How can Google improve Android, how to know when your device will get the latest update – Android Q&A

March 5, 2014
42 9 33

Welcome back to another edition of the Android Q&A, where we strive to answer as many of your great questions as possible. In today’s show, we’ll be tackling a couple of questions that come up a lot. What can Google do to improve Android, and how to know when your smartphone will get the latest Android update. Let’s get started!


How can Google improve Android?

Make it worker better on older and entry level devices

Motorola DROID for Verizon

The smartphone industry has been growing at an exponential rate, especially in emerging markets around the world. The massive worldwide market share enjoyed by Android is a testament to the availability of the OS with smartphones covering the entire range of the price spectrum, starting from the ultra low-cost entry level devices, all the way up to the latest and greatest.

What is important to remember is that the majority of this market share can be attributed more to the mid-range and entry level devices, as opposed to high-end flagships. As smooth as Android is on the high-end Samsung, LG, or HTC device, the user experience is left wanting when it comes to a lot of entry level devices. No one is really expecting to play Asphalt 8 on a sub-$150 smartphone, but lag while just swiping between homescreens shouldn’t be an issue any longer.

This issue has somewhat been addressed with Android 4.4 Kitkat and Project Svelte, that will allow the latest OS iteration to work with devices featuring low-end specifications, and should in part, let manufacturers upgrade their older devices to the latest version as well. While expected to make a difference in the long run, OEMs won’t bother updating devices that are more than two years old, and disappointingly, most entry-level and some mid-range devices that are being released now still come with Jelly Bean.

Direct line to Google services

lg g pad google play edition

Say you need to set a reminder for an appointment for a meeting so you don’t forget, you first have to wake the device, unlock it, select the app you want to use, and input that data. More often that not, those are the steps, or barriers, that are required before you get to complete the task.

Of course, Google Now is a great attempt to fix that, using voice recognition to help easily complete important activities, and it works really well. But once again, this comes back to the point made above. The full functionality of Google Now is available only with flagship high-end smartphones, and while mid-range devices that run Android Jelly Bean are supposed to get Google Now, devices from local Indian and Chinese manufacturers, that are responsible in the big way for the entry-level smartphone surge, leave out Google Now altogether.

Privacy Management

One of the biggest stories to break last year with regards to privacy, or rather, the complete lack thereof. While this has resulted in a slew of “privacy” smartphones being released, this issue still needs to be looked at when it comes to the mainstream. Google does allow us to manage our privacy a little bit, giving you ways to manage your data, and how Google uses that data, but it is limited.

While it’s understandable that Google uses our data for relevant ads, which is a huge part of their revenue stream, it’ll be a whole lot better if we had more control over what data the company can and cannot use, and will also make people a lot more comfortable with using Android.

Fragmentation

Android Fragmentation July 2013

Fragmentation is a word that is thrown around freely if you’ve ever been a part of, or witnessed, an argument against Android. We’ll talk about fragmentation a little more in the answer to the next question, but it’s important to note that while Google has attempted to quell this issue, in some ways, the company’s own quick OS release cycle is a small contributing factor as well.

While the latest distribution numbers indicate that the majority of Android devices run Jelly bean, it isn’t the latest version of the OS, with only 2.5% of the devices featuring Android 4.4 Kitkat. And by the time that number goes up, we might quite possibly have the next iteration already available. But, at the very least, there is some indication that Google will play a more direct role in stopping OEMs from releasing devices with significantly older versions of Android.

Google Play Gift Cards

google_play_giftcards

While the Google Play gift cards are easily available from some major retailers, it’s still not as readily accessible as say, a prepaid phone card, that you can pick at up any corner store, gas station, or kiosk. Apart from that, the other problem is the these Play Store cards aren’t available in regions with emerging markets, areas where not a lot of people use or have access to credit cards, and will prove to be most useful.

There’s a lot of advantages to having Google Play gift cards easily accessible to the majority of the population. With more people being able to download apps, more developers will make money, and work that much harder to provide users with the best Android experience possible.


How to know when your phone will get the latest Android update?

“When will my phone get the latest version of Android?” is one of the most common questions we get. Before we dive into this question, let’s take a look at where Android distribution lies as of this month.

march-distro-num

As you can see from the chart, a vast majority of Android devices are currently running Jelly Bean. What is surprising is that a sizeable population is still using Gingerbread, and a small percentage is still on Froyo. Regardless of which category you fall in, if you aren’t a part of the 2.5% that has Android 4.4 Kitkat, the question you obviously have is when you’ll be getting the update to the latest version of Android.

Many manufacturers and carriers post an Android update calendar, where you can search for your device to find out an estimated schedule for the update cycle. That being said, estimated is the keyword in this instance, as carriers aren’t bound by that schedule. While its practically guaranteed that most flagships will be a part of the update, you might have to dig a little deeper for mid-range devices to find out whether it will even be upgraded.

It does look like things might be changing soon, with Google forcing OEMs to use the latest version of Android with their new devices, but as far as older ones go, we’re still entirely dependent on the whims of the manufacturer and network carriers.

It’s also important to note that while the latest version of Android is always going to be better, Google has taken some other steps to circumvent the fragmentation issue. More core Google apps are now updated directly from the Google Play Store, which means that regardless of which Android version you’re using, at the least, your Google apps will be up to date.


As always, keep sending us your questions in the comments section below, in the comments section of the Youtube video, or on Google+, and we’ll try our best to get you the answers you need!

Comments

  • Chris Martinelli

    How about fixing the ratings on the Play store. EVERY app cant be between 4 and 4.5 stars. Its just not possible.

    • Keith Taylor

      Sure it is. Haven’t you seen the reviews on Best Buy. They wont even post a really negative review if there are not that many reviews overall.

    • MasterMuffin

      That’s not the problem, the problem is idiots who give 1 star to apps because
      a) the app costs too much
      b) they don’t have root and they download an app that requires in and say in CAPS “SHET DOESN’T WORK” while the app clearly says “you don’t have root permission, google “Android root” if you don’t know what it means”
      c) the app “LAGZ LMFAO ROLF LOL YOLO” on their Galaxy Mini
      d) lots of other stupid things

      If something should be fixed, it’s that. Also all the copies and apps that bomb your device with ads (they still exist even though Google made the rules stricter)

      • apianist16

        I snickered when I read this. So true!

      • Android Developer

        about “b”, I think you can merge it to a more general rule : “people who don’t read the description and/or title of the app” .

        usually the most important part is on the beginning, and even this is something people don’t read…

        • MasterMuffin

          Yup “Doesn’t work on *insert name*, working on a fix”

          “ONE STAR SHET DON’T DOWNLOAD DOESN’T WORK EVEN THOUGH I HAVE QUAD CORE!!!”

    • Guest123

      How about being able to filter reviews and apps in a more granular manner? Something like Amazon, newegg, etc.

      I rarely find anything via the play store. Almost always search for it on the web then follow a link — play store is a complete CF IMO.

  • Dean Weaver

    Whenever text input is required, the keyboard should automatically appear

    • MasterMuffin

      That would be really annoying on a web page :D I think the current method of tapping where you want to write works better. Also some apps have this, it should be the dev that decides to add it in his/her app if he/she wants to, not the Os deciding to just randomly make the keyboard appear when it thinks that text input may be needed :)

      • Guest123

        I think you are taking his statement incorrectly.

        Many times the cursor is in a text field automatically but the keyboard will not come up till you touch that text field. The keyboard should come up when the curse is in a text field, even if it was put there automatically. . . like a login page.

        IMHO it is a bug.

        • MasterMuffin

          If that’s what he ment, I misunderstood :)

  • Bradley Uffner

    They could support SD Cards in their applications for a start.

    • Guest123

      NO!! NO ext SD for you!
      And no ext SD access for user app from 4.4 on!

    • jeff

      Agree completely !

  • KingofPing

    I know! Why don’t the distribute, through the Play Store a set of APIs that work with the vast majority of devices that use the Play Store and allow devs to code their apps with them so that their apps can have all of the latest features while still supporting older devices!

    oh…wait…

    Hai, Google Play Services. :-D

  • Andreas Weigl

    More granular app permission. Two examples:
    1. A app wants to display adds, so it needs internet access. Why do I have to give it unlimited internet access? Why not let me see which domains it wants to contact and allow only those?

    2. Give an app private storage. Apps want to save their data, ok. But they do not need unlimited storage access. The private storage is a directory that is mapped to the app as … /private. This would also allow to clean up after an app way better. Only apps that need full access like file managers. If a app needs access to pictures then only give it that right and place all the pictures in one spot. Force apps to have their pictures in /private/pictures and map that to the gallery where ALL my images are stored. Same with music.

    Longer support AFTER a device is no longer sold (at least security fixes). Most contracts run for around 2 years. So I buy today a phone that is just being decommissioned and wont get any security updates for the next two years? And we worry about governments spying on us?

    • Guest123

      I think they are doing number two, 4.4 makes user apps write ONLY to their folder. However, it breaks you access to ext_SD via user app.

  • Guest123

    Android was designed poorly from the very beginning, thus they’ve had to hack it up each time they want to make it work on a different form factor. Sadly, google wasn’t smart enough to buy QNX, and they aren’t merging Chrome & Android fast enough, and most likely intelligently, thus it’ll continue being weak in many areas.

    Android 4.4 shows google’s continued stupidity with the removal of text wrapping/reflow, the removal of appops, and limiting the ext_SD to system apps only — user apps can ONLY access their own folder, thus managing your ext_SD with a file manager. . . is borked and you will need to root.

    Luckily, once you root your device there is a great community to tap into, add something like LBE Security Master and control things like app permissions, block ads, ensure apps are clean, etc. Then add an auto-start manager and/or Titanium Backup to do real backups and control all of google’s unnecessary auto-starting apps — better yet, freeze google play service and google play and watch your standby battery life skyrocket. Now that I’ve frozen these apps and removed google maps my battery life, especially standby, is ridiculous — like one to two percent in a day.

    The thing people don’t fully realize is, google thinks your Android device is there for them to data mine, as do the carriers, thus they will use it as much as they want — accessing location, constantly checking in, etc, eating up your battery life and slowing down your device. This is the weak point of Android — OEMs’, carriers’, and anyone else and lock it up, bloat it up, abuse it, abuse the customers through it, because it is “open sourced” and they all can do whatever they please with it, and your only recourse is to root.

    Therefore, IMHO, Android is nothing more than malware unless rooted and controlled.

    And before you all flame me for stating the truth, I don’t buy any apple crap, and no longer buy any MS — I just know I have to use Linux and clean Android up, it is what it is.

    /RANT

    • Android Developer

      what’s the “removal of text wrapping/reflow” about?

      • Guest123

        When your web browser or email client, etc, opens a web view item and you zoom in and the text is automatically wrapped or “reflows” to the current width of your view. That was removed from the engine. . . Opera patches it so it will work on their browser. Other browsers are coming out with new engines or patches, but most don’t work any more.

        here’s an article on it

        http://www.androidpolice.com/2014/01/28/bug-watch-text-reflow-removed-from-webviews-in-kitkat-probably-not-coming-back/

        • Android Developer

          I see.
          Weird that they removed it instead of disabling it by default and deprecate it, to encourage people to use better methods instead.

  • Nick V

    When I am using my Bluetooth headset to make a call while driving, I have to unlock my phone before I can use the Bluetooth, which I feel is a detriment to the reason we have the Bluetooth for the car

  • Paul Leduac

    Every Android phone ought to be required to have external memory card support. Cloud storage is well and good for documents such as your resume or spreadsheets that need to be accessible to multiple team members working on a project, but music, pics and videos ought to be able to be kept locally, for three big reasons:

    1) Cloud security is not currently up to the task of fending off hackers and data thieves.

    2) Servers can crash, and they HAVE crashed. Your cloud storage solution’s server goes down, so goes your data.

    3) You can store a LOT of data in cloud space for pretty cheap. Accessing your stored data, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. You can’t stream your stored music and videos without an active Internet connection, for one thing. For another, if you’re on Verizon or at&t, you can only access so much per month without paying overage fees.

    So, external SD support should be mandated by Google for ALL phones running their OS. That concludes my rant.

  • guy with guts

    Perfectly agree with that google play gift card issue. My uncle and few friends are reluctant to give their credit card info online. I think a google play gift card would be a huge point for emerging markets. Also play store needs improvement especially in search. There should be a category filter for search. I searched for widgets but got many results for themes. Lol.

    • jules

      I certainly also will not put my creditcard info in G-Wallet. That’s why I buy 3V prepaid creditcard coupure from Visa for buying apps.

  • Otto Andersson

    Great points! I would love for Google to better optimize their OS for tablets and even desktops. Using stock on nexus 10 feels very disappointing in a 10 inch tablet.

  • Jovan Johnson

    I wish they would fix the audio latency so we could have better music apps

  • k

    While bring low spec devcies from GB to JB fixes fragmentation, it increases lag as JB is more resource heavy than GB. Manufacturers should bring them to kitkat directly

    • K

      I mean while ”bringing”…

  • Gator352

    Even with the new TTS 2.4 update, it’s worthless. Doesn’t work in navigation and maps and still sounds like crap compared to other TTSs like SVOX. Also, read out text natively through BT. Come on Android team….you can do so much better….

  • qrayZ

    USB host isn’t working after KitKat update on my Moto G.

  • kyle

    here’s the idea the phone companies HTC, Samsung, LG, etc., they make phones when they sell those phones that’s when they make money so they have to make more phones and more phones so that you keep buying phones for them to stay in business it’s not completely in their best interest for you to have a updated phone when you could be buying a new phone from them to make money. I believe that is a problem. Here’s how you can fix it Google makes money on the advertising that those phones are carrying to you the consumer if instead those carriers got a very small percentage of the advertising dollars for the devices they made as long as they keep those phones on the latest and greatest operating system if you gave them a set time let’s say 6 months to the day to get their phones to the new operating system, from the day its release. Now here’s the advantage those phone companies continue to make money after they sell you the phone on what you do with the phone Internet apps and so on the advertising dollars Google gets does phone companies get a small part of it now it is in their best interest to update their phones to continue to make money that doesn’t cost you as a consumer more money. Intern those phone companies now make better phones with better specifications for a cheaper price so that you are happier even longer owning your device that will be updated for longer periods of time. Did vanish to Google will be if these phone companies don’t update their devices after maybe 2 updates in all advertising dollars generated go on hundred percent to Google but the phone companies and then don’t continue to make money. Samsung sold 20 million galaxy s3 devices or whatever it was if 10 million of those phones are still in use and they were making on the average a penny a day per device they would have the money two warrants to update those phones for the customer to keep them longer. In turn the cell phone carriers Sprint, Verizon,ect, would actually have the advantage of not paying a subsidary cost that you’re paying for every month now if they continue to be able to get a better deal to those who own their phone out right after your 2 year contract because you’re still happy with your device that still works well and continues to maybe be updated they make more money and you’re happier customer more companies would want to make a phone with Google based upon this information you would make a better phone with better specs because it would be more updated by Google and the phone company.