If you could change anything about Android and its ecosystem, what would it be?

August 22, 2014
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There’s a lot to love about Android, such as its open nature and the fact that you can pretty much tweak the experience any way you desire to best fit your lifestyle. Of course, like any mobile OS and ecosystem, it’s not perfect either.

Just yesterday a new fragmentation report was released, revealing how only 20% of devices are on KitKat and that there are over 18,000 distinct Android devices out there. There’s also often complaints about malware, bloatware, and the list goes on. While some of these issues are exaggerated and may not bother very many people, for this week’s Friday Debate we discuss what we would change about Andriod and its ecosystem, if we had the power.

Perhaps you’d like to see faster OS updates, better consistency in app design language, better tools for malware? Be sure to check out our responses and join in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Andrew Grush

When compared to other mobile OSes out there, the Android experience best fits what i’m looking for: an experience that I can mold into whatever I want. Okay, so most of the time I keep things pretty close to stock Android, but I like to play around with new apps, launchers and ROMs from time to time — and so it’s nice to have the option.

Bottom-line, it’s the freedom of choice that draws me to Android, both on the software and hardware front. But is the ecosystem and OS perfect? No, nothing ever is. If I could change anything about the experience, the most obvious thing would be speed of updates. I understand that iOS is able to accomplish its changes largely due to the fact it has fewer devices to maintain, but it would be nice if Android could come at least somewhat close to this experience. After all, I’m an update geek that loves to have the latest, and so that means I either find a device that is extremely well supported by custom ROMs (i.e., Oppo Find 7, OnePlus One, etc) or I stick to the Nexus 5 I’m currently rocking.

While OEMs like Motorola and HTC have improved their speed of updates recently, we’ll never see the situation completely addressed by OEMs unless Google forces OEMs’ hands. For example, Google could enforce measures that would require all new handsets (high, mid and low range) to ship with the latest version of Android and promptly (no more than 3 months) issue new updates for at least 24 months to continually be qualified for Google Play services. Then again, doing so would take away some of the “freedom” I love about Android and could cause Google more negative flack than anything. Still, there has to be a solution somewhere, such as OEMs and Google working more closely to issue updates?

As for other things I’d like to see differently, I’d love for OEMs to embrace lighter custom UIs, but I don’t want to see this forced on them by Google. After all, there are folks that like custom UIs and they should be allowed to have that choice. Beyond that, I’m really pretty satisfied by the Android experience. Sure fragmentation, OS updates, skins, (often exaggerated) malware issues, and bloatware bother me, but (to a degree) that’s one of the trade-offs when dealing with an open freer platform.

One thing I would like to see, however, is more developers embrace Android-first policies when developing apps. I realize that profits on the iOS side are higher, but the Android fanbase is massive and so there has to be plenty of untapped potential profits for the world’s most popular mobile OS.

Bogdan Petrovan

Like Andrew, I’d like to see more interest from developers small and large in Android. iOS still has a lead in this area, and I understand why – it’s simpler and more profitable to focus on iOS, especially if you’re app targets the US market. Still, I am sure that if developers would be more interested in creating cool apps for Android — apps that take advantage of the OS and the hardware and are more than ports of the iOS version – the overall quality of the user experience would jump.

I’d like to see more focus on user experience, rather than specs and feature-stuffing. If OEM’s focused their energy on a simple, but excellent product, they’d bring more joy to the user. Samsung is the ultimate example – it has world-class people and top resources that it kinda squanders on many little features and even entire lineups of devices that feel unnecessary.

I’d like to see even more diversity in the market – there’s a bazillion devices from dozens of manufacturers, but when it comes to getting to the store and buying a device, your options are limited to a handful of options. Depending on where you live, your budget, and your willingness to go the extra mile, you get more options, but most users don’t even know there’s a better option out there, let alone be able to buy it. That’s one factor explaining the dominance of Apple and Samsung, and without it, the world of Android would be much richer and more interesting.

The Play Store needs a little shakeup – it’s often hard to search for an app, clones are rampant, app discovery is too basic. I know it’s unfeasible, but I’d like to see a higher standard of quality for approved apps. How many apps that do nothing, try to mislead users, and are generally useless are there in the Play Store? International availability is still a big issue. There are many countries where only apps and maybe books are available. If other platforms can extend all over the globe, why can’t Google?

Joseph Hindy

This is a really difficult question to answer because many of Google’s weaknesses are also things that add to their charm. Andrew suggested updates…but is that really Google’s problem? I know OEMs and Google work together a lot on stuff but all of Google’s devices are updated pretty much immediately so I don’t see that as a Google weakness. Nor do I see fragmentation as a Google weakness for pretty much the same reason. It’s OEMs that are lagging behind, not Google.

I suppose my favorite solution to the update problem is to ban OEMs from releasing phones with outdated operating systems. For instance, now that Kit Kat is out and in full swing, device manufacturer’s shouldn’t be allowed to release a phone sporting Jelly Bean or lower. Update the devices in a timely manner or get them out of the stores. That would be ridiculous and expensive but I thought that’d be a fun way to deal with the problem.

As for me personally, I don’t see much wrong with Android. Like any ecosystem where the rules are as loose as Google’s, you’re going to get some of this stuff. It just happens. There is fragmentation on almost every ecosystem. How many Windows users are running, 7, 8, and 8.1? How many Linux distros are there and which kernel are they all based on? It’s just one of those things that happens so I don’t really consider it a problem.

Perhaps my biggest beef with Google is the small things. Not displaying in-app purchases in the Play Store, for instance, is a sin to me. The fact that I have to go enable a setting in Chrome just to get text to render appropriately on some websites. That’s actually a desktop problem but when you’re trying to create a computing ecosystem that binds mobile and PC, you should probably have a browser that works equally well on both platforms, yknow?

I’m not a big fan of little things like that. Android support on Windows (and Mac) is abysmal and that means working around some stuff sometimes to get the stability I feel comfortable with. My inability to manage my device on my desktop at all has always been a huge weakness in my opinion. I wouldn’t be upset if they did a Google Dashboard app on PC/Mac that showed us things like approved devices on Google Play, our music/video/TV libraries, installed apps, etc. Basically like a Google-ified iTunes so I don’t have to enter web address after web address to manage my Android device or my Google services.

Overall, the platform is amazing and there is very little I would change. For you TL;DR people: Android could really use better mobile-desktop integration. Pretty muc none of it is any good.

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