It may be the industry leader, but Android isn't without its faults

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: March 16, 2011

Android has come a very long way in a relatively short time. The smartphone market is volatile and fast-paced; one wrong move could send you spiraling to the bottom of comScore's next market share report. Google, however, has seemingly made many right decisions over the last two and a half years, setting their pride and joy at the top of many different lists and reports.

It was believed that it would take Android until February 2012 to beat out the iPhone for US market share. In reality, it took only until January of this year and that was only a month after the prediction was made. In fact, it also surpassed RIM – long-time holder of the US market share – last month for the number one spot in America. Android has also dethroned the very popular Symbian operating system and taken over as top mobile platform in the world. To say the least, all of these feats are impressive. And for all we know, this is just the beginning for Google and Android in the mobile realm.

Android has earned a dear place in all of our hearts and swept the market off its feet, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Looking beyond its accomplishments and digging beneath the surface, you will find several things in the operating system that Google desperately needs to focus on.

As much as I love it, Android is still far from being a well-polished product. Some of the issues are out of Google's hands. Being open source software and almost no vertical integration, you can't expect the tight-knit integration like HP will have with webOS devices or Apple has with their iOS bunch. It's a trade-off. Below are some of the areas that Android still falls short:

Consistency, bugs, and glitches

I recently started carrying an iPhone (don't worry, I carry an Android phone as well), simply because the software never – or rarely ever – glitches. I never experience any lag and it just plain works. The same can't really be said for any Android device I've ever owned. Being open source, Google only has so much control over this. If you download a poorly coded application and it force closes repeatedly, the blame usually gets shifted to Google's shoulders for being open source.

However, it's not always a third-party developer at fault. Sometimes Android will inexplicably hang. You hit the power button and slide to unlock and you wait...and you wait. After waiting a tad more, the launcher will force close and reload itself, or the device will reboot. I've experienced this on every Android device I've ever used. And this problem isn't isolated to just unlocking your device. It can strike at any time, in any app. In my two weeks of use with Android 3.0, hanging and random lag was less prevalent, but I did experience it a time or two.

Ease of Use

Many of Android's competitors are based on simplicity while the little green robot touts its seemingly endless customization options. Many feel that customization and simplicity are trade-offs. However, the introduction of Honeycomb says otherwise. Sense UI, TouchWiz, and MOTOBLUR are also attempts at making Android's limitless customization options a little more user friendly.

While some of these alterations make the face of Android a little easier for newcomers, there are portions of Android that could be much more simple. For instance, press the menu key from your home page or from within an app. Not all of your menu settings are always available in the 3 by 2 tile space. Occasionally, you will need to tap the “More” button to view all options. Needless to say, the operating system can be unnecessarily cumbersome at times. Recent updates have worked on this some, but it hasn't really been given enough attention yet. Here's to hoping for even more simplicity in the next update.

Notifications

If you install a third-party application that uses notifications (Twitter app, RSS feed reader, etc.), those settings are spread out throughout the individual applications. Even some native applications like Email, Gmail, Google Talk, and Messaging notification settings are within the settings menu for each respective application.

Notifications on most other operating systems are aggregated to a single notifications settings page. This needs to be put into place with Android. Jumping from one place to another just to set up notifications is an unnecessary hassle, and it can be very confusing to first-time users.

Battery life

Google has been focusing on power management in the most recent Android updates. I'll admit that things are getting better, like standby/idle time and the ability to monitor your battery usage. But Android is still power hungry and battery life is sporadic at best.

I first owned the CDMA HTC Hero and battery life was terrible, ranging from anywhere to 4 to 8 hours of use. I've worked my way through several different devices and have found myself settling in with the myTouch 4G. After tweaking some settings that require root access, I can now get up to 12 or more hours of moderate to heavy use before the phone powers off. However, I should not have to void my warranty just to make this possible.

This part is not all Google's fault. Some manufacturers fit their Android phones with pitiful batteries or displays that chew batteries up and spit them out, sometimes both. Take the HTC Inspire for instance. It ships with a 1230 mAh battery. In comparison to a standard battery at 1400 mAh or higher, that's considerably smaller. In use with Honeycomb, it's hard to judge exactly how much they have improved battery life. The XOOM is equipped with 3250 mAh battery and typically gets 10 or more hours of heavy use. It will be hard to tell until the next updates that our phones receive.

Google has already proven to us how powerful and easy it is for the masses to adopt its open platform. Android has already infiltrated and taken over the smartphone space. Next up are the tablet realm and auto world. If Google can get the kinks ironed out, their competitors are going to have a lot more to worry about.