Android is huge. This year alone, it will outsell all Windows, OS X, and iOS devices combined, although many of these sales won’t come with Jellybean installed or even with the prospect of it ever being installed. And the Android user base is nearly as fragmented as the OS itself. Its wide reach has brought together a strange group of folks from all points along the tech-savviness spectrum.
While messing around with the classic Androidify, I came up with these four umbrella groups that I think capture most of the total Android user base. Some of these groups overlaps (The Hardcore Hacker and The Holo Purist, for example) while others are obviously mutually exclusive.
The Hardcore Hacker
Raison d’être: To take advantage of Android’s flexibility via custom ROMs, rooting, and power-user apps.
Quintessential apps: XDA-Developers, Titanium Backup PRO Key, Tasker, Paranoid Android Preferences, ROM Manager (Premium), various custom keyboards
Device of choice: anything that can run their latest creation
Modding an Android device is enormously popular, especially in the US. Developers in particular can take advantage of Android’s less locked-down structure to make it look like nearly anything. Rooting can also get rid of unwanted bloatware and allow for more nuanced battery management.
The Holo Purist
Raison d’être: to show off how pretty and elitist Android can be; to show off that Android users actually care about design.
Devices of choice: Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, “Nexus Experience” phones (maybe)
Google has created a nice aesthetic with Holo, its recommendations for 4.0+ app design. A Holo Purist would lean heavily on Google’s own apps at the expense of third part alternatives, but she would also seek out non-Google apps that followed the same guidelines, too. I consider myself part of this category.
The Accidental Android User
Raison d’être: to use a phone that is more affordable than the iPhone
Quintessential apps: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Candy Crush Saga, Snapchat, Pandora
Devices of choice: HTC Evo 4G, Samsung Galaxy S2 (or S3), Amazon Kindle Fire
The Accidental Android user may not regard their phone as anything more than a phone. They likely use Android because of cost or carrier encouragement or (in rare cases) extreme anti-Apple bias. Their apps are likely to be hugely popular apps that aren’t differentiated much between platforms or which are popular alternatives to SMS and niche Google Services.
The Overzealous Reviewer
Raison d’être: to announce that she isn’t using an iPhone/iPad and that this new Android device might just be “the best smartphone, period” after running it thru a real-world use case like looped video streaming on maximum brightness with Twitter running in the background.
Quintessential apps: The Verge, Evernote, Twitter, Rdio, Spotify, Netflix
Devices of choice: HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4
This category is an outgrowth of the huge media “Apple is doomed” meme, in which some of the most technically powerful Android phones are analyzed in terms of irrelevant specifications like gHz or video playback endurance (the latter doesn’t even matter much unless you install a third party player) rather than user experience. The S4’s Geekbench score vis-a-vis the iPhone 5 is a good example. Also, one need not be a professional reviewer to fit into this category.
Smartphone OSes have evolved to the point that they deliver experiences more akin to traditional computer OSes (OS X, Windows) than to anything that once ran on mobile phones (I’m thinking almost anything pre-iPhone, but especially BlackBerry and Symbian). iOS 7’s huge leap ahead into a paradigm dominated by high GPU requirements and by first-party options for audio/video calls (FaceTime, which now supports audio), messages (iMessage), and bulk file transfer (AirDrop) severs many of its ties with the carrier-dominated devices of years past. iOS once used obvious textures to invite input from users more used to hard-button carrier decks with plane-jane software, and so its revitalization as a more translucent, slightly flatter OS encapsulates its maturity.
Android was never as plush and textured as iOS, perhaps because it had originally been designed for BlackBerry-like phones with hardware keys and then proceeded thru a series of hurried changes that culminated with the apparent maturity of Jellybean. But there are still many vestiges of old-school “this is a phone, not a smartphone” thinking in its design. Here are five that really could use a facelift
Visual Voicemail by Default
Google hasn’t done much with Google Voice, which it purchased from GrandCentral over four years ago. It isn’t a system app and it performs poorly as an SMS solution, too. Android has no default support for visual voicemail, so Voice and various paid solutions like YouMail. Perhaps this issue shall be fixed once Google folds Voice into Hangouts. This voicemail setup may be a carrier issue, though, and as such hard to implement except on stock devices.
Keyboard and Dictionary Improvements
The Google Keyboard is decent, but its accuracy and comfort still don’t match third-party alternatives like Swype. One of its most annoying features is its save-to-dictionary function, as seen here:
Am I supposed to tap the word that the arrow is pointing to, or the text to the right of the arrow? Basic usability improvements here could make the default keyboard friendlier and easier to use.
Quick Text/Rich Notifications for SMS
Gmail supports rich expandable notifications that permit immediate replies or archiving. By contrast, the SMS app is barebones, with none of that. I can understand the design decision, perhaps: Google wants users to use Hangouts or Talk over the carrier-dependent SMS. But with Google wanting to get into every niche, why shouldn’t it try to cop some features from the excellent Sliding Messaging Pro (seen in above shot), which permits a persistent Quick Text notification/widget and an expandable reply/read/delete notification.
A better Camera app
The Android camera app, with its inscrutable radial menu and logos, has “this is a cameraphone, not a camera” written all over it. It’s 2013; every smartphone is a cameraphone by definition. Hiding all of the options in deference to a “clean” radial menu only makes things more complex, not more simple. They should also just fold the stock Gallery app’s filters/editing features into the Camera. Currently, they’re buried deep in the Gallery app. The apparent Android 4.3 redesign is small step forward, but it still seem part of the same backward mindset as its predecessor.
A Native Podcast App
The iPhone’s stock Podcasts app is no great shakes, but Android doesn’t even have one. For the niche geeky audience that Nexus/stock devices cater to, a stock podcasting client seems like a no-brainer.