The problem with Android

Android is a wonderfully imperfect operating system. Once known as the anti-iOS, solely for the use of power users and nerds. Times have changed in a big way. Android has changed drastically since then. The problem with Android lies within Google itself, as well as some of the vocal user base that can scare new users. Google has long struggled for control over Android, but are fighting an uphill battle against carriers and OEMs. Google is also attempting to turn Android into a consistent, accessible experience for everyone; a more common consumer based Android. Finally, Android is a wonderful operating system. But the underlying problem is some of the user base and “solutions” that ultimately cause more problems.

Now, before you get up in arms and start threatening me on the internet(you big bad person, you). Let me preface this by stating a few facts about me.

I have used Android consistently since 2010. I have converted many, many people to Android and have been their crutch when problems arise. I write about Android, it is what I am probably the most known for. This is an article that offers a dose of perspective from someone who constantly deals with the common consumer. The grandparents, the parents, the students, and the iPhone converts. I am the resident Android guru tasked with handling every bug and issue. I do not hate Android, I do not hate the fan base, I do not hate rooting. I simply take issue with Google’s former lackadaisical attitude and some solutions given that cause more problems.
End disclaimer, let’s begin.

Google is one part of this problem. Android is designed to be an open operating system,which is a great thing. This allows for Android to be everywhere in various shapes and sizes. But this also allows for companies like Samsung, Motorola, and LG to dictate way too much of Android. While Google is slowly attempting to regain control over Android, the problem still very much persists. Updates are constantly delayed or missing in action due to device makers and carriers. Google has been slowly tightening the grip on Android to better control the ecosystem that has become so valuable. But the gears are grinding slowly in turning the tide of Android. As a user, it is frustrating to have drastically different experiences device to device.

It is also unsettling to know that the device you purchase may not be updated or supported consistently by any means. It makes competition like iOS much more lucrative due to the promise of consistency and support. Google is working on creating a more consistent experience by putting more parameters in place in order to have access to Google’s services. But when it comes to support for issues that might arise on your device with no official fix in sight, you are left to fend for yourself. Which introduces you to the next problem, the incredibly vocal, mainly well meaning, and sometimes condescending community of Android power users.

The Android community, let me first tell you that I love you. I have been helped by eighty-five percent of you in wonderful ways. If it were not for comprehensive guides, walkthroughs and countless accounts of Good Samaritan dedication on your part, I would not be where I am today with Android.

Thank you

The Android community is one of the greatest strengths of the Android ecosystem. It is also the greatest weakness. For within our ranks there are people who believe that rooting should be the first line of defense for every user. When that is simply not the case. Rooting is not the answer for everyone, plain and simple. Rooting can become immensely complicated and can void your warranty. If you void your warranty by rooting your device and something goes wrong, you are completely out of luck. Now, a counter-argument to that would be, “just go Nexus. Rooting is easy on a Nexus!”.

Android collage

Google is working on getting people to go Nexus. This is ones of the reasons the Nexus 6 is offered through carrier subsidy. I mentioned above that they are working on regaining control of Android, but it is moving slow. But just because someone owns a Nexus device does not mean they can or want to root.

The entire process of rooting a device is complicated to those uninitiated with the vernacular. Take this encounter here with Troy White, a friend who helps maintain the custom ROM “omniROM”.

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The method he just described is one of the easiest manual methods to gain root access to your Android device. But to those that are not well versed in the lingo of Android development, that has to be daunting. It was for me when I first rooted my devices.

The final part of the problem with the current identity crisis taking place with Android. Take the common consumer. They walk into their local carrier store(they do not read what I am writing) and start perusing phone selections. An entire store filled with phones, most unfamiliar. You have your glowing white lights that lead the customer to the walled garden of Eden. Take a bite of Tim Cook’s Apple, and you are stuck for life. If this consumer wants something other than an iOS device, the clear choice is Android(Sorry Windows Phone, Sorry Blackberry). But, to them, they do not see Android devices. They see Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola devices. They see those devices for their gimmicky or interesting features. Laser Auto-focus? Sign me up. I can control the phone with my hands, but WITHOUT touching it? I’ll take fifteen, please. The normal consumer could not care less about the underlying power of Android. They want their phone to text, Facebook, Instagram, and take selfies without issue. That’s it.

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Consumers have never cared about what operating system a phone runs, they care more about brand recognition and word of mouth. Ask an iOS user why they choose an iPhone. Seven out of ten will say because it’s the best, but not much else. Tons of Samsung owners chose Samsung because it looked kind of like iOS, but was different. It had a bigger screen than iPhone at the time, too. They switched because someone sometime told them Apple wasn’t the same without Steve Jobs. Blah, blah, blah. Go ask everyone with an Android phone that you see today about what version they are running. Get ready for some blank stares. Most Android users have no idea that Lollipop is more than a sucker.

android--samsung

Even Pebble, a company of nerds that make wrist worn computers are aware of the lack of Android brand recognition by the common consumer. They took the time to state Samsung AND Android, even though Samsung devices run Android(Don’t give me the whole Tizen thing. Tizen isn’t a thing, and it will never be a thing).

Now, you have this idea of the normal consumer in your head. Imagine explaining to them the rooting process, and what it can do for their device. But, you can under-volt your processor for longer battery! You can get this feature through Xposed! You can create a new boot animation! You can get CM12 nightly 2/14/15 that only has forty bugs! They’re going to look at you and say, “Huh?”

Let me make this abundantly clear. Rooting is not for everyone. Just because you prefer to root, does not mean that everyone can or should. Some people simply do not care about the underlying power of Android. I love Android, yet I do not care about under-volting my CPU, overclocking my mobile GPU, and running bleeding edge, unstable nightlies. I want my phone to work out of the box, period. If you root your Android device because that is what you prefer, that is perfectly fine. If you use Android without rooting that is perfectly fine. Android users do not prefer iOS, hence why we are on Android. But Android users should not be expected to root solely because we run Android. There is more to Android than the power behind it.

android nexus

Now, I’m going to counter my argument here for a second. I do truly believe rooting devices can add benefit to the user experience, in certain situations. I have rooted devices in the past, but I prefer not to today. I am completely comfortable rooting my devices and going through the process. Rooting can definitely help elongate battery life and stabilize performance. There are definitely advantages to rooting a device. But the process to root the device simply isn’t for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. The bigger problem with this lies with device makers not supporting their products adequately.

If an Android user wants to dive into rooting a device, that is phenomenal. But to simply tell someone, “Just root it” without giving them any type of guidance or help is just shy of foolish. There are many, many users that might want to take the plunge into more control. But that does not mean they want to go through the sometimes complicated process of rooting their device. If you don’t own a Nexus device, the process is far from simple and straightforward.

Remember, rooting is not for everyone, and there is no need to discriminate against them because of this. This elitist nature that is present in sects of the Android community is toxic and is hurting users. Apple users have nice, shiny Apple stores to walk into for council and support. Android users are left in a warzone of conflicting opinions and solutions. It can be incredibly overwhelming at first glance. But the community is really all we have. The Android community is left to pick up the pieces Google, manufacturers, and carriers will not.

The problem is so multifaceted it makes my head spin. Manufacturers and carriers maintain a control over Android that simply should not exist. The problems that may arise can be fixed by rooting, yes. But that in no way means that those problems should be fixed by rooting. Not everyone cares enough to delve into their device at that level. With Android shifting to a more widespread, user friendly approach; that has to be taken into consideration. The common consumer does not need to root their device, given the potential complications and often confusing process.

Android is still fantastic. In my opinion, it is the best mobile operating system on the market. It is gorgeous, functional, and powerful. But not everyone wants the power of Android. They simply want to get on Facebook and text their friends. Android has changed, adapted and grown over the years. The problem with Android is that it holds such a massive market. Kids, grandparents, technophiles, technologically unaware, and people who simply do not care. That is such a broad range of users. The best experience for each and every one of them is so vastly different, there is no right answer on how to attain that best experience. We need to respect those users, because they still use Android, just not the same way as some of us. Be together, not the same. That is Android’s new slogan, it is important we all remember that.

Mark Gurman: Apple Watch will have iPhone-like Notification Center

notification center apple watch

Speaking on the 9to5 Happy Hour podcast, well-respected Apple reporter, Mark Gurman revealed that Apple will have an iPhone-like pulldown Notification Center on the Apple Watch.

There’s some features that Apple hasn’t discussed yet on the Watch that really take advantage of the square display. Like, one of my many friend with an Apple Watch told me that there’s actually a full Notification Center slide-down menu on the Watch. So, if you’re on the Home screen, instead of sliding up for Glances, you slide down and there’s a Notification Center that’s based on the exact same concept as on the iPhone and the iPad and it looks really nice and pretty.

On the podcast, the chatter was over the fact that Apple elected to use a square watch face instead of a round one and the effect it has on the consumption of information.

Given that it’s Mark Gurman reporting, we’ll assume this is very likely given his track record. You can listen to the podcast here.

Email is still a problem that Google and others are happy to keep that way

Despite the rise of social networks and messaging apps, email continues to be the dominant mode of written electronic communication. Over the next few years, email use will continue to grow in the business world and decrease by less than 4% each year for consumers. The average business worker will have to deal with 140 emails a day by 2018, up from 120 emails a day now.

Although perhaps not surprising, the fact that we will continue to have to deal with unmanageable amounts of email is a testament to the fact that behaviour significantly lags technology and that technology still hasn’t come up with a particularly good way of dealing with the deluge of email we all have to manage.

Like dieting and getting rich quick, there is no easy and foolproof path to an empty inbox. The trouble with any of the schemes like “inbox zero” and “Getting things Done” or “GTD” is that it still requires discipline, effort and more importantly, time. None of it guarantees that the email arriving will be dealt with efficiently nor that it won’t cause the receiver undue amounts of stress. Email software that claims to assist with this process is therefore likely to be overstating the benefits that it can actually deliver.

The problem with email is not that you have something sitting in queue that requires clicking, dragging, deleting, archiving or saving until later. It is that you have requests sitting in a queue asking for an action from you which may require anything from the time it takes to read the email and respond, archive, delete, file, etc. to initiating a major piece of work that takes days, months or years.

Dealing with email becomes a process of actually assessing how much work is being asked of the recipient. The difficulty is that these requests don’t come from a carefully considered project manager who knows what your current work obligations are; they are largely random requests that could arrive from anywhere. Each request is usually independent of all others and the sender of the email is expecting a response as if their request was the only one sitting in your inbox, instead of the hundreds that are likely to be there.

This means that the only effective strategy that we have to deal with email is to find ways to either say no or yes to each email that arrives. If the answer is no, then the question becomes, do you delete with no reply, or delete after replying with a courteous “no”. If the answer is yes, then the question is whether to deal with it immediately, delegate or set it up as something that will be dealt with in the future.

From a software perspective, the primary feature needed in an email application is the ability to delete. There is little point in ‘archiving’ these emails because you have decided it is something that you are not going to be able to do. In a worst case scenario in which you delete something that later does become important, the person requesting can always re-issue that request by sending a new email.

Given that every other action in dealing with email is secondary to being able to delete, it is surprising that Google in particular has built its email around the concept of never having to delete emails. In the “Trash” feature of Gmail, they declare:

“Who needs to delete when you have so much storage?!”

Google, and other cloud email providers, have a vested interest in getting customers not to delete their emails and archiving them instead. For a start, their aim is to get people to have to pay for extra space when they fill up their free allocation. A second motivation is the ability to use the information stored in archived email for analysis and marketing purposes.

Google’s latest email application Inbox, which is currently in an invite-only beta, is another attempt at re-arranging email that has not been discarded. Although a “pretty” update on the more utilitarian Gmail application, it does nothing to help with actually what matters, which is to get rid of as many emails in as short an amount of time as possible. Inbox emphasises bundling of emails into categories like travel, finance and “purchases”. Unfortunately, this simply groups things together in a largely superficial way and doesn’t distinguish on the basis of what is important and not important, what needs to be actioned and what can be ignored. Deleting an email is a two step action, with the delete function being accessed through a menu.

Dropbox is another company with a vested interest in getting people to archive emails rather than delete. Like Google, they make the email functionality free on the basis that it will encourage people to use space that they will eventually have to pay for. Their email product Mailbox again sets default actions to emphasise archiving, “snoozing” to have emails reappear later, and filing. Finding out how to delete an email and even setting this up as the default action is made more difficult than necessary.

The only way email will become less burdensome and manageable is for people to stop sending it in the first place. Perhaps two key features for an ideal email application would be a large question that comes up every time you send an unsolicited email that asks “Do you really need to send this email?” The second feature would be to make it extremely easy to delete emails. Everything else is going to be largely surplus to requirements.

The problem with Chromecast

When Google announced the Chromecast, their $35 streaming stick, Google seemed to have hit gold. A cheap, accessible streaming stick that you plugged into your TV, then forgot about. No remotes, just an app you downloaded to your phone or tablet(on Android and iOS)and you were set. Chromecast looked to be the cheap entertainment streamer to beat out everything else. Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBOGo, Google Play and YouTube were supported. What could possibly go wrong for the dream stream scenario?

Well, a lot. Having owned a Chromecast since launch. Bugs are everywhere with seemingly no fix in sight. Owning a Chromecast has proven to be more trouble than the paltry $35 price tag represents.

There are so many different bugs that I have encountered in my constant use of my Chromecast, I hardly know where to begin. With YouTube, I have constantly been kicked off my Chromecast for no reason, even though it claims I am still connected. The TV Queue is a hit or miss concept for Chromecast, seemingly overriding the queue in lieu of playing videos from earlier in the queue or whatever was just added. Half the time I select a video, it will kick itself off of Chromecast and back to my phone. Sometimes, it will play on both mediums at the same time.

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With Google Play Music, I have yet to play three consecutive songs without the stream failing on me. As for my internet connection, it is sitting at over 60mb/s for WiFi. The connection is not the issue, as it is easy to replicate these issues with multiple different Chromecasts in different locations. Google Play Music, whether it be from a phone, tablet, or laptop, is currently incapable of playing more than a handful of songs before disconnecting.

This all begs the question, why is all of this happening and why hasn’t it been fixed.

Google is a gigantic company. Chromecast was a huge success last year for Google, becoming the #1 streaming device for 2014. With over 1 billion casts completed and 10 million devices sold. Why does Chromecast still suffer from immense instability and horrendous bugs?

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The issues could stem from two completely plausible theories.

The first, is that Google simply hasn’t put the conscious effort to improve the experience on the Chromecast. Google has made money from the Chromecast. Even if margins are low for the hardware itself. Chromecast invites you into the ecosystem of Google Play. It also allows for ads to roll on the big screen through YouTube. All of that is money in the bank for Google. They might not be too concerned with the end user experience so long as the cash is flowing their way. This would be tragic for those invested in Google’s ecosystem. In contrast, Apple has long updated the AppleTV and been very diligent in keeping the experience fresh. I cannot recall the last time I saw a Chromecast update pushed to my device that improved my experience.

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The second, and more terrifying theory could be that the hardware the Chromecast holds inside is simply incapable of having consistent performance. This means that the future for this iteration of Chromecast is not going to be up to snuff as more and more entertainment demands become streaming based. In my usage of the Nexus Player, the Google Cast functionality was quite great. Not dropping videos, kicking me off the stream, or refusing to play music. So the functionality of the Cast option doesn’t seem to be the problem, but rather the hardware that drives it. For the price of $35, some issues are to be expected. The Chromecast is dirt cheap. But if the hardware cannot even handle the basic tasks that the Chromecast is advertised to do, that is a huge problem.

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Chromecast is broken. Chromecast flat out does not work. That is the problem with Chromecast, it does not function as advertised. One can excuse some bugs and hiccups because of the price. But the problems that exist with Chromecast are so debilitating that it is not worth one of your precious HDMI ports. If I have to shell out three times the dough for a consistent experience, so be it. But do not dangle(dongle?) false hope of a cheap streaming experience in front of me. The problems with Chromecast could very easily be fixable. They could also be impossible to fix. We simply do not know. The lack of clarity is a lose lose for Chromecast users everywhere.