I am a little disappointed with the Android operating system, not gonna lie.
If you've been following my exploits over the past few weeks, you know that I've been in search of a new phone to replace that-which-was-sacrificed to the Maximum PC community in a vain effort to prove my loyalty to the PC platform. And by that, I mean the non-Windows platform, because my latest purchase--a fancy new Android-based phone--isn't really a "PC" in the "it runs Windows" sense of the word.
In switching to an Android device, I've encountered a heck of a number of obstacles that simply don't exist on the good ol' iPhone, for better or for worse. I'm not going to compare the two platforms; You've read enough of that lately. I just find it strange that an open-source phone would have so many challenges over elements that, in theory, open-source should enhance, not hinder.
First off, there's the phone itself. Given that the phone's operating system is presumably open-source, it's frustrating to find that I can't modify the various apps and elements preinstalled on the device. It irritates me that I'm forever stuck with what said phone's manufacturer deemed as the "default" applications that my phone should have. I can't uninstall the lame games; I can't uninstall the Twitter reader; I can't uninstall the finance tracker. Help!
Now it's all well and good that Android--again, perhaps just the version that exists on my phone--comes with a wide assortment of options, and configurations, and screens, and apps, and widgets and... get where I'm going with this? The first time I fired up my phone, I didn't know what the heck I was doing. It's not like I'm new to smartphones, and I would definitely consider myself the kind of person who has no problem running through menu, after menu, after menu, just to customize his device to his liking.
That said, what the heck, Android? So many of the apps are so similar in functionality--clock, desk clock, car panel; Gmail, Mail; et cetera--that it defies logic as to why they're split up in such granular detail. I said I wouldn't compare Android to Apple's mobile OS but... come on. If I want mail, I want to click on one icon--"mail." If I want a clock, I want to click on one icon--"clock." Simple, easy, efficient, and I won't have 25 extra icons littering up my list of available programs to launch which, as noted above, I cannot hide or remove.
While Android's great strength is that it can combine all sorts of different features across different screens and environments, it's also the operating system's greatest weakness. Case in point: The contact list.
Little did I know that that my default linking of my phone to both my Google and Facebook accounts would suddenly populate my phone's contact list with every single instance of anyone's information that I know. As well, I soon realized that I couldn't automatically dump these contacts--like the 700+ phone numbers generated from my Facebook friends--into my own "friends / VIP / family / attractive members of the opposite sex" group. Of course, Android has no desktop application to best facilitate this organization, save for its default synchronization capabilities to apps like Microsoft Outlook and what-have-you.
I don't bring these issues up just to vent needlessly. Even though I'm a newb to Android, I'm nevertheless quite happy with the operating system in general. It just suffers from the same faults that I notice in a number of other open-source applications: Throwing the kitchen sink at a challenge instead of developing a thoughtful, easy-to-understand, UI-appropriate solution. It's the shotgun approach to development instead of the laser-focus, one that's not quite at the level of "feature bloat," but is nevertheless taxing for an average consumer to fully understand.
The solutions, in this case, are obvious: slim it down, by shrinking the main application list to a more manageable level and by hiding all the "contacts-related" features in a single "contacts" app, for example. As well, truly walk the user through scenarios that might otherwise result in shock and awe instead of just asking, "Do you want to connect your accounts by default?" And, of course, an open-source phone should be just that. Embody the spirit the phrase entails and allow users to modify their phones, sans hassle, to whatever degree they see fit.
And that's just the phone itself. Be lucky I don't have another 800 words to lament about the Google Apps Marketplace. Oof.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software.