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What we'd like Android to steal from other operating systems
Android may be our favorite operating system, but it’s certainly not perfect. If you are someone who uses multiple devices with different operating systems, there are no doubt features you miss as you switch from one platform to another. We’ve taken a long hard look at other mobile operating systems and picked out the features that we wish could make their way into Google’s mobile OS.
1. Cleaner widgets
Android’s widgets are great, and were a key differentiator to the stark grid of icons on the iPhone. However, Microsoft’s entrant into the mobile world – Windows Phone 7 and 8 – brought the live tile design pattern where icons and widgets became a hybrid object that acted as a launcher and information display. While it would be nice if live tiles displayed a little more information than they do, they do offer a very clean look and feel. Meanwhile, Android’s standard widgets often make homescreens look too cluttered, which is why we recently suggested Android is better suited to tablets.
Windows Phone 8 tiles look cleaner than widgets
2. Notification counts on icons
While iOS lacks the widgets we know and love on Android, it does have a way of instantly feeding information back to its user. It does so by displaying numerical indicators on app icons, letting you know how many items require your attention. While there are third party apps on Android that simulate this feature, it isn’t baked into the operating system. Having similar icons on an Android homescreen would be a good substitute for some widgets, thus using space more efficiently.
Notification counts in iOS
3. A better notification center
When the iOS notification center was introduced it was a blatant copy of the Android notification shade. However, Apple’s version of the pull down notification center does a much better job of grouping notifications. In Android, message previews are only shown for each app if there is only one message, otherwise there’s just an unread count. In iOS, previews are shown for all unread items, grouped by application.
The iOS notification center
4. Better social contact integration
While certain Android apps support contact synchronisation, the People app does a pretty poor job of integrating the social accounts of people in your address book. Conversely, the Windows Phone ‘People Hub’ does an excellent job of matching your address book entries to your social contacts, and presenting an integrated contact view, blending together all available details and social activities. Not only that, but the Windows Phone People Hub also shows the history of your communications with a given contact, and allows you to quickly contact them on social networks too. With Windows Phone 8, Skype has been added as well.
Social contacts in the Windows Phone People Hub
5. Hardware silence key
One of the unique hardware features of the iPhone since the iPhone 4 is a physical silence switch, which is very useful if you frequently need to keep your phone quiet. With the iPhone’s physical switch, silencing can be achieved quickly and without looking. That’s handy when you don’t want to be seen fiddling with your phone! With Android, silencing is more problematic.
The iOS silence switch
6. Easy TV-Out
Some Android handsets can be connected to a TV. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2, for instance, can connect via its MHL functionality, but this is not standard to all Android handsets. On the other hand, the iPhone and most Symbian handsets are TV-Out ready – all they need is the right cable. We would love to see a TV-Out become a standard of Android.
iPhone TV Out cable (source)
7. Microsoft Office
Android has plenty of Microsoft Office-compatible office suites, but all of them have their quirks. Meanwhile, Windows Phone comes complete with a free mobile version of Office. Microsoft already has released OneNote for Android and there are credible rumours that it will release Office for Android. With the release of Android tablets that convert into small laptops (e.g. Asus Transformers), more people are depending on Android as a mobile productivity platform. Google Drive is great for collaboration, but doesn’t work well offline and doesn’t support editing Microsoft Office files. Therefore, Android needs an office suite that is more reliable than the current third party options.
Microsoft Office in Windows Phone 8
8. Consistent back button behavior
A consistent gripe with Android is the inconsistency of its back button. The back button still does not behave as expected and routinely drops you into the homescreen or closes the app when all you wanted was to get back to the previous screen. Meanwhile, the back button in Windows Phone 7 and 8 behaves much more like a web browser, taking you through your history of pages from app to app.
Switching back through app pages in Windows Phone 8
9. App folders
I know, I know, Android already has folders for apps. Unfortunately, those folders are only for homescreens. No matter how much organisation you put into your homescreens, your app grid will still be the same flat alphabetical list. This is in contrast to various other mobile operating systems that include folders on their app launcher grids: Symbian, MeeGo Harmattan, and iOS. Most of us have ‘crapware’ applications on our Android devices that we cannot uninstall. If we had folders on the app grid, we could at least hide these annoyances.
iOS App Folders
10. Better text input
The standard keyboard introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich was a great step forward, bringing it closer in quality to the much loved SwiftKey keyboard. However, Windows Phone seems to have the best combination of input speed and prediction ability. Things have improved with Windows Phone 8 as it has incorporated next word prediction, just like the Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard. One of the subtlest features of the Windows Phone correction system is its deft clean-up of spaces that precede punctuation marks.
The Windows Phone 8 keyboard
What features from competing operating would you like Android to “steal”?