How Google should fix Android's shortcomings

We'll soon know the cool new mobile capabilities in store -- but don't let that cause long-standing irritations to go unresolved

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Clean up the UI
Android often lacks iOS's consistency, but it also has brought truly useful features like the notification tray and easy-access common settings to the mobile world that users love. One of Android's hallmarks is that each manufacturer can adjust the code after release. As a result, the user interface can vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer. But if Google cares about getting Android accepted in businesses -- rather than let Samsung take over that market -- it should establish a few standards:

  • The icons for the standard apps, such as Settings and Email, should not be changed.
  • All devices have a settings option to revert to the standard Android home page. That would apply equally to HTC, Samsung, and Google; its Google Play overlay is just as annoying to a support technician as the HTC One's Facebook Home or Samsung's variation of the home screen. I applaud the desire to add value to the basic platform, but give us a "revert to default" option to help support staff, trainers, and people who switch manufacturers. We can have our variation cake and our consistency cake, too.
  • Require device makers and carriers to have users run an installer for all their bloatware, rather than allow it to be preinstalled. Yes, a user can delete unwanted music players, for example, but many users fear doing so because they don't know what each does, and they don't want to spend hours figuring them out. If Samsung, HTC, Verizon, AT&T, or so on wants to suggest special or self-serving apps for the user to install, fine -- but don't bury the user in bloatware at the outset.

There are also a bunch of UI quirks and rough edges that Google should take the time to fix:

  • Rework the "Jelly Bean" onscreen keyboard so that the new Input Method stops getting in the way of typing. Consider making the numeral row standard, as it is in Samsung devices.
  • Rework the "Jelly Bean" lock-screen widgets so that they're easier to add and access. Right now, it's hugely unintuitive.
  • Add iCloud IMAP setup to the Email app. That would tweak Apple and might ease some Apple-based users into the Google world. iCloud email is standard IMAP, but Apple keeps the settings opaque, so most users won't know how to do this on their own.
  • Add a notes app. This is a very simple but very useful app, especially when it supports Exchange and IMAP notes for automatic syncing across PCs and mobile devices.
  • Add a clock app. The various widgets aren't very good, and doing simple things like setting a countdown timer (such as for a parking meter) or an alarm is harder than it should be in Android. (Samsung has a good Clock app on its Android devices.)
  • Have the Calendar icon show the current date. Yes that's copying iOS, but Google's done that before. It's a thoughtful touch to have a live calendar icon, and this is a point that ex-iPhone users often raise as a frustration.

I don't think any of this is too much to ask. Google, when will you deliver?

This article, "How Google should fix Android's shortcomings," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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