Much like hardware, software goes a long way when it comes to the success or failure of a device. Whether the software is too boring, too glitchy or just plain ugly, there are many things that can go wrong after the hardware is perfected. Bugs and glitches are something we have to learn to live with when dealing with cutting edge technology and software. But there are just some things I can't overlook. Quite often these are things that should not be happening on such powerful devices. Since they go hand in hand and I touched on my gripes with hardware last night, I thought it would also be fitting to list my beef with the accompanying software.
Without further ado, here are the top five software hitches that can turn my love for a phone into unforgiving hate:
1. Freeze ups and lag
Without a doubt, the most annoying thing software-wise is a phone freezing up or lagging on you when you need it the most. It has happened to me on nearly every phone I've ever used, from the iPhone (no, that's not a typo) to Android and Windows Phone handsets. And BlackBerrys are notorious for the spinning clock of death. Even though they've updated the software and upgraded the processors, they still fall victim to some gruesome lag.
I understand the occasional hiccup or poorly coded application that can screw with a device's or platform's performance. But there are just some platforms (and customized versions of those platforms) that tend to lag worse and more often than others. Motorola's MOTOBLUR was one of the worst. Thankfully, Motorola moved on and toned down their Android customizations with MAP. Sense UI is also a large cause of lag on HTC handsets, and they, too, have vowed to optimize Sense. Nonetheless, even stock Android has a reputation for lag from time to time.
With each update, things appear to be getting better for each and every platform. But lag will always be something we have to deal with. I would just prefer to have to deal with it as little as possible.
A lot of you would probably group inconsistency and lag together. And by every stretch of the term, intermittent lag is an inconsistency, but that's not what I'm talking about. By "inconsistency," I mean flick scrolling in the browser one time and it moving down the page a small amount, and doing it again only to be quickly shot to the bottom of the page. Quite often, I find myself having to tap an icon twice, even three times before the touch registers and the application launches. And sometimes when trying to unlock my iPhone I can pull the slider all the way to the right of the screen and it will shoot back to the left when I lift my finger, leaving the phone locked. Every time this happens, I have to hit the power button and try again. Similar things have happened on various Android phones; the touchscreen simply will not register when I try to pull the lock tab down (or slide it across).
Even the time it takes to launch an application varies quite a bit from time to time. The worst application on every software platform out there, in my experience at least, is the camera app. Sometimes I can tap the camera icon and the app will be up and running in a split second; the next time it may take a full ten seconds for it to be opened and functioning properly. A lot of this can be explained by the app being stored in memory. With multitasking or task switching, an “open” or running application is stored in RAM, ready to be used again at any given time. If the application is not stored in memory, it can take longer to fully load, much like after rebooting your phone. But this problem still occurs after manually ending the problem application (clearing from memory) and trying again.
3. Over the top animations
If there is one thing that can ruin perfectly nice software quicker than anything else, it's animations. Those who value performance over visuals will likely feel the same. Don't get me wrong though, animations can be quite useful ... in moderation. A "rubber banding" page in the browser lets you know you've hit the top or bottom of the page. Windows that show some quick left to right transition when you hit the back button indicates that the touch was registered and keeps you from pressing "back" too many times and overshooting. But when I scroll through the pages of my home screen on an Android phone, I do not want to see a 3D cube or pages flipping and twisting. It may look nice, but animations use more memory and can stand in the way of performance.
Some of the worst software known for some crazy, unnecessary animations is HTC's Sense UI. Take the carousel animation that was added in Sense 3.0 for example. It's extremely slick, polished and fun to play with, but it serves no real purpose. There are hundreds of tiny animations that the end user will never notice – those are the ones that are most useful. They're extremely subtle, but you would probably notice if they were gone. The animations that stand out (you know, the ones you want to show off to your friends), however, are fun for a few days, but may have you pulling your hair out within a few weeks.
4. Unintuitive settings menus
Maybe I'm just lazy, but I hate having to navigate through several pages in a settings menu to toggle something. This is easily fixed on Android by some utility widgets, but even then, some of the "toggles" are only shortcuts to the settings page. Even after opening the Settings app, there are a lot of things placed in the most unusual places. The Settings menu pictured above (on the left) is from MIUI. It is a custom ROM, and even though I've installed this on my own accord, it still irks me from time to time. It's totally rearranged from the stock Android Settings app, which isn't the most intuitive to begin with.
The worst for this is iOS, mainly because it is also a hardware disadvantage. With Android phones, there is a hardware menu button (for now, at least), meaning you can access application settings for any app from within the app itself. Some iOS applications are coded this way with an on-screen button, and I praise developers who choose to do this. But a large portion of iOS applications have their settings aggregated to the root of the iOS Settings app (pictured above, on the right). Personally, it has never made sense to me why Apple chose to take this route, and I hope this gets changed in a future update.
Other platforms aren't in the clear either. BlackBerry's last two updates turn the Settings menu upside down. Items were grouped and renamed, and it took me weeks to relearn everything. Windows Phone 7 wasn't much better. It's not necessarily that any of these Settings menus are hard to navigate or difficult to figure out. It's just that I believe they could be laid out much more intuitively.
5. Notifications that won't go away
I hate for my notifications area to be cluttered. The worst platform for lingering notifications that I've come across is BlackBerry. Back in the day, I would get a BBM or an email notification that simply would not go away. No matter what. The infamous battery pull, marking "all as read" and even deleting the app and reinstalling wouldn't always fix the problem. But BlackBerry isn't the only one I've ran into this issue with.
The most notable cause for those stubborn notifications is voicemails. A few weeks ago, I switched phones on my T-Mobile line and had not yet setup Google Voice on my new phone. Someone called, I missed it and they left a voicemail. Great. I didn't know the password to my voicemail because I never set it up and can't access it – obviously because I use Google Voice. Clearing the notifications usually gets rid of all notifications on Android, but voicemails are one of the few exceptions on every platform.
A more recent problem that I've encountered are badge notifications (I hate badge notifications) that I can't get rid of on my iPhone. Both Facebook and Facebook Messenger were broken with the iOS 5 Beta 7 update and I get notifications all day long. Upon opening the app, it freezes then crashes, leaving the badge active. Granted, this is beta software, but it still gets under my skin as bad as lag or animations.