unusable for users.
I feel where Google is coming from. There is certainly the potential for abuse if an app can go running in the background all willy-nilly, but what about apps like fitness trackers or messenger clients? When someone buys a shiny new OnePlus 8 and installs a free app, when the app doesn't work they tap the old one-star review and uninstall it. But sometimes, it's not the app developer's fault.
The folks at DontKillMyApp.com have been fighting the good fight against this for a while. The group of developers rate phone manufacturers based on how often their software closes apps for no reason other than a vague promise of longer battery life. Our friends at Android Police dove really deep into this very subject earlier in the week.
This is not the same thing Android itself does and not every manufacturer gets a queue of thumbs down, but a look at the ratings shows that the biggest offenders are also the biggest phone makers.
Google is trying, but it needs to try harder.
Google says it's trying. It says that Android 11's licensing agreements will force manufacturers to tell users that their phone is closing apps, but most users are going to trust Samsung and think the app sucks. "Top apps" won't be allowed to be placed on any sort of list, but there are millions of apps that aren't "top apps" and some of them are the best apps. There is a new API that will tell a developer why their app was terminated, but that won't stop it from happening. This isn't good enough and while Google has the tough task of sorting it all out, it really does need to be sorted out.
Smartphones are a part of daily life for almost everyone. Phone manufacturers are playing fast and loose with software changes and it's almost turning our smartphones into dumbphones.
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