Android 2.2 to do things we assumed it already did
May 1st, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Proponents of Android like to talk about the operating system as if its Windows 95: “almost as good as Apple, with some features that are actually superior!” What they don’t like to mention is that it has a number of serious flaws that nobody seems to acknowledge. Users may hope the upcoming Android 2.2 will fix some of those, but it won’t necessarily because in many ways it can’t. Here’s why.
While Apple has taken a public beating for being slow to deliver some significant features of the iPhone OS, including last year’s copy and paste or this year’s multitasking, it’s less well known that Android is missing key features that everyone just assumes it must have.
Take Android’s copy and paste, please.
While its fans liked to suggest that Android supported copy and paste features first, the system isn’t nearly as well designed as Apple’s implementation. That’s why, even after Apple belatedly introduced copy and paste for iPhone 3.0, Android users were still confused about how to do copy and paste.
Because most early Android phones supplied a physical keyboard, the operating system initially relied on users selecting text using arrow key combinations. Newer Android models like the Google branded Nexus One can’t do that however. Like the iPhone, they have no physical keys to mash around on like a text-based DOS PC.
Not to worry! You can scroll through menus in Android with the trackball to set up a text selection operation, then touch a selection with your finger. Well, if the app you’re using supports copy and paste (and that excludes Google’s own Gmail). And you can’t edit your selection; it just automatically copies it to the clipboard, so make sure you touch your fingers over the selection perfectly the first time.
A year after they griped about the iPhone being late to the copy/paste party, Android users have to make do with clunky text selection and just hope that individual apps actually support copy and paste operations. Meanwhile, Apple is now introducing another level of text selection sophistication with text replacement features and spell correction, as premiered on iPad. Android has a rotten foundation to build upon. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s like Windows 95.
Multitasking the battery.
If Android users hadn’t made such a production about the importance of “multitasking,” by which they typically meant “listening to music while doing something else, but not using iTunes,” then it would be harder to turn around and beat up Android’s implementation of multitasking in the wake of iPhone 4.0.
Unlike Google, which simply gave users the ability to launch lots of apps without thinking about the consequences, Apple held up multitasking on the iPhone OS until it could first implement plans for a Push Notifications. This required iPhone 2.x apps to take advantage of centralized messaging, so apps weren’t just sitting in the background polling the server for updates.
It turns out that multiple apps each polling a server in parallel is a great way to wipe your battery dead. Just ask BlackBerry users. Or Windows Mobile users. Or Android users, who clutter up their forums with comments asking for help on how to manually kill background tasks that are wiping out their performance and memory resources and battery life. If only their platform had been designed by engineers and not marketing people!
Apple is now building multitasking features to support iTunes-alternatives like Pandora to play music in the background, leveraging the existing Push Notifications system to avoid unnecessary server polling by background apps. It also took the time to engineer custom solutions for location-aware apps depending on their circumstances.
And again, Android is stuck with being past tense first on last year’s bullet point features, which are now in need of fixing but can’t easily be scaled up to the next level. All that freedom and lack of engineering discipline reminds me of something… oh yes, Windows 95.
AppleInsider | Inside iPhone OS 4.0: Multitasking vs Mac OS X, Android
You manually update your apps one at a time, seriously?
Back in 2008 at the release of iPhone 2.0, Apple introduced its App Store model to dramatic yawns of early Android users, who had been able to load their own platform’s few available third party apps for months. Well not really, but let’s call iPhone jailbreakers “Android users” because a jailbroken iPhone is a bit like an Android device: no real security, but lots of freedom.
Anyway, once Android did get an app Marketplace of its own, everyone assumed all things were equal, except for its breadth of selection. And the lack of sophistication of Android apps, particularly games (remember that Marketplace apps can’t be very big and can’t be copied to SD Card RAM, which is where most storage is on Android phones; this greatly limits their potential). And the commercial interest of their developers (Android is a hobbyist development community servicing an audience of people who don’t like to pay for things, so the Android Marketplace is a lot like the software market for Linux: half baked with a side of DIY).
But everything else was pretty much the same right? I mean, apart from looking a little rough like a Linux project. Well it turns out no. Android apps have to be updated individually. If you have a lot of apps on your iPhone, you probably have several updates available every time you check, and you can update them all with the “update all” button in one step. Not so on Android.
In the next version, Android 2.2, the system still won’t provide an update all button (what, is it patented by Apple?) but will enable an “automatic update” option, so you can individually set your phone to update apps in the background, perhaps at inopportune times, just like Google’s “don’t move, we’re updating your desktop software!” thing that runs at all times by default when you install the company’s apps on a PC.
Worried about that automatic updating taxing your phone? Don’t be, Android 2.2 is apparently only going to be available for phones with at least 800MHz CPUs and 256MB of system RAM. Sorry Magic, sorry Hero, sorry Droid Eris. Oh come on, none of you have even got Android 2.0 yet, so quit your bawling. If you wanted regular firmware updates, you’d have gotten an iPhone. You’re not going to run Flash acceptably either, you know that, right?
On the operating system level, Android isn’t updated automatically nor even predictably. Google keeps coming out with new releases, but that doesn’t mean Android users can actually apply them. That’s because they’re delivered by the mobile carrier, not Google itself in an iTunes-like way as Apple does. And on Android, the hardware vendor also has to get involved, creating and distributing a custom firmware update for each model (if in fact, your model is deemed worth of being updated in the first place!)
Below: Google’s breakdown of Android users and the version of the Android OS they have installed. More than 69% are stuck on a version prior to 2.0, and only 27.3% are on the latest version. That’s a problem for software developers, and an annoyance for users. It’s not because they’re too lazy to upgrade; in most cases they can’t get a timely update for the reasons highlighted above.
Hmm, a system that doesn’t stay up to date very well, but does kick off its own automatic software update installations. That sounds like something that plagued my existence some time ago, and I think the name was.. oh yes, Windows 95.
Push comes to shove.
In iPhone 2.0, Apple released initial Exchange support and push messaging features that included remote ping, find, and wipe features for both corporate Exchange users and individuals with a MobileMe account. A year later, Apple introduced iPhone 3.0 along with the iPhone 3GS, which provided hardware encryption. This enabled both instant remote wipe and allowed corporations to support iPhone without relaxing the default Exchange Security policy.
A year later, Android still lacks system wide push messaging support, which is a prerequisite for remote find and wipe features (and Push Notifications) as well as being necessary for push updates from Exchange or a MobileMe-type service (which Google and its hardware partners do not provide).
Additionally, Android phones still don’t support hardware encryption, meaning that many corporations won’t support them at all. Add in missing support for Cisco VPNs and certificate-based security on corporate WiFi networks, and Android looks like it doesn’t belong at work at all, kind of like Windows 95.
With Google or without Google.
Even at home, Android lacks a lot of basic features in its apps, particularly outside of the “with Google” adware apps that prop up the operating system’s core reason for being: to prevent Microsoft from muscling it out of mobile paid search and ads business.
Google has a limited amount of excitement for delivering top quality apps that don’t in any way support its ads or paid search revenues. Unlike Apple, Google doesn’t care much about things like music and media playback (it doesn’t sell anything like the iPod), nor camera/photo gallery apps (it doesn’t sell a desktop platform serving as an Digital Hub), nor really even contacts or calendars or email (yes, Google technically sells online accounts, but it doesn’t have a push messaging infrastructure to sell, and doesn’t really make any money from its free Gmail accounts). You get what you pay for. Android is free. Connect the dots.
Most importantly, Google doesn’t sell hardware as Apple does, so it’s putting itself in the position of Microsoft: creating a rough approximation of Apple’s software in order to skim the value from off the top of its hardware partners’ business. Just like Windows 95 did.
How Android is not like Windows 95.
There’s one important differentiation between Android and Widows 95 however. Back in the mid 90s, Microsoft had spent a decade and a half sapping Apple’s lifeblood as a vampire partner. It had developed its Office apps in the heart of Apple’s Macintosh for nearly a decade before ripping them out and transplanting them into its own Frankenstein of a platform. Well before Windows 95 shipped, Apple was bled, whipped and gutted, surviving only on sheer refusal to give up.
Google similarly partnered with Apple on the iPhone before changing its position from sidekick to backstabber. But this time Apple saw it coming, and didn’t allow Google or anyone else to own control of its platform’s software. Apple wrote all of the iPhone’s client apps, even those that connect to Google’s services such as YouTube and Maps and browser search. That enables Apple to shift the weighty leverage of its own platform to a new partner, such as diverting web search to Bing or building its own Maps services. There’s nothing for Google to yank from the iPhone as Microsoft did with Office. And so it is that the only bleeding, whipped, and gutted figure in mobile platforms is Microsoft, and all it offers for Google is a bunch of random hardware makers: HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG. The same people who did such a great job on the hardware end of Windows Mobile.
Despite nearly three years of coexistence, Android hasn’t achieved a meaningful fraction of Apple’s App Store’s success, hasn’t even sold half as many phones, and is also missing out on competing against Apple’s sibling iPhone OS platforms of the iPod touch and iPad, which contribute millions of users to the App Store to support the platform’s software market. Unlike fifteen years ago, it’s Apple that has the market share and the interest of developers, and its Google playing the role of the vendor of a niche platform that can’t manage to entice major developers to take its operating system and platform seriously.