Android is not just the biggest OS around. It’s arguably the best smartphone platform too. Even so, it’d take a committed Fandroid indeed to claim that Google has got everything right. Here’s our round-up of its most heinous car-crash moments.
1 Stalled update rollouts
In the early days of Android, the prospect of regular OS updates was a joy. Fast-forward to the last year or so and the picture isn’t quite so rosy. Six months after Gingerbread debuted on the Google Nexus S, it’s only last week that it rolled out to O2 and 3 in the UK.
The long waits for Gingerbread were preceded by similarly vexing delays for its predecessor Froyo, AKA Android 2.2 on pretty much every handset maker’s flagship phones. Frustration didn’t begin cover it.
2 Poor music offering
Music on Android phones has never been a strong suit. And that goes for the quality of the music apps available compared with iOS kit as well as the shonky stock music player. The lack of a native music store has also been a real bugbear.
Google Music Beta looks like a step in the right direction. But as lukewarm reviews testify, it still looks like a poor relation to the just unveiled iCloud, which crucially also has the backing of major labels.
3 Custom skin fiascos
Manufacturers love to slather their Android phones in skins. But we’d love them more if said customisations actually added to the experience of using the phones a la HTC Sense rather than just pointless animations and widgets.
Worse was that custom user interfaces often actually slowed down a lot handsets and drained battery life so fast that many cases you have to charge the handset twice in a day. And even worse yet is that they were usually the main reason behind the execrable delays they caused to rollouts of Android updates, while manufacturers toiled to make their tweaks compatible with new versions of the OS.
Perhaps the most egregious was Motoblur. It’s rare indeed to find someone who was prepared to stick up for it in the early days – although I’ll concede it’s now much improved. But it’s still hard to imagine anyone making a convincing case for it being better than vanilla Android.
4 This year’s malware outbreaks
Google’s free and easy open approach to Android Market is a big selling point. Especially for its original, core market of geeks. But this year’s two malware outbreaks – the first of which was thought to have affected 120,000-odd people – have put a different complexion on matters.
And the signs point to the problem getting worse before its gets better, with Juniper Research claiming that malware on the platform has risen 400 per cent in the last 12 months.
To Google’s credit, it acted quickly to remotely wipe affected phones of the nastiness. But I can’t be the only one who thinks that retrospective, reactive responses to the problem won’t cut the mustard for too much longer.
5 Motorola Xoom sales
Some analysts have estimated that these were in the low thousands in the days after it dropped. Others put the figure at a more respectable 100,000. But that’s still small beer compared with the iPad, which is on track to do eight million this quarter alone.
The thing is that it needn’t have been this way. The problem is that while Motorola’s rep in the US was rescued by the Droid, in Europe it’s seen as a superannuated brand with none of the cool factor of Android rivals HTC and Samsung. Had Google chosen one of those companies to bring the first Honeycomb tablet to market rather than poor, old Moto, it’d likely have been several times more popular.
6 Updates that bricked phones
O2’s stillborn HTC Desire Android 2.2 update that rendered UK users' smarties inoperable wasn’t the half of it. Some four years into the life of the platform and we’re not rid of the problem of supposed upgrades nixing handsets, after Droid X owners in the US this month reported getting the black screen of death when trying to download Gingerbread.
7 Dell Streak
Is it a tablet? Or a smartphone? Who knows? It’s too small to be the former. And at five inches across, too big to be the latter. But the Streak’s rap sheet didn’t end there. It was also laggier than the thickest pipe insulation and managed the feat of being heavyweight but cheap at the same time. In a nutshell: if you bought the Streak it might’ve put you off Android for life.
8 Apps breaking phones
According to Motorola head honcho Sanjay Jha, 70 per cent of phones returned to them as faulty have been broken by badly made, sub-standard apps. Of course, like Mandy Rice Davis once commented, "he would say that".
But even so, it’s yet another example of how Google’s laissez-faire approach to its platform may need a rethink.
9 Assault and battery
It’s a fact of life that smartphone batteries aren’t all they should be. But the staying power of some of the highest-end Android kit (the Desire HD and Samsung Galaxy S) was shocking even by those lowered standards.
Fixes have come along with OS updates, of course. But having to switch off features with your power control widget to eke more than a day’s battery life out of your expensive smartphone really wasn’t good enough. At all.
10 Sharp Aquos Hybrid
With a 16-megapixel snapper and 3D display support, Aquos can’t be accused of skimping on specs for the Hybrid. So it's even more baffling that they chose to pack those features into a cheap, fugly clamshell form factor of the sort that we haven’t seen since the Motorola RAZR range was cutting edge.