Every time a new Android version arrives, a new game begins: Which of the lovingly described fresh platform features will fail to live up to its hype and then end up fading out of the foreground — either to be phased out completely or just brushed aside and consigned to oblivion?
It seems like a funny thing to say, but when you look back at Android's history, you realize how many once-transformative-sounding features ended up fizzling and being forgotten soon after their grand debuts. Some remain buried in the software while others quietly vanished after a period of inertia, but they all share the fact that they're nowhere near the center-stage-worthy elements they once appeared to be.
So grab some popcorn and get ready for a nostalgia-filled journey — one bound to be filled with more than a few "oh, right, what ever happened to that?!" reactions.
1. Miracast support
Mira-huh? Its name may be a distant memory for most of us nowadays, but a marquee feature of Google's 2012 Android 4.2 Jelly Bean release was support for a then-new wireless streaming protocol called Miracast. Heck, it was even described by some as Android 4.2's main "highlight."
Suffice it to say, Miracast never quite caught on as a standard, and Google eventually pivoted to its own Chromecast/Google Cast system as Android's streaming setup of choice. With 2015's Android 6.0 Marshmallow release, Miracast officially disappeared from the OS entirely, to the immense disappointment of approximately seven people.
2. Third-party text selector actions
One of Marshmallow's most promising new elements was support for third-party actions in Android's text selection menu — you know, the thing that pops up whenever you highlight text on your screen. At the time of Marshmallow's release, Google Translate and Wikipedia both took advantage of the ability and added their own custom commands (for translating highlighted text on the fly and looking it up in Wikipedia, respectively).
Those two apps were supposed to be mere examples — the first steps in a rich new ecosystem of custom text selection actions. But fast-forward to today, and best I can tell, they're still more or less the only significant apps that support the feature. What's more, neither of them bothers to emphasize said support or alert users to the possibility in any visible way. Translate even started promoting an alternate method of on-the-spot text translation just months after Marshmallow's debut.
So much for that revolution, eh?
3. Lock screen widgets
Being able to put widgets on your lock screen was a "killer feature" of 2012's Android 4.2.
Two years later, the capability was killed.
4. The tablet-specific user interface
Way back in 2011, Google made a big show of its new take on the tablet interface with its Android 3.0 Honeycomb release. Core system functions like the navigation buttons, notifications, and app drawer all existed in corners of the screen to make two-handed access easier than ever. It was a whole new world for large-screen ergonomics!
Well, for about a year, anyway: In 2012, Android 4.2 brought the more traditional phone-like UI back to tablets. These days, the once-touted tablet-specific UI lives on only on the Motorola Xoom (pour one out...) and other old Android devices.
5. Live Folders
Here's one for the true Android veterans among us: In the ancient era of 2009, Google's Android 1.5 Cupcake release brought an amazing-seeming feature into the equation — a spiffy little something called Live Folders.
As Google explained it in its Android Developers Blog, Live Folders "let [apps] display any source of data on the home screen without forcing the user to launch an application." That meant you could have a folder with a dynamic view of contacts, bookmarks, playlists, email, news stories, and so on — and any changes to the related data would appear in the folder in real-time. (You know, as if it were "live." Get it?)
If this concept sounds an awful lot like a widget, that's because it is. Support for third-party widgets was also added in Cupcake, and that setup clearly ended up being the more versatile choice. Live Folders died with nary a peep alongside the arrival of 2011's Honeycomb release.
6. The People app
Google made a big deal about the relaunch and rebranding of Android's Contacts app with 2011's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich release. Our phones were about so much more than contacts, the thinking went, and so it made more sense to call the app "People" — and to have it act as a hub for all of our social communications.
The People app aimed to bring all of your contacts' social networking connections into single, centralized profiles. You could see a person's tweets or Google+ postings right then and there — a "live window into your social world," as Google put it at the time.
Unfortunately, renaming Contacts to "People" mostly seemed to confuse people who couldn't figure out where their contacts had gone. By Lollipop, the app unceremoniously went back to its original name, and it didn't take long for the whole "single hub" thing to fade away, too.
7. The Movie Studio app
Video editing has never exactly been one of Android's greatest strengths, so the advent of a native system app for movie manipulation was a huge selling point for Honeycomb in 2011.
But oddly, Google seemed to give up on its aptly named Movie Studio app pretty much immediately after its birth. The app never got much in the way of updates or improvements, and after shipping sporadically with Android devices through 2012's Nexus 4, it just kind of silently evaporated — never to be replaced or so much as discussed again.
8. Wireless charging
Wireless charging was the Must-Have Feature Of The Future for a while on Android (remember the famed Nexus 4 charging "orb"?). At a certain point, though, with wired charging getting faster and easier to manage, most manufacturers seemed to decide the wire-free option wasn't so critical anymore — and nowadays, Android phones that emphasize Qi support have become more the exception than the rule.
Of course, now that Apple has magically innovated wireless charging — err, sorry, "AirPower" — on its latest iDevices, it's probably a safe bet that the feature will start showing up again on Android phones before long.
Speaking of which...
9. Face unlock
All the cool kids unlocked their phones with their faces for about five minutes in 2011, when Google first introduced the feature as part of its Android 4.0 release. Even as the facial security system grew ever-so-slowly more reliable over the years, though, it was never as fast or easy to use as a good old-fashioned pattern swipe or fingerprint tap — and it didn't take long for most folks to give up on the notion of it being anything more than an impractical-in-the-real-world parlor trick.
While one could argue that's just an inherent limitation of the concept, Apple's newfound interest and progress in the area will almost certainly force Google and/or individual Android manufacturers to give your face another shake as a front-and-center phone-unlocking utility. So keep your eyes open for a possible resurgence.
10. IR blaster support
'Twas a time when being able to use your phone as a remote was a serious selling point and point of differentiation for some Android device-makers. The feature was prominent enough that Google added official support for it in the platform with 2013's Android 4.4 KitKat release.
Some phones most certainly do still offer the ability to blast IR-style today, but it's a far cry from the box-worthy bulletpoint it once was.
11. Android Beam
If you dig deep enough in your Android device's settings, you'll find an option for Google's Android Beam system. But honestly, when's the last time you used it? Or heard anyone mention it in any way?
Back at its 2011 debut, Android Beam was a genuine source of excitement — a "futuristic twist" that used the then-crazy-new Near Field Communication technology to let you tap two phones together and transmit info between them like a wizard.
Let's all say it together: Whoa...
And, pardon my Keanu, but whoa again:
The problem: Despite the admirable marketing effort, Beam never quite worked particularly well, and numerous other systems for sharing stuff proved to be simpler and more reliable. The only real surprise is that Beam actually still exists in the operating system at this point — but who knows? Maybe it's just a matter of time.
12. Daydream screensavers
Another Android 4.2 creation, Daydream introduced the ability to set a custom screensaver that'd show up whenever your phone was docked or charging. Boy, oh boy, was it the business when it first arrived!
Then, like the other features on this list, the spotlight went away — and Daydream kinda got buried and forgotten. So much, in fact, that when Google announced Daydream as the name of its new VR platform in 2016, hardly anyone seemed to make the connection.
Following the overlapping launch of the new Daydream, the original Daydream was debranded and renamed to "Screen saver." It still exists beneath a few layers in Android's system settings, where tens of people find it and put it to good use every year.
13. Google Now/Now On Tap
Some things come and go for good reason — or at least with relatively minimal impact. But Google Now? Google Now was something special. It was something unique. It was something that brought Google's unique knowledge about our lives and our world together in a fantastically useful way. And Google Now On Tap had the potential to take its power even further and totally change the way we interacted with Android.
Now? Well, you know.
This one still hurts.
More Android nostalgia
- Android nostalgia: 20 once-essential apps you've probably long forgotten
- Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to today