What Android is missing in terms of usability

Note: This post compares the latest Android available at the time of writing, Android 11, coupled with Samsung’s One UI v3.1.1. Also note that the post below came after about 2 weeks of Android use, so it’s entirely possible that I missed some of the features or options that might’ve been there. If that is the case, give me a shout.

Android and I

I’ve been an iPhone user for many years. Twice in the past, I’ve switched to Android, and gone back to iPhone. Android still had a lot to catch up on.

But when the Samsung Flip 3 phone was announced, I got excited to try it out. A practical yet foldable phone has been the holy grail of phone makers, and many previous attempts have finally let us arrive at the Flip 3, which actually works, without compromising on many of the usual features of a phone. I had to lay my hands on one of these.

Mix in a little kindness of a relative, a sprinkle of delivery magic and the new Flip 3 arrived.

The initial switch from iPhone to Android was actually quite painless, made possible by Samsung’s Smart Switch app that looks up and installs the apps and other details from your iPhone to your new Android. But having used it for about 2 weeks now, I can tell what usability issues still linger on, and why most people might find the iPhone just more intuitive, easy to use and just-works etc.

Let’s get into what the problems are.

Plug it in, and it won’t turn on

The phone battery running out is a pretty common phenomenon, and what you do next is of course, plug it in. However, while iPhone would turn itself on after you plug it in, (usually taking a minute or so), Android likes to stay turned off. You must turn on the phone yourself. I haven’t come across a setting that can change this behaviour.

Why is it a problem? Well, it makes me wait. Or pay attention to something I don’t want to pay attention to. Or may be it’s just confusing to remember whether I turned my phone on after I plugged it in. Either way, it’s not a pleasant experience.

Won’t it charge much faster if it’s off? Apparently, the difference might be negligible, from what I can find on the web. May be someone more knowledgable can answer it.

Today, phones are a ubiquitous requirement of our lives. If I’ve ran out of juice, I’d rather stay connected with the world, even if it means charging for a couple minutes more, than staying turned off by default for the 2 hours the phone is plugged in for charging. Android wants to make me wait. And it makes me [think too](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Make_Me_Think). Thinking in terms of remembering if I have turned it on after plugging in. I don’t want to have to do this myself.

Searching for an app? You must do two things

Searching for an app is perhaps the most common thing I do on my phone. While it’s easy to search (and the search is more powerful than what iPhone does), the interface expects me to do two things:

  • I must swipe up to bring up the apps interface
  • I must tap the search input field to bring up the keyboard.

This is in contrast to the iPhone implementation, which brings up the keyboard by default. I am not sure of the constraints here, but bringing up the keyboard seems by far the most common use-case. If it is, why does the Android expect the user to do this 2nd step every time?

I am at a complete loss here. May be if the keyboard is not brought up, you are meant to admire the default view of your apps for a second, before the keyboard takes up half of the view? Whatever the reason is, Android would do well to at least provide a settings option so people like me can finally stop whinging about it, and also consider whether one action to bring up search AND keyboard is something most people would want.

Notifications have a mind of their own

The notification order

Notifications are a primary way of iteracting with a smartphone. However, with Android, the order in which the notifications appear, seems to be per category, not in a chronological order. I am not sure if I can change this, but I always prefer to have the latest notifications at the top, not the ones that I’ve already seen and not dismissed for whatever reason. Android might think a conversation is more important for me, but I might be looking for just the latest.

The notification sizing and interface

Android’s notifications seem to be condensed, and compact. iOS takes the opposite approach, and keeps the notifications large and obvious. You might have to scroll down a bit more on iOS, but I find the large, easy-to-read notifications much easier to consume.

Animations are a nice to have

Unlike iOS, Android keeps animations as a nice to have. This means that animations and the over fluidity of motion takes a back seat, and other system functions take precedence. While it makes no sense to prioritise animations over other useful functions, we gotta remember that the ‘perception of usability’ is widely regarded by users as actual usability. Users think of a product with apparent better characteristics (such as smooth animations or better aesthetics) to be more ‘usable’. This effect seems to be spill on to the choice Android has made here.

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