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Despite the widespread popularity of mobile devices, there are only two big smartphone operating systems in the world: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
Android is the one that far more people use. But despite its success and many improvements, there are still major points that Android gets wrong. Here are some of Android’s worst flaws that may cause you to think twice.
1. Google’s Tracking More of Your Life
Mobile phones are hardly private devices. Your SIM card has a dedicated number, and in order to make a call, your device must communicate with the nearest cell tower. In most cases, you provide your carrier with your name and address, so it’s easy for them to piece together who you are, who you call, and where you go.
Android gathers even more information about us. When you sign in with a Google account and use the default settings, Android gives Google details on who you call and text, what you search for, the websites you visit, and the apps you install. It’s easy for Google to piece together the places you go, the places you’ve discussed visiting, and the places you’ve thought about visiting.
This information is immensely valuable to advertisers, and when it comes to making money, Google is primarily an advertising company. That’s why there are so many ways Android can track you.
That’s not to say that you can stay private by using an iPhone. As the New York Times recently reported, an economy has grown around mobile apps tracking you every moment of every day. But Android consistently has a worse track record, and the situation gets grimmer as time goes on.
2. We’re Still Stuck With Bloatware
Carriers and manufacturers don’t like Android for the same reason we do. They love the freedom to preinstall whatever apps they want. This helps them create a brand identity that we, as consumers, might find attractive. If you like Samsung’s apps, or HTC’s style, or LG’s way of changing Android, you have to buy their phones.
Some phones come preloaded with carrier apps, video streaming services, games, office suites, and other tools. This can be convenient, but it also means we’re often stuck with software that we can’t remove. Apps like Skype or games like Need for Speed are great if you want them, but are just clutter if you don’t. This bloatware takes up space that you could otherwise use, and sometimes it slows down your device.
3. Android Updates Remain a Nightmare
Updates have become a fact of life for nearly all devices. Sometimes they download in the background without notice. Others require you to restart your system. On a game console, you may have to stare at a progress bar before you’re able to play.
On Android, updates are bonkers. Sometimes updates arrive on a regular, timely schedule. Other times, updates are nonexistent. The update experience depends on your manufacturer and carrier. When a new version of Android comes out, most existing phones will never get the update. Your safest bet is to buy a phone from Google, like the Pixel line.
While many people are upset to miss out on the latest features, the bigger issue is the lack of security updates. Without access to the latest software, older phones remain vulnerable to exploits that were fixed months or years ago.
4. Google Keeps Changing the Interface
The iPhone X is quite different from the original iPhone, but if you look at a screenshot from both devices, the core design remains the same. You have rows of app icons with a dock at the bottom containing your favorites.
In that same time period, Android has gone through several major redesigns. Remember Android Gingerbread? Back in 2010, it gave the iPhone real competition and became a version of Android that proliferated on phones for years. 2011 brought us Ice Cream Sandwich, which brought a new theme and replaced physical buttons with virtual ones.
A few years later, Android Lollipop introduced Google’s Material Design language, a look that has mostly stayed with us (though Android replaced the intuitive navigation icons for abstract shapes). Then, in Android Pie, Google removed the three virtual buttons at the bottom entirely, which had become perhaps Android’s most notable design element.
Is all this change bad? Not necessarily. But it does mean Android has less of a clear identity and makes it feel like an ongoing work in process. And just when you fall in love with a version, a new release comes along and changes everything. If you loved how Android felt five years ago, what’s available today doesn’t feel the same.
5. Too Much Depends on Google Services
In Android’s early days, it felt like a mobile platform with its own identity. You downloaded apps from the Android Market, not Google Play. You browsed the web using a generic web browser; phones didn’t come with Google Chrome.
Now Android feels increasingly like Google in your pocket. Much of the default software has gone away in favor of Google services, such as Calendar, Maps, and Photos. Some apps function without a Google account, but others leave you high and dry.
Google’s background services are also increasingly integrated into apps you download from the Play Store. Plus, Google is strong-arming carriers and manufacturers to ensure that its apps make it onto more devices. This is why the EU fined Google for billions of dollars.
If you don’t trust Google or just don’t like its software, using Android has always been a bit awkward. But with each release, separating the two gets harder. Android now feels more like Chrome OS, and Chrome OS feels more like Android.
6. Fewer Components Are Open Source
As Google ships more of its own apps, Android becomes less open source. Google now ships its own proprietary app launcher, web browser, search tool, navigation tool, and photo gallery; the list goes on. In the early days of Android, all these components were open source.
Rather than tweaking and improving on Android’s default software, custom ROMs now have to develop their own tools or rely on increasingly outdated apps. The version of Calendar that ships on LineageOS today feels like what came with Android KitKat in 2013.
Is Android Bad? Well…
On the contrary. Android, frankly, is a better OS than it was ten years ago. Today’s devices are more stable, more powerful, and get better battery life than models from a few years back.
And despite all the Google integration, you can still strip Google from the rest of the Android OS. Amazon Fire devices run Android and don’t have access to the Play Store. Many devices in China also swap out Google services for alternatives. I can still use a custom ROM and install an app store filled with free software. I may not feel happy about the direction Android has taken. But for the time being, while it may not be easy, I can still make an Android-powered phone my own.