Comply to Google's design guidelines...or else?
As a user of Android since 2009, I have grown to love the platforms unique features and versatility like most of you. Android is a very "feature-focused" operating system when compared to every other mobile operating system, and that's been made apparent through the many updates. And when it comes to the hardware, Android is all about choosing a device that's right for you, not a device that's right for 50 million other people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any user who wants to have a fulfilling experience with their phone/tablet. Android has SAMOLED displays, LCDs, 720p screens, phones that double as tablets, tablets that double as notebooks, sizes from 3.5" to 5.3".
Unfortunately features, openness, and choice all come at a cost. Google does not have the ability to control the experience as much as Apple or Microsoft because the platform is open source. And if you look at Google as a company, they try not to come off as "controlling," they want their products available to everyone with little inconvenience, sometimes without regard to platform (Maps on iOS, Chrome on Macs). Some of the Android software and hardware developers seem to be exploiting Google's 'benevolence'.
While I stand by my point that choice is better than no-choice, if you look at all the crappy apps and the bargain-bin Android dumbphones, it is out of control. It's the wild west and Google is the sheriff. I'll show examples of the things Google needs to buck up on (tablets mainly), because it seems Google cannot rely on app developers to follow their guidelines, or phone manufacturers to follow their standards (NFC, on-screen buttons). I think Google should target particularly offending members and pull their apps from Google Play and turn off Google services on some of these phones. They can still call it Android, but if Google wants to sustain growth in this business, this is an instance where they will need to pull an Apple and not put their name on this junk. When it comes to the handsets, people who have crappy experiences are typically using the cheap store-brand phones, while the big name Android devices are the ones that journalists are singing praises about. The answer is clear: Google needs to nip these in the bud before the situation gets worse.
Software and Apps
There is no excuse for this kind crap anymore. We've given you a break because Android was late to the tablet party, but this isn't 2010 anymore. Anyone who has used Twitter on a tablet knows exactly what I'm talking about. I'd say it was unacceptable if any app looked like this on a tablet, but the fact that it's the official Twitter app for Android is a failure on multiple levels. Apple has criticized Android on the exact same thing; hearing about "Twitter on tablets" has almost become a cliche to a point where it's tiresome to even mention it. It's a joke that gets even less funny every time it's told...so please, fix it. But if Twitter doesn't seem to get what's wrong with their app, what do the folks at Plume know that the Twits don't?
And if it's not ignorance, but negligence, why don't they just contract the work out to Plume, or Tweetcaster, or somebody who can string together a damn app? Android tablets (3.0+) have been out for well over a year, yet the app developers at Twitter are shameless in their negligence to reformat the app so it's actually usable on a big screen.
Regrettably Twitter is not the only one who can keep a poorly designed app out there for ages. Facebook stands proudly along side it's social media counterpoint in absolutely useless menu designs.
Only to be outdone by Steam! (which looks like a rip off of Facebook):Yep, it gets worse. Surely critically-acclaimed productivity tools like Root Explorer and Titanium Backup will have some creative design for their apps on low-dpi devices? But who cares, it's not like anyone actually uses these apps on a tablet, right?
They need to get their shit together plain and simple. With thousands of these apps that weren't designed with tablets in mind, you've got a real problem for this new market. There are beautiful, tablet-designed apps, so what are these guys' malfunction? Look at Google Maps, very information dense, but does not have a cramped feel at all. Netflix designed their app much like their website, they did not try to reinvent the wheel, they kept it simple and neat and it turned out better than the website. And one of my favorite apps that has a beautiful tablet design is IMDB. Great use of the action bar to conserve space and keep a clean look, see here and here.
Stock Widgets & Apps
Youtube - Why can't I listen to a song on youtube with the screen off? It's not really a big deal, but it's small things like this that drive me nuts. Why can't Google's own app plug into whatever audio API that other media apps use?
Gmail - Pinch-to-zoom. We've had multi-touch gestures since Eclair, why hasn't it been implemented in our email? Most emails are all html or text-based, like websites, why has the browser implemented pinch-to-zoom for the past 4 Android versions, yet Gmail's multi-touch gestures are MIA?
People - High resolution photos.
Widgets - Google, take advantage of your own designs that you guys used for other apps!!
Why not show the album art? Why not make an interactive icon with my Google Drive folder in one scrollable widget? Why not make the Google Play widget "flip-able" like the Youtube widget? Ignore my "To Home" icon, I made that, because I got tired of the overused Maps icon.
One thing that gets on my nerves on my Galaxy Nexus is the second or two delay that happens after you press a button. I used to think this is a hardware specific issue for the Gnex, because I did not notice this problem on my Bionic (2.3). But after I started using more ICS devices, and watching reviews of other new Android devices, I can see the problem is the software. While I love butter smooth transitions and detailed preview images when multi-tasking, I prioritize speediness and response time over eye-candy.
Nothing is more tiresome than pressing the dedicated multi-tasking key and waiting for the app previews to fill the screen. I think part of the problem is that you will notice lag more often when you're pressing a button, as opposed to a gesture, let's say. Look at webOS. Not a particularly speedy OS, it was obviously an unfinished product that needed tons of work on the back-end. But when it came to multi-tasking and gestures, it made the device so much more fun to use. I think if Jellybean were to 'steal' the swipe up for multi-tasking, it would make for a better multitasking experience without undoing all of the attractiveness that came with ICS' multitasking improvements
Less is more
One of the things I am glad to see changed is the plethora of devices that flood the market and fragment the user base to be going away. Motorola's last 4 flagship phones were released weeks apart during the course of 5 months (Droid X2 > Bionic > Razr > Razr Maxx). I like the idea of moving to one or two flagship devices per year, there will definitely be more hype around the release. Because if you decide to launch 6 or 7 flagship products a year, the release will be about as interesting as a urinal cake. Oh, I won't be able to make it tonight, I'm camping out in front of the Sprint store for the new Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4g Touch with Touchwiz. Samsung has finally gotten that right with the Galaxy S line-up, this time 'round they kept the name and didn't differentiate the design for specific carriers.
I am also proud that the Galaxy Nexus was released on Verizon with LTE. Many people still feel like the LTE version is the red-headed step child, which is not far from the truth. However, I think that for Google/Samsung to release a bloat-free product with an unlockable bootloader on one of the meanest, most vicious carriers around is a huge achievement. We're lucky we got away with just an LTE branding and some Verizon apps. I doubt a Nexus will ever set foot on Verizon again, but I hope the carriers will have much less of a say in the future now that Google has released Play. Which leads me to...
Boss up to the carriers!
Something is seriously screwed up with the US wireless broadband we got here. I personally blame it all on the FCC and the FTC for allowing this oligopoly to do what they want, charge what they want, and run things like a cartel.Engadget and Droid-Life published very good pieces regarding the very strange relationship between the carriers and Google and the boys. They both are optimistic, whereas things a year ago weren't going so great. And if we look at our competition, Apple, they don't take ANY shit from the carriers. Can you imagine Verizon asking Apple for a special iPhone made specifically for their own network? We know it CAN be done, Google just needs to play it smart and stern from here on out.
Like I said before, I think the government needs to step in, I don't think this is a battle that can be won by Google and their hardware vendors. This Ma Bell situation is a story that spans decades: they were once a monopoly, which split up into god-knows how many companies (and now magically back to
4 32), they have been caught price fixing and been accused of every anti-competitive practice known to man, they operate mutually agreed monopolies in many areas. And worst of all, they still charge their customers for text messaging and minutes. What kind of crap is that? These are the kind of people that would mark up the price of water if their customers lived in Hell.
Adopt on-screen buttons
I look at the HTC One X that has a gorgeous design, a stunning display, and...capacitive buttons? And worse yet is their implementation of the menu key. Christ on a cracker does this design suck! If they were going to use hardware buttons, why wouldn't they just put a menu key on there? Was that just a gesture to Google to say that they were only paying attention half the time when Google intro'd ICS and the Gnex? This wouldn't be as much of a problem if app devs took care of their apps, but there's enough blame to go around.
Dedicated hardware buttons that perform a single function are archaic and a waste of space. They only serve to increase the device's size with the added bezel. And even if you don't care if your phone is bigger: say if the SGS III had ditched the keys, they could have expanded the screen size to 5" without changing a single thing. You would still have ~4.8" of screen space, but 0.2" of that would be dedicated to the soft keys. You could take advantage of the full 5" when watching movies and doing other tasks. Bigger screen is better, right?
Where's the NFC??
NFC debuted with the Nexus S, yet only a handful of Samsung phones support it. If Google wants Wallet to take off, they need to push their vendors toward NFC. I'm sure they already know this and are acting as quickly as they can before ISIS, the joint venture from hell, throws their money at their network to get exclusivity deals in every location possible. I thought I'd complain about it anyway.
I don't need to harp on this, because I know I'm preaching to the choir. The skins have gotten better, but they are still needlessly different and occasionally invasive. I always felt they were spending to much time, money, effort into developing software to make their product different, instead of making their hardware better. But that will never change, because God forbid that a hardware manufacturer has to rely on their hardware as a selling point!
Software-wise, app developers and hardware manufacturers should know better, but like all lazy children they need to get the hell beat out of them before they wake up and get serious. Google needs to start punishing the app developers via Google Play. Since Play isn't directly involved with Android, they can start picking off lazy developers of big name applications. Make an example of one or two of them and the rest will hopefully fall in line.
Hardware-wise, I think Android has grown and gotten smarter about how they release phones. There's still much room for improvement, their toughest days are ahead of them, but if Android wants to sustain it's marketshare, Android vendors need to embrace Google as their fearless leader. In the US, the vendors are bent over in front of Verizon and AT&T with their pants around their ankles. If Samsung, HTC and Googorola want to follow the same success Apple has achieved with the iPhone, or Microsoft with Windows, they know what they need to do. Maybe Google should buy Sprint? That would certainly give them a foothold in a market they currently has little leverage in.
Google is a strong company, I am thrilled they can manage to turn such a high profit from all the work they do, so I have faith they know what they are doing. We have seen what carriers have done to webOS, we have seen giants like RIM fall to irrelevance, and we know that there's giants like Microsoft who can't seem to catch a break with WP7. We just don't want to see Android follow a similar path.