posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 19th Dec 2011 20:11 UTC

Crapware; iTunes; Applications; Notifications

Crapware

The T-Mobile NL Galaxy SII wasn't too stuffed with crapware, but the stuff that is there is still annoying and pointless. I could've just stuffed the crapware in a folder or something, which would've solved the problem - mostly. However, obsessive-compulsive as I am, I proceeded to root my device and 'freeze' the applications; this doesn't actually delete them, but rather just completely disables them and removes all references in the operating system. This way, if you accidentally 'freeze' an application you shouldn't have, you can simply unfreeze it and be on your merry way.

The problem here is that what is crapware to some, is useful software to others. For me, iOS on my iPad 2 is riddled with crapware as well; Newsstand, Music (iPod), Videos, Photo Booth, YouTube, Notes, Maps, iTunes, Game Center, Reminders, Messages, and FaceTime are all applications I never use, but they still take up valuable space on both my home screen as well as the iPad's storage. However, I can't remove them. Heck, I can't even stuff Newsstand in a folder! Infuriating.

To me, crapware is stuff that comes pre-installed but that I don't use. On Windows, you can simply remove crapware, but on mobile phones, the issue is more complex. On Android, you can generally root your device and remove or freeze crapware without losing the ability to get operating system updates; on iOS, you could jailbreak "your" device, but that cuts you off from operating system updates. Rock, meet hard place.

Of course, I'm well aware that I'm probably one of the few people who would consider the mentioned iOS applications as crapware. The issue on Android is far larger because more people will consider T-Mobile's "TopApps" as crapware than iOS' Photo Booth. However, in my view, the issue is not the applications in and of themselves, but the fact that even on a device you pay good money for and that is supposedly yours, you are not allowed to remove applications without either rooting (Android) or rooting and cutting yourself off from OS updates (iOS).

That is the real problem here, and of course ties in with the larger problem of both carriers and device makers taking ever more control away from us users. In my view, Google should demand carriers and device makers do not block us from removing applications, or else make their devices fail the Android compliance tests.


iTunes

I already touched upon this subject, but one of my favourite Android 'features' is the fact that it doesn't come with iTunes. iTunes is slow (even on my quad core with 8GB of RAM), complex, hard to use, and bloated (feature-wise). Apple also refuses to put any work into properly integrating iTunes into Windows; it uses its own theme with zero integration, and maintains its own separate music database instead of just adopting Windows 7's Libraries which are used consistently throughout the rest of the operating system.

It's basically Apple's Flash.

Samsung ships something called Samsung Kies with the Galaxy SII, a sort of iTunes clone which is even worse than iTunes (if you can believe it). However, you can just ditch Kies and use the USB mass storage feature of Android to drag and drop content onto your device. For me, this is one of the major selling points for Android.

While some might argue iTunes is better for ordinary users, I highly disagree. I get phone calls from my parents and my friends almost on a weekly basis about cryptic iTunes messages, music that won't sync, scary warning dialogs about losing content during updates, and so on - and they use iTunes on both Apple and Windows PCs. I told my mother you can just drag and drop content on your Android phone, something she already knows how to do instinctively, and now she's seriously pondering jumping ship in a few months when her contract expires.

This is a major feature, and deserves more attention.


Applications

Like on iOS' App Store, 95% of the applications in the Android Market are crap. Both Google and Apple like to boast about how many applications they have in their application stores, but it's pretty clear that quantity does not mean quality in this regard. Both platforms have a small number of excellent applications, with a long, long tail of useless and ugly crap dragging behind them.

Coming from Windows Phone 7.5, the Market was a relief since the WP7 Market Place had very little Dutch content in it at the time, while also lacking in other areas. The Android Market is more like the iOS App Store in that you'll be hard-pressed not to find the kind of application you're looking for. The sheer popularity of Android has ensured that application developers will take the platform into account, and I have yet to encounter a case where there was no Android equivalent of an iOS application.

Vice-versa is a different matter altogether, however. Due to Android's more open nature and the ability to root Android devices, the Android Market is filled with applications Apple would never allow. Better lock screens, launchers, keyboards, on-screen hardware switches that aren't hacks, file managers, terminals, and god knows what else.

Still, like the iOS App Store, the Market also suffers from overload. If you know exactly which application you want to install, it's easy enough to find it. However, when you don't know exactly what you want, and all you have to go on is "an application that does xyz", both the App Store and the Market application on the phones are utterly useless. There's just too much noise.

In other words, the best way to find applications for your device is still the web, where you'll generally find links to the web version of the Android Market. After logging in with your Google account, you can send the application straight to your device from the web - without ever leaving your browser. On iOS, you're forced to open iTunes, and there's no send-to-device option for iOS.

One of my favourite features of the Android Market is its ability to silently and automatically update applications in the background. This ensures my applications are always up to date, without me ever having to do a thing. You can turn auto-updating off for specific applications, or turn it off altogether.

All in all, there's far more interesting content in the Market than in the App Store (i.e., applications Apple would never allow), and the additional features of the Market make it a far more pleasurable experience for me than the App Store.


Notifications

More so than on desktop operating systems, notifications are a crucial aspect of a smartphone operating system. Due to the limited screen real estate, it's pretty difficult to create a notification system that doesn't interfere with what you're currently doing but still shows enough information to be useful. On top of that, since applications are either killed when you close them (iOS) or killed whenever the operating system decides to do so (Android), you need a technical solution for that, too.

From day one, Android had a good notification system. The drawer you drag down from the status bar stores up all the notifications you receive, and applications can put a little icon in the top left to indicate a notification has been received. On top of that, text scrolls through the status bar upon receiving a notification to provide some more details. It doesn't interfere with what you're doing.

The notification drawer can be used for other things as well. For instance, operations that are ongoing can show progress bars here, like downloads, Facebook photo uploads, application installations, or whatever else. Some Android application launchers, including Samsung's TouchWiz, also put a number of hardware switches here, like wifi, BlueTooth, and so on. In addition, audio player controls show up in the drawer as well.

In fact, the system is so good Apple did the right thing and copied it for iOS. Apple's implementation does a few things right, and does a few things worse. What it does better is that iOS lists each individual notification per application, whereas on Android, multiple notifications for a single applications are grouped together. So, if you have two or more new emails, it just shows something along the lines of "thomholwerda@osnews.com (2)", without actually providing information on the contents of these emails. On iOS, each new email gets its own entry, making it easier to see just what your new emails are about.

The iOS notification system also does a few things worse. First and foremost, a notification on iOS still covers a part of the screen, interfering with what you're doing. On several occasions, I've wanted to tap something atop the screen on my iPad, only to get a notification right at that time and jump to the application in question. In addition, Apple does not put any hardware switches in the notification drawer (or anywhere else for that matter), making it much harder to manage the hardware in your iOS device.

Overall, both systems are pretty much the same, and in the case of iOS, a vast improvement over its older and incredibly insipid modal dialogs.

Table of contents
  1. Introduction
  2. Hardware; Overall feel; Consistency; Polish
  3. Crapware; iTunes; Applications; Notifications
  4. Multitasking
  5. Flexibility; Google, get your #*$@ together
  6. TouchWiz; Misc.; Conclusion
  7. Screenshots of my device
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