Google's Android platform has a lot of good things going for it -- but like any technological entity, it's also home to its share of bad habits.
As we get ready to usher in a new year, I thought it'd be a good time to identify some annoying Android trends that deserve to be left behind in 2012. Think of it as my holiday wishlist. The notion of some of these trends disappearing may be a long shot -- but hey, a guy can always dream.
1. Slow upgrades -- and unfulfilled promises
If fast and frequent upgrades are important to you, Google's Nexus devices are the way to go -- but that doesn't mean every other Android phone has to be a sickly turtle in comparison.
I spend a lot of time tracking Android upgrades, and let me tell you: It's downright depressing to see how many manufacturers take months upon months to roll out current software to their phones and tablets -- or, worse yet, make promises for upgrades and then fail to deliver on their word.
The near-instant upgrades are a feature of the Nexus devices -- and that's okay -- but come on, guys: The rest of you can do much better than what you've been doing. Just look at all the devices still waiting to get Android 4.0, let alone Android 4.1 (and don't even ask about 4.2). And look at all the broken promises -- some broken multiple times and still unfulfilled.
There's simply no excuse.
2. Carrier exclusives
Is Samsung's Galaxy S III really leaps and bounds better than HTC's One X? Nope -- the phones are very much on the same level, and in some ways, one could even argue HTC's efforts are ahead of Sammy's.
So why is Samsung selling boatloads of phones while HTC is struggling to stay afloat? Simple: marketing and availability. Marketing is a tricky area to master, but the availability part of the equation is easy: Samsung makes its major products available on all carriers. HTC's One X and One X+ are AT&T exclusives. (The same could be said for Motorola's new Droid Razr devices and Verizon.) You do the math.
Carrier exclusivity benefits no one other than the carrier in question. It's bad for the customer and sure as hell bad for the manufacturer. Next to the unlocked phone model, the single-carrier concept looks archaic and idiotic.
Let's leave it behind already, shall we?
This one's not realistic, I know, but just imagine if more manufacturers were to focus their efforts on "differentiating" via exceptional hardware, standout design, and outstanding battery life instead of arbitrary changes to the Android UI. The lineup of high-end Android devices could go from great to phenomenal in a heartbeat.
To be clear, I'm not saying we should back away from software changes across the board; the ability to modify the OS is a core part of Android's open nature. But in the era of Android 4.x, the types of modifications many manufacturers are choosing to make are horribly misguided. Meddling with the UI merely for the sake of change accomplishes little more than detracting from the user experience and adding extra delays into the upgrade process. By all means, manufacturers, innovate supplementary software features that actually add value to the product -- but give the arbitrary UI meddling a rest.
I assure you: The display and camera on HTC's One X are enough to make it stand out from the pack. The same goes for the durable build and top-of-class battery life of Motorola's Droid Razr HD Maxx, the distinctive design of LG's Optimus G, and the unusual form factor and stylus functionality of Samsung's Galaxy Note II. You don't need a "uniquely" bloated and messy UI to sell those products.
4. Bloatware that can't be uninstalled
We get it: Phones are a business, and manufacturers and carriers make money by selling real estate on their Android devices.
But for fork's sake, give us a break: The amount of bloatware on some Android phones is getting downright ridiculous -- and the fact that the preloaded apps are glued into the system so you can't easily uninstall them just adds insult to injury.
So let's reach a reasonable compromise: Pile on the bloat if you must, manufacturers and carriers, but give your users the option to uninstall the stuff they don't want. You can still make the profit, the companies who pay will still get the exposure, and the users can decide what they do and don't want on their devices for the long term.
5. Locked bootloaders with no easy keys
A lot of Android users like to tinker with their devices. Despite the fact that they paid for the products, though, some companies are set on making it difficult for them to hack into the technology and make their property work the way they want.
It's obviously a minority of users who are affected by this, but still: Why not let the power-users do what they're inclined to do?
Some manufacturers get it: You slap on a disclaimer about the warranty and then let the user go to town. Some, however, insist on trying to play
Apple God and control every facet of how the product is used.
To those manufacturers, I say this: You're fighting a losing battle. Android users who want to root are going to root; all you're doing is making their lives a little more difficult for no apparent reason.
Do the right thing already and step aside.
6. Subpar battery life
At this point, there's no good reason for phones to struggle to make it through a typical day. Clearly, the technology is out there to provide superb stamina for smartphones, even with heavy use.
Let's make 2012 the last year of the crappy battery.
7. Subpar sales setups
Nexus 4. Nexus 10. 'Nuff said.
Google's so close to striking gold with its direct-sales setup. But it's gotta figure out how to do retail right.
Here's hoping 2013 is the year it happens.
A closing note
It's easy to nitpick at negatives, but it's also important to keep things in perspective. Android has had an amazingly impressive year, with plenty of high points and some awesome evolution. We've seen tremendous innovations within the OS itself and the accompanying hardware in 2012, and the level of choice in the Android ecosystem right now is simply unmatched.
There's always room for improvement, particularly with products that have so many different companies cooking in the kitchen. But man, it's a great time to be an Android fan. In the big picture, the platform is looking better than ever -- and 2013 promises to be just as grand.