I co-host a weekly podcast on the 5by5 network with Lifehacker founding editor, programmer, app-maker, and all-around reasonable tech person Gina Trapani. On this week's episode, we talked about Android 4.2, which I wrote about as a mixed bag last week. Since writing that, there has transpired one big Google Voice bug fix, an inaccuracy in my assessment pointed out to me, and a second take on Android 4.2
In short form, the first two updates:
Google Voice was fixed in a same-day update. It's still weird to think that Android 4.2 disabled a core Google mobile product for the better part of a day, but that's darned fast response.
I was wrong about how lock screen widgets work if you use a PIN, password, or gesture to lock your phone. That was due in large part to a third-party app I use to unlock my phone, which adds its own rules to the phone's security. You can view your lock screen widgets while still locked, and access the camera, but Google Now still requires unlocking.
As for Android 4.2, I tried to fit my thoughts into a rant, but both a commercial and my misinformation on the lock screen clouded the point. Here's what I was trying to say:
The thing that I like about Android, and which keeps me intrigued with it, is its customizability, and its generally more tweak-friendly nature over its competitors. But I think that customization and settings are not something that software should tout as a feature or an upgrade. That's where I feel 4.2 feels the most awkward and not quite full-tilt progress.
Gmail, on Android, works great from the first time you tap it. You already signed into your Google account during setup. The messages that are in your inbox are right there, and the buttons to interact them are fairly apparent. If you want larger text sizes, a different next action when you deal with an email, or a confirmation before sending a message, you can get them in the settings, which are neatly tucked in the upper right under a three-dot button, suggesting a kind of ellipses: "... and then there is this."
Android 4.2 has a lock screen that seems to constantly ask you to configure it. When you power on your screen after it was sleeping, you see a glimpse of two brackets on the sides of the screen. They're calling to you to add lock screen widgets on the left, and check out the no-unlock-needed camera on the right. There are only a few built-in widgets for the lock screen, and if you aren't so attached to your calendar and email as to regularly check them at a glance on your phone, the widgets in general aren't of that much use. Meanwhile, you see those brackets every single time you power on your phone.
The same goes for the twin shades that you can pull down from the top of the screen in Android 4.2. Android's notifications shade is one of the phone system's greatest features, and Apple's attempt to implement its own version has shown how uniquely useful the at-a-glance, easily dismissed, interactive notifications of many Android apps can be. In every version of Android before 4.2, you could pull down from anywhere near the top of the screen to see some or all of your notifications, depending on how far you pulled. In Android 4.2, on tablets like the Nexus 7 or 10, pulling from the top-left (and, usually, the dead center) brings down the notifications shade, but pulling from the top-right brings down a quick-settings toggle.
This feels like the concentrated essence of Android's tendency toward over-complicated customization: taking a well-liked UI feature, bifurcating it into something less casual and instinctive, and doing so to offer a whole bunch of settings toggles and shortcuts. Every so often, I expect to see some quick details about, say, the Facebook message I just received, but instead see proof that my screen is locked and my screen brightness is set to automatic sensitivity. That's a small thing that adds up to some tiring mental weight over time.
Does that make sense? Is it still apparent that I love Android, quite a lot, but can't pretend that adding more jobs for the user is what constitutes an upgrade?