Ice Cream Sandwich: Death by paper cuts

by Jon Gjengset

I’m a big fan of Android. I have written a few apps, have two phones running it, and I happily recommend it to friends. There is one problem though; the Android experience is riddled with paper cuts. Seemingly minor annoyances that all together make for a frustrating user experience. Google attempted to mitigate some of these in Ice Cream Sandwich, but they somehow managed to introduce a slew of new ones.

In June 2010, Mozilla started the Paper Cuts project. This aimed to fix a lot of the minor quirks that annoyed people working with Firefox all day. I believe it’s about time Google does the same with Android. We don’t need another full overhaul, we just want a more polished experience. So, without further ado, my Android paper cuts:

  • There is no way of hiding applications from the application launcher without uninstalling or disabling them. I don’t use Places, but I still want Google Maps…
  • And why can’t the search bar on top of the homescreen be hidden? Personally, I have never used it. Not a single time. Why should it occupy an entire row on my homescreen?
  • Enabling and disabling auto rotate requires a swipe, three taps and multiple presses of the back button to accomplish. Get real. At least automatically enable rotate when watching video… There are so many ways this could be done: Long click back button, in the power menu, in the notification drop-down. Please give us a shortcut.
  • The whole point of having soft buttons is that they are context aware. This does not just mean hide in fullscreen and rotate. Why is the back button visible when there is no back action? Why is the home button there if I’m already on the homescreen? Couldn’t these provide shortcuts for more useful features in these instances?
  • Why oh why does long click on the soft buttons not have any effect? They are always present, why not utilize them? Toggle auto-rotate for instance… Long press the recent applications button could switch to the latest open application to make switching between two applications very easy.
  • In general, getting to anything takes too many taps. Try setting an alarm. Open app drawer, click clock, click set alarm, click add alarm. Isn’t this common enough that four clicks is a bit too much?
  • The menu button. Or the action overflow. Call it what you’d like. Make it consistent. Why does it appear in three different places? Actually, I don’t want to know why. I just want it to be consistent.
  • Android Market is too slow. It should not take over a second to load, even with a very slow internet connection. Cache the previous content and show that immediately, then update it when fresh information comes in. Usually, we go to the market for a specific action, like opening My Apps. It shouldn’t be necessary to wait for, or even load, the frontpage… We need to see a quick reaction to our inputs.
  • And can someone please fix the millisecond delays that are present for almost every single action? It’s just enough to be noticed, which is not a good thing. This is especially noticeable when using the soft buttons, since they are so often used. I don’t care what is causing it. I’ve read all the blog posts on applications doing too much work on the GUI thread or the fact that user interaction events are prioritized as high as on iOS. I don’t care. It has to be fixed.
    • I have a suspicion that the reason many of these actions feel slow is the little animations that have been placed everywhere in ICS. Closing an app with the back button should not take close to a second – even with animations.

These minor things, and many more like them, taint the Android experience and make it inferior to what it could, and should, be.

Please Google, sit down with a group of your users and have them play around with an Android phone. Note down what bothers them even the slightest, and fix what you can. This will do more for users than any redesign. Make Android feel polished.