8 Features Google Android Needs to be More Awesome ;).
The Android operating system has been making great strides as of late, and consumers are taking notice. When the G1 was released, the interface felt incomplete and the features lacking. As modified implementations of Android (like Sense UI) made the scene, we started to see some of these feature gaps filled in. With the release of Android 2.0, and subsequently 2.1, Android started to feel like a more competitive smartphone platform. It now stands as a strong competitor to the iPhone, but there is more work to be done. There are a few features that could be added to Android to really crank up the awesome. Some of these are obvious, but haven’t been implemented due to technical or software limitations, but others are perfectly reasonable requests that Google should have on their roadmap. (And with Google I/O beginning this week, maybe we’ll see some of these features announced!)
Even if you’re not an Android phone user, these are features that you should demand on your so-called smart phone.
Seamless app updates
App updates have always been a little awkward on Android. When you check for updates, each app with an update is listed and you have to click through to each one. That in and of itself wouldn’t be horrible. But it’s not just one tap. It takes four taps to update each app. If you have a lot of apps, this can get tedious very fast. What we’d like to see, and there a have been rumors to this effect, is an option to have apps automatically updated in the background. This would remove many of the annoyances around updating Android apps.
It’s clear though why this would be hard to do. The Android Market is open, and anyone can post content to it. Google has been vigilant and malware has mostly been kept at bay. But what’s to stop a bad guy from making an innocuous looking app, getting a few hundred downloads, then pushing out a malicious update? If Google implements this there would need to be a way of certifying developers. Auto updating may only be available to Google’s own apps even.
Failing auto-updates for all apps, we’d at least like to see an ‘update all’ option. Anything to save us from all that tedious clicking. It’s made especially frustrating when you have multiple apps updating. You just can’t keep clicking through the menus to get more updates going. There is an understandable amount of lag considering you are installing multiple apps at once, but you still have to wait around on the phone.
App storage on SD cards
Another big issue with Android we’d like to see fixed is the situation with app storage. This has been a complaint since the early days of the platform. Apps currently need to be stored on the user available internal memory, which is usually limited to under 200MB. In contrast, many users have several gigabytes of free space on their microSD cards. Users should be allowed to store them there; this is often called Apps2SD. The feature probably locked out to prevent unauthorized copying of market apps. The internal application data is not accessible unless the phone is rooted. Putting apps on the SD card could make them more vulnerable. It was a move to assuage developers’ fears.
There have been hints that Google has solved this issue. Perhaps some sort of on the fly encryption? In a recent posting on Google’s Android issue tracker, a Google employee said it was “ coming soon“, but couldn’t comment on a timeline. We hope that means in Froyo. With 3D games becoming larger all the time, we could use the space.
Integrated VoIP via Gizmo5
Android already has amazing integration with Google Voice, but we want a bit more out of the Big G. Everyone suspects the acquisition of VoIP provider Gizmo5 last year will be used to augment Voice, but we really want Android to reap the benefits of that. Ideally, that would mean adding Gizmo5-based VoIP calling over the data network with your Google Voice line.
Obviously the carriers would not be particularly keen on this. But Android may have the clout now to pull this off without seeing a major backlash from the carriers. Verizon has partnered with Skype to deliver VoIP services, so the potential is there at least.
Improved Gmail app
Overall, the Gmail experience on Android is spectacular. The act of reading, responding to, and labeling/sorting your email is a breeze. But there are some things we wish Google would add to the experience. First and foremost, there need to be zoom controls on the Gmail app. If you receive an HTML message, or something with a large picture, you can’t really zoom out to see it.
The other feature that could really take Gmail to the next level is better text access when reading mail. When you read your mail, you can’t really access the text. There’s no copy functionality, and no word search. It feels like being trapped on an iPhone circa 2008 when you really just need to copy that line of text, but can’t. We find ourselves sometimes loading up the mobile site in the browser to do this, and we shouldn’t have to go that route.
So it looks like Flash 10.1 is a lock for inclusion in Android 2.2, but we aren’t satisfied with its sheer existence. Nope, we want it to be good. Sure, Adobe and Google could put it in there like they promised, but if it doesn’t work on many sites, it isn’t worth it to us. There’s also the risk of damaging battery life. We assume there will be some hit, but hopefully a manageable one. If there is anything Android doesn’t need, it’s worse battery life.
The reason for Flash’s exclusion thus far is a simple one. It’s really, really hard to get Flash working on a mobile device. Adobe’s recent demos have given us hope they can pull it off though.
Wi-Fi hotspot functionality
If you ask us (and you should), mobile hotspot apps are the next killer feature on smartphones. When Verizon decided to allow users of the Palm Pre Plus to Wi-Fi tether devices to the phone at no extra cost, they set a standard. Some phones, like the upcoming HTC EVO 4G, charge $30 for month for access to the hotspot service. We really feel like that is too expensive for a feature that most people will only use intermittently.
There are rumors that hotspot functionality will be built into Android 2.2. The feature’s existence is one thing, but will carriers be able to disable it, or charge for it? Traditionally, cell carriers have been concerned about excessive data usage with tethering, but maybe Google is looking to move the smartphone ahead with this feature.
Better music and video players
We hope Google gets this media player thing figured out. Android’s media situation has been lagging since it debuted on the G1. The music app got a redesign in 2.1 with a tabbed interface and better use of album art, but there’s still no equalizer and playlist management could be better. Ideally, the music player should gain these features and be redesigned to look a bit more like the 3D Gallery in 2.1.
About the gallery, it need to be organized better. One of the most confusing things for an Android newbie is figuring out how to play their recorded videos. There is no reason the pictures and videos need to be lumped together in the ‘camera’ folder. This could be simplified by making the video player a standalone app like the music player, or even integrating them. As it stands now, you have to dig through a folder to find videos you’ve recorded.
Offline map caching for navigation
Google Maps is a great app on Android, and the addition of turn-by-turn navigation made it even better. The only problem with it is that you can’t navigate without a data connection. The phone needs to download the data for the map tiles and routing information as you go. Without that, you’re just a little blue arrow in a sea of nothing. We appreciate there may be some rights issues here, but a great addition to Android would be offline caching of map data.
If you’re going on a long drive, you might not have data coverage the whole way. Maps could allow you to download the data for the route you intend to take, so if you lose data, you don’t lose your way. The maps themselves wouldn’t take up much space on the SD card, and would make this feature more useful. It’s also possible the feature is under development and we’ll see caching at a later date. Turn-by-turn is still fairly new to Android.
These are the things we want to see implemented in Android the most. We expect to see at least some of these make the scene at the likely Froyo demo at Google I/O this week. Even if we don’t get everything discussed here at this year’s event, we hope to see it in the future. What sort of features are on your wish list?
Who said? Ryan Whitwam said ;).