Since I began to use Android, with 2.3 Gingerbread, the system has evolved a lot. Even so, when I want to upgrade to new versions, I’ve been pretty much forced to jump to new manufacturers each time. I started with HTC, then went to Samsung, and now use a Nexus 5 that’s running the latest Android KitKat updates. I’ve also got an Android tablet, but use it and my phone for very different things.
The Google Play Store has a lot of great apps for all my uses, but sometimes I feel like there are limits to just how useful they can be. Generally, I use Google apps for things like email, music, and sharing files. I use other major apps to help with productivity, but I don’t mirror a lot of apps on both the smartphone and tablet.
With 2013 coming to a close, I took a look at the apps I’ve used over the year and how they could be improved. I came up with lots of points, so take a look at my 2014 Android wishlist and see if you agree.
Google Play Music
What I really want is a unified Google Play Music experience. This would include a Chrome app that works outside the browser, a better Music Manager for uploading, and a smarter mobile app. While Google syncs a lot of data through its mobile and desktop apps, Google Play Music is a service that gets overlooked. It may be pushing All Access, but Google still needs to improve the base usability of the service.
Chrome app – Google Play Music functions like Google Keep. It can exist outside of the browser so you can stream music without needing an open tab.
Music Manager – The app hasn’t changed since the original release and offers no music ID management.
Google Play Music on Android – Sync played tracks
Google has a habit of leaving services stagnant for extended periods of time and Google Play Music is one of them. Even though it announced Google Play Music All Access and the “I’m feeling lucky” mix, it hasn’t improved day-to-day usability.
More apps supporting full immersion for Android 4.4
One of the biggest new features in Android 4.4 is allowing apps to go full screen, hiding the status bar and soft menu buttons. It’s disappointing that the apps I use that would most benefit from this haven’t yet implemented it.
These are mainly apps for reading. Google Play Newsstand is an app I use to read magazines and it generally knows when to hide the status bar.
The only third party apps that I’ve used that have implemented full screen immersion are Perfect Viewer and FBReader. Both are e-reading apps. Perfect Viewer is my favorite comic book reading app and FBReader is my go-to for e-books. Both apps were updated to support full screen mode within days of the release of Android 4.4. It would be great to see more apps supporting this feature, as it really lets e-books and other reading material take the space they need to shine.
Unified app experience
Android combined the phone and tablet interface with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and has continued to push for apps to work on both devices. While Android is officially taking a “developed for tablet” stance, developers need to make sure that if they offer a universal app, it works correctly. I saw a great example of how not to do it with Electronic Arts’ Battlelog app. In theory, it connects Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, and Medal of Honor: Warfighter statistics into a single app.
When the Battlefield 4 PlayStation 3 beta was available, I participated. Then when I picked up Battlefield 4 for the PS4, I attempted to access the app again, only to find that the layout on tablet had scaled incorrectly. It appears it’s trying to copy the layout of the web browser, but can’t display all the content.
The app also saw some serious server problems, making it useless for at least a week from the launch of the game. Currently, the app works well on smartphone, but still has issues on my Nexus 7 2nd Gen.
Second screen apps are becoming more common to serve an additional function for other media, but I still haven’t seen them get much use beyond gaming and watching movies. In 2014, I’d like to see something a little more imaginative.
Waiting for refinements
The apps that I use on a day-to-day basis work as I need them to. My basic productivity apps are the stock Android apps which work with little trouble. The improvements to the stock email app in Android 4.4 actually make it a better option than other apps available in the Google Play Store.
I use my smartphone for work and communication like email, social networks, and messaging. My tablet is for reading, watching video, and the occasional test for gaming apps. Even so, I enjoy apps that have connectivity on both mobile and desktop devices and that’s why I enjoy using Google services. In the Googlesphere, syncing between devices is great, although Google does need to be more transparent on updates and show the timeline of improvements. Outside it, however, the tablet/smartphone interchange isn’t so great, and it’s beginning to impact usability. When we see that change, a whole new world will open up to Android. I’m looking forward to it.