web analytics

Bill Bennett

Menu

Tag: Android

Google’s Android is the most popular smartphone operating system – that doesn’t make it the best or the most important one.

Android tablets – Best left on the shelf

Google doesn’t like to talk about it, but there’s one type of Android hardware you really shouldn’t be buying.

Writing at Computerworld JR Raphael reveals: The Android hardware truth Google won’t tell you.

Before we go further, note that Raphael writes a regular Android column. This isn’t an attack from outside the tent.

He says:

“Google’s priorities and the desires of the companies making the bulk of the devices don’t always align. And that forces Google to do a delicate dance in order to push forward with its own plans without saying anything that’d go directly against a device-maker’s interests.

Well, it’s time to stop beating around the bush and just say what Google won’t openly acknowledge: You should not be buying an Android tablet in 2020. Period.”

Long wait for Android tablet OS updates

It’s a long story well worth reading. The gist boils down to Google having some good ideas about how Android should work with tablets, then it lost interest for a while. That while turned out to be too long.

Now we’re in a position where Google isn’t updating the tablet version of its operating system at anything like an acceptable pace. Raphael points out Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 got Android 10 eight months after the software was first released. And that’s the Android tablet with the best OS upgrade record.

He says:

“Plain and simple, buying an Android tablet is setting yourself up for disappointment — when it comes to both performance and capability and when it comes to the critical areas of privacy, security, and ongoing software upkeep.”

Get a Chromebook instead

Raphael recommends people who want an Android tablet would do better to buy a convertible Chromebook.

All this is one reason why Apple continues to dominate tablet sales with iPad and iPad Pro models. The only other serious player in premium tablets is Microsoft with its Surface range. These two brands run iOS and Windows. The Android tablet market skews towards the low end with a lot of low value, undifferentiated tablet models.

Sure, plenty of people are happy with these devices. No doubt many reading this love their Android tablets. Yet the Android world hasn’t got its tablet act together enough to mount an assault on the premium market. That’s odd considering how, outside of the US, Android has a huge share of the phone market.

This is not a Huawei P40 Pro review

In March Huawei launched the P40 Pro. It is the company’s latest flagship Android phone.

Going by the reviews, the hardware is as good as it gets for Android.

It could have been a contender for 2020’s best phone.

Yet there is more to a phone than hardware. If anything the software and services are more important. So is the way these two integrate with the phone hardware.

Android, not Google

This is a problem for the Huawei P40 Pro because it is the first major Android phone from a top brand that doesn’t include Google Mobile Services.

Last May the Trump Administration placed heavy sanctions on Huawei. The company is not allowed to licence or otherwise use US-made technology.

Which means Huawei’s new phones can only use the open source version of Android.

Moreover, new Huawei phones can’t offer Gmail, Google Maps or You Tube. Huawei is cut adrift from the Google Play Store. You can’t pay for stuff using Google Pay.

Clever, up to a point

Huawei has found one clever workaround the problem. It has re-released versions of earlier phones that are still allowed to use these services. The Huawei P30 Pro recently appeared complete with everything Android.

That works if customers don’t mind buying what could be thought of as old technology. Not that 99 percent of users would ever know the technology is old, it still feels modern enough. As my P30 Pro review says, you get a lot of camera.

Homegrown ecosystem

P40 Pro buyers are stuck with Huawei’s own homegrown ecosystem. You get Huawei’s unexciting EMUI 10 operating system wrapped around Android and a handful of substitute apps. The apps might get the job done, but while some buyers may be satisfied others may not warm to them.

Huawei also offers its own App Gallery. The company said it was going to, or maybe that is will, spend a billion US dollars on the gallery. It has 3,000 software engineers working on it.

Whatever the claims, it’s like entering an Eastern Bloc shop in the bad old Cold War days. There are gaps everywhere and many apps are limp, pale copies of the real thing.

Even the included email app is, well, not a patch on Gmail. Huawei really ought to have poured some resources into making that one sing and dance.

If you are hooked on Facebook, there is no app. In fact you won’t find any of the most popular apps.

A brave decision

You’ve got to really want a Huawei P40 Pro to get one. Or you have to be extra keen to stick-it-to-the-man.

For a start, the P40 Pro isn’t listed in the Spark or Vodafone online stores at the time of writing. You could buy it from 2degrees at NZ$1500 a pop or on a plan.1

Then the challenge is making it work the way you’d want an Android phone to work. A lot of geeky folk are attracted to Android precisely because it does offer more scope for tinkering that Apple’s iPhone.

No doubt some of these will enjoy the P40 Pro challenge.

Security melt-down

You can use third-party app stores. If you work for a corporation your IT security people will probably have a melt-down at the thought. There are downloadable and published hacks and so on. Android is already a minefield for malware and scams, heading into this territory is not for the faint hearted.

Patching security updates is likely to be troublesome and P40 Pro owners may even be violating the terms and conditions for services like online banking using such risky software.

Huawei has made some great phones over the years. In another world, the P40 Pro would probably be among them. But it isn’t. Whether its handicap is fair or reasonable is one thing, but regardless of those matters, it would not be wise to sink $1500 of your own money into a crippled phone.


  1. The marketing material at the 2degrees site doesn’t go anywhere near mentioning the phone is not like other Android phones. This could be grounds for getting your money back if you feel duped. ↩︎

Skeuomorphism: A user interface Catch 22

If I didn’t promise to help you out in the next sentence, you’d probably have to look up skeuomorphism in a dictionary.

In simple terms the word means something that resembles whatever it was that used to do the job.1

The word may be unfamiliar. The idea is not.

Take the old Macintosh Address Book app. Before Apple modernised its software, the Address Book app looked like a paper address book.

You might also remember when computer operating system desktops had waste paper bin or trash can icons to tell you this is where you throw things away.

Skeuomorph central

The smartphone is skeuomorph central. Every iPhone has icons showing a torch, a telephone handset, a camera and so on. What each of these does is obvious. The envelope icon isn’t quite so apparent, yet you don’t need a PhD to figure out it is for email. Android phones have similar skeuomorphs.

Skeuomorphs don’t have to be software. Houses might have cladding where manufacturers made the building material resemble wooden boards or brick.

Soon electric vehicles in Europe will have to make noises so that pedestrians and others get an audio cue to take care.

Understanding

The idea behind skeuomorphism is that it helps you to better understand what you are looking at. It’s a visual clue telling you the purpose of the object. You see something familiar and, bingo, you know what that thing is going to do.

There’s a special breed of skeuomorph idea where the visual cue lives on long after the original item has disappeared from use.

Mr flippy floppy

Perhaps the best known is the floppy disk icon you sometimes see used to indicate the save function.

It’s getting on for 20 years since computers had built-in floppy disk drives. An entire generation has entered the workforce without every having seen a floppy disk in action. And yet, everyone knows what that image is supposed to mean.

No doubt you have heard stories of young people encountering a real floppy disc for the first time. While they may not know what the item is, or how it is used. They often recognise it from the icon.

Time to put skeuomorphism to bed

While the thinking behind skeuomorphism makes sense, as far as software and operating systems go, it’s best days are in the past. Skeuomorphic designs are often fussy and ugly. They clutter things up. The images are often meaningless and what is represented is not always clear cut.

Yet there’s a Catch 22 here. I prefer minimalist design. It’s easier to focus on the job in hand when the software stays out of the way. I was about to say that when I’m writing, I prefer to start with a blank sheet of paper. Which is, of course, itself a skeuomorphism.


  1. 1 My Mac’s dictionary says: An object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact made from another material. ↩︎

NZ Tech Podcast 475: NZ Game revenue jumps

Hear me on this week’s NZ Tech Podcast. I talk with Paul Spain about Huawei teaming with Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi as a defence against Chinese phone makers being locked out of Google’s Android services. We talk about the incredible progress made by New Zealand’s games developers who have doubled revenues in two years. We also discuss Telsla’s latest moves and a plan to test flying taxis in Christchurch.

You can listen to the podcast on the site or use one of the download services.

Android after Huawei: No winners

Huawei may need Google more than Google needs Huawei, but the ban still threatens Android’s dominance.

May 2019 saw the US President sign an executive order banning ‘foreign adversaries’ from dealing with America’s telecoms industry.

The unnamed ‘foreign adversary’ is Huawei.

Huawei is already banned from building US 5G cellular networks. The order also stopped US companies from working with Huawei’s phone handset business.

This meant Google suspended its business with Huawei. That was a blow for the Chinese phone maker, Huawei phones run on Google’s Android software.

Beyond Android

The ban goes beyond Android. It means Huawei phones can’t use the Play app store. Nor can they use Google Maps, Gmail or the official Search app. Google Mobile Services features are central to the Android phone experience.

Huawei makes some of the best Android phones. It has a huge market share, now second only to Samsung. Yet the company sells little in the US.

With Huawei phones unable to ship with Google apps installed, sales have fallen outside China.

Otherwise, Huawei appears to be in good shape. In October it announced revenues were up 24 percent on the previous year. The company signed 60 contracts to build 5G networks last year.

Huawei could sit out the ban. Many think it is as much about US trade protectionism as anything to do with security.

Subscribers to this school of thought believe the US could lift the Huawei ban as part of trade negotiations.

While that is plausible, Huawei never wants to be in this position again. It cannot afford to be dependent on Google when the US could turn off the tap again at any moment.

Huawei has offered Chinese customers a non-Google version of its phones for years. It isn’t a problem there. It is more of an issue in places like New Zealand, Australia and Europe where people rely on Google services.

To get around the ban, Huawei is replacing Google Mobile Services with its own services. It aims to spend US$ 3 billion this year getting developers to improve Huawei Mobile Services. It has set aside another billion to market those services.

Harmony in my head

Huawei is also developing its own Harmony OS. It scheduled release for early this year. Now Huawei says it is running late and could take years to emerge.

The acid test for Huawei’s post-Google life is the P40 phone launch. It will have no Google services. Huawei expects to lose some market share.

Reuters reports Huawei plans to join forces with other Chinese phone makers to set up a rival to Android and challenge Google Play.

The original plan was to launch in March. This could be set-back by the recent corona virus outbreak.

Joining Huawei are Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi. For now, the other Chinese phone makers are not locked out of Google. Yet the move amounts to admission they fear the ban could extend to them.

Between them, the four account for 40 percent of handsets sold worldwide. Yet for now they restrict their project to nine regions including India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia.

It is still early days. Yet it seems the US ban on Huawei is speeding up Chinese tech companies becoming independent of US ones. They already buy less American hardware, software and services. Google and Android remain strong, but one outcome of the ban is to undermine the near monopoly.