The one thing I like the most about Android is the ability to add new capabilities that were not part of the device by downloading relevant apps, thanks to the open APIs that I believe only Android provides to developers. Don’t like the keypad? Download a third-party keypad app. You want a Galaxy S4 like smart stay feature? There’s an app for that too! Think the phone’s default dialler is not good enough for you? Yeah, you can change that as well. But it is also the thing I hate the most about Android. Why do users have to go looking around for alternatives? Yes, having the option to change the default stuff is good, but I believe users are increasingly being forced to change the core user experience of Android smartphones because smartphone vendors are not doing enough. Let me rephrase that, I believe smartphone vendors are ruining the core out-of-the-box user experience in the name of differentiation.
I spent this weekend setting up the HTC One as my primary Android smartphone. And when I say I spent my weekend, I actually spent it just to get the phone’s settings and UI right. And it is not an HTC thing, it resonates with almost every tier-one smartphone vendor where they probably spend millions of dollars reworking stuff like keypads, web browsers and things like that, which most users undo within the first few hours. I never understand why would any company want to put their version of a web browser on a phone that provides an inferior experience than the default Android browser. And the little said about the keypads, the better. Google’s default keypad experience is among the best I have encountered but smartphone makers insist on putting their own keypad on top, forcing users to search the Play Store and find the best keypad alternative for them.
While most manufacturers spend time and money fixing everything that’s right in Android, they surprisingly don’t fix things that are actually broken in Android. The video player, for instance. Surprisingly, most Android smartphones from top brands are unable to play ‘.mov’ video files, which also happens to be the format that the iPhone shoots its videos. So if you have iPhone users in your friend circle or family who mail you a video shot from their device, chances are you won’t be able to play it on your newly bought Android smartphone unless you download a third-party video player. And what’s up with the “default” email clients that most vendors put on their phones? I’m yet to come across anyone who uses them.
I just don’t get it. If you are spending millions of dollars in “enhancing” the user experience of your products, why should users be driven to download third-party alternatives for things that they use the most as soon as they unbox their new phones? Instead, what we get are features that majority of users would never use. And it is getting worse.
The 16GB Galaxy S4 model, for instance, had just 8.82GB of internal storage available for users, thanks to all the customizations Samsung did with TouchWiz. The appalling thing is even with all the customizations, users still had to download most third-party apps for core functions. The HTC One is no different. It comes with pre-installed apps like WeChat, 7Digital, Parent Dashboard, Kid Mode and whatnot, which cannot be uninstalled. And these are not even apps that would appeal to a majority of users. HTC spent millions of dollars in developing and marketing Zoe, its smart camera app but the phone cannot even play a ‘.mov’ file? And these two are considered to be the flagship Android smartphones!
Here’s my request to all smartphone vendors. Please stop fixing what’s already fixed in Android. Please stop putting crapware on top of Android for the sake of differentiating. And finally, when you say user experience, mean it.