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The INQUIRER Android Experiment: A call to arms for developers

It's all over bar more of my shouting
Fri Feb 21 2014, 15:20
android champagne

TWO WEEKS AGO we concluded The INQUIRER Android Experiment. It's time for me to wrap the whole thing up and try to draw some conclusions.

There's no question that the experiment was an absolute blast, and I am indebted to The INQUIRER's wonderful readers for sparking conversations and discussions along with every column. I'm also very grateful to the PRs and companies that made it possible by lending me many lovely toys, which have all gone back now. The whole thing would simply not have worked without you.

So what have we learned? We've learned that there's a lot to love about Android, but we knew that. But the challenge was to find out if it was possible to eliminate all other operating systems and use Android full time. The answer is no.

But why not? Well, it's mostly down to the hardware and software makers. It could have worked. Most of what I needed to get done, got done. But my colleagues will tell you that it happened slowly, too slowly. The hardware manufacturers have started to think big. I deliberately showcased some examples that go beyond 5in phones and 7in tablets. But operating system and apps aren't being adapted for these new devices fast enough.

Apps are still generally cut-down versions of the originals. Sometimes they are brilliant, like Photoshop Touch, which has a lot of the advanced features of the desktop edition. Others, like Skype, are simply dreadful, though as we reported, since I did the experiment Skype has released a major cross-platform update that might address some of my complaints.

However, more often than not I found myself not being able to finish tasks using the apps because app developers are still stuck in a 'no one will want to do that on a phone' mentality.

The news that Android will soon be able to house apps packaged from Chrome apps is, however, a big deal. It means that many functions written for Android's web-based sibling OS will be transferable to Android with little or no hassle. Add to that the news that Microsoft is considering allowing Android apps to run virtually in Windows and you can see that Android's mobile dominance is probably here to stay.

The other big problem is that Android still needs Windows. Although capable of software updates over the air, most of the time when the opportunity to upgrade arose I found myself needing to connect the device to a Windows machine with a USB cable. Of course, under my self-inflicted rules, I couldn't do that. When I eventually found - with some assistance from readers - a CD player that would work with Android, I couldn't use it because the setup required… you guessed it, a Windows computer. So if Android was all I had long term, I would find myself wanting.

The one thing I didn't manage to get hold of during the month was an Android PC. They do exist; they're few and far between, but they do exist. The reason I wanted to test an Android PC is simple - multi-window support. For my daily routine, I generally need three things open at once - Skype to communicate with the rest of the team, the web to research stories, and a text editor to write articles. For 31 days I had to have one thing open at a time and had to flip between the internet and the text editor to copy and paste a quote using a cut and paste system that invariably ended up copying exactly the words I didn't want.

However, there is help on the way. Samsung has already included a primitive multi-window feature in some of its most recent handsets, while LG has recently released an API for its own multi-tasking approach.

Getting multitasking right is the only hope for Android as a primary operating system. I'm not saying that it can't multitask at all, but it's fiddly. The upcoming converged Ubuntu OS will even bring floating windows to phones for the first time, so there really is no excuse.

Don't get me wrong. I love Android. It's still my favourite OS and this past month has given me a much larger insight into all the wonderful things that it does very well. But there are other things that it not only could be doing, but will need to do, if it is ever to pose a threat beyond its dominance of the mobile market.

Perhaps that's not what Google wants, though. Chromebooks are doing well, and Chromeboxes are on the way. But I'm not a cloud kind of guy. I would much rather have an Android computer with a terabyte of storage for physical files and native apps. The problem is that they don't exist yet, and perhaps they never will exist, which would be sad because it would mean that however long Android stays popular, it will never live up to its full potential.

So this is my request to Google, and to the Android developers. I've given you an entire month of my life to tell you what's right and wrong with Android. Now it's over to you. Go and make it brilliant, because it's Android, it's open and that means you can. It's time to cut the cord with Windows and let that little green robot stand on its own two feet.

Missed an episode of The INQUIRER Android Experiment? You can read the whole series here. µ


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