Is Android innovation slowing down? iOS is catching up and Android 14 needs to show that Google cares
For years, the Android platform was synonymous with customization. Want a phone that you can customize? An Android phone would be a better fit. First to support widgets, first with live wallpapers, first with lock screen customization, an always-on display option, the list went on and on. This combined with the open ecosystem gave Android a reputation for being the more robust system for some people.
But in recent years, things have slowly but surely begun to change. Some of the features that Android was known for pioneering made it to the iPhone, while those on Android were left out or completely abandoned. Apple had made a few staples of customization not only available on iOS, but much easier to set up and actually used by millions of people.
Lock screen widgets are a no-show on Android
Lock screen widgets on iOS 16 have proven to be very useful and Android has no answer
Lock screen widgets! Why are they so important? Well, simple: they are not a complete game changer, but they can be useful for absolutely everyone! Not everyone needs a custom home screen with crazy icons, but I imagine most everyone wants to be able to see the weather on their lock screen.
Lock screen widgets were the big new feature in iOS 16, which was unveiled almost six months ago and launched in October. Since then, we’ve heard nothing but radio silence from Google and Android phone makers. Pixel phones do not support lock screen widgets at all.
One exception here is Samsung, which has quickly rolled out what looks like a poor copy of iOS 16 a few months after its release. Theoretically, Samsung supports lock screen widgets. Realistically, to see these widgets, you have to tap the clock, which kind of defeats the purpose of having them in the first place. The whole idea of widgets on the lock screen is for them to be effortless, pick up your phone to see the widgets, put it back down, no need to interact with it.
Now of course Android still has some customization benefits! First, you can freely move the icons on the home screen! Apple has stubbornly refused to enable such an option for its iPhones, and it feels frustratingly backwards.
And yes, you can still get some really cool looks on Android that you can’t achieve on iPhone. On Android, it’s easy to download a custom launcher, change the icon pack, add some fancy widgets, and you’ll get a unique look that can be completely different from the default, while iOS is still a bit limited in this regard (but you can now easily change icons and completely transform the look of your iPhone with just one app and a few clicks).
The big problem with notifications
Xiaomi, OnePlus and others limit notifications so you can never be sure if you’ll get them in time
(Image credit – ArsTechnica, Ron Amadeo) Many Android phone manufacturers aggressively kill apps in the background
The other area where I feel the Android platform has failed to protect its users from bad system behavior is notifications.
Notifications on Android are still the wild wild west to this date! Will your Android phone deliver notifications on time? If you have a Google Pixel, the answer is yes. If you have another phone, the answer varies from “it depends” to “how the hell do I fix this?!”
The situation is completely out of control, and phone manufacturers such as Xiaomi and OnePlus are just two of the larger companies failing “Don’t Kill My App” test. These companies have implemented aggressive measures that kill apps running in the background, which means you won’t get notifications from these apps in real time, but only when you unlock your phone. This makes it easy to miss an important message or email.
There are some tools in the interface of some of these phones “lock” apps, but these tools don’t seem to work.
Android universal search
It is broken at best and non-existent at worst
The universal search feature on Android is something you’d think a search company would get right.
But right now, system search on Android isn’t just messy, it’s confusing.
First of all, do Android phones even have universal search? Most Android phones have some form of Google search built-in. Swipe from the right or left bottom edge on most Android phones and Google Assistant will launch. A longer swipe on some phones brings up a search screen. Is it universal search? No, it’s just a Google search.
Then you have a search bar in the app drawer. Is it universal search? On some phones like Samsung Galaxy devices it can, but on others like Xiaomi phones it doesn’t.
This makes simple searches much more difficult on Android. On an iPhone, I can easily type “Keyboard” and at the third letter a suggestion to jump directly to Keyboard Settings appears, which is exactly the expected behavior. A search for the term “keyboard” even in the settings app returns multiple results with confusing names that are hard to digest even for a smartphone veteran like myself.
The way forward
While all of these bits and pieces of the Android ecosystem aren’t deal breakers on their own, they collectively show how Google has neglected to improve key parts of the platform. This has become even more apparent as Apple adds features that have been missing for a long time and fills the gaps.
At the end of the day, my hope with this article is that it’s a small push towards a brighter future for Android. Let’s hope that Android 14 introduces something much more comprehensive than the usual security fixes.