Stop what, you ask? Stop being so damned arrogant. You’ve forgotten your own motto, “Don’t Be Evil” and you’ve missed sight of what made you the tech giant you are today.
I write this because yesterday, T-Mobile released Android 5.0.1 for the LG-G3 as an over the air (OTA) update. Jessica and I both have the LG-G3, and have been pretty happy with them. They were running Android 4.4.2. The reason we went with the G3 was primarily because of the screen and the camera. I’m used to Android 5.0, having a Nexus 7, a Nexus 10 and I recently got an NVIDIA Shield Tablet, which I’ll be reviewing later. These all run Android 5.x, so I knew what to expect. I saw the update for the G3 and installed it with no issues.
Jessica, on the other hand, had major issues. These issues are to the point where she had me hook up our land line again and has put her phone away. She refuses to use it now. No, there were no problems with the upgrade, it went fine and all the apps were updated and functioning as they should. The problem is the sweeping changes to the look and feel. She shouldn’t have upgraded, but she unfortunately listened to me when I said she should let her apps and software update to maintain security fixes and add features.
She wasn’t expecting the massive changes she got. The text from T-Mobile and LG was a single paragraph stating that it would upgrade her phone to Android 5.0 Lollipop. There was no indication that it would completely alter the look and feel of her phone. The first thing she noticed was the new soft-keys, they’re not intuitive. They do look like Playstation buttons. The old ones from 4.4.2 would have fit into the material design theme without looking odd at all. But, really, who would equate a circle into “home” or a square into “recent apps”? The second major thing was the keyboard, while there is an option to set it to the old style, the new style is jarring. LG’s keyboard isn’t much better and lets not even get started on the alternatives out there. The third thing that she hated was the recent task list. Previously it was a grid, which she used frequently to review something as she was typing something. Its much harder to see content of anything but the current task now. This should be configurable, but haven’t found a way to do it yet.
Now, to any enthusiasts or reviewers, these may all seem like minor issues. But when you add them all up, it made for a phone that she has to learn all over again, and decided its not worth her time, since she knows that she will have to relearn everything again when the next release comes out. And that right there is the real problem with software developers today (which is how I make my living, btw): They don’t consider their own target user base before they make sweeping changes. There is this almost frenzied vibe you get when you look at how the culture is. Everyone has got to be first to create this, first to report, or first to whatever. And because they’re not looking at it as “will my mother have to learn all over again, and will she be willing to?” they piss off most of their customers who just want to learn something and not have it changed constantly for reasons they can’t understand.
Google, you’ve been pandering to your own egos and those of the enthusiasts and reviewers only. The enthusiasts and the reviewers are the minority of your customer base. People like my mother or father, both in their late 70’s, use their Android phones. But when you start changing things like this, they’re going to put their phones down and stop using them. If you had simply maintained a theme from 4.4.x and used it by defaults for upgrades to 5.x, then Jessica might still be using her phone. Its when everything is different that people get angry. Look at Microsoft’s history with XP and then Vista, or Windows 7 and then Windows 8. People liked XP because it was a lot like Windows 98, which is the same reason people like Windows 7, because its similar enough to Windows XP. Vista and Windows 8 are abysmal failures because Microsoft thought it knew better.
The only reason that Android is as popular as it is is because its free. Phone manufacturers don’t have to pay to use it like they would Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry or even WebOS (or whatever its called these days), so they get more money when they sell their devices than they would if they licensed someone else’s OS.
So please, Google, go ahead and keep making software, but make sure that there is an upgrade and compatibility path for your customers and that new version won’t impact them, otherwise, I don’t see Android being as great a success as you want it to be. Google Play Services was a brilliant solution for some of the problems within Android, but the mere fact that its needed should be a warning sign for the future of Android and how its development has been approached.