More than three quarters of smartphone owners today have Android phones. It’s by far the world’s most popular mobile platform. Easy to get to grips with and packed with features, Android deserves its dominance, but it’s far from perfect.
There are several overdue improvements that Google could make, and a few new features I’d like to see it borrow from other Android manufacturers or even, dare I say, from Apple’s iOS. This is merely the top five entries from my wish list for Android Q, the next version of Android expected to launch around August 2019.
When Google switched to a gesture system in Android 9.0 Pie it felt half-hearted. The recent apps or multitasking button disappeared, replaced by an upwards swipe, but that was the gesture used to open the app drawer. Consequently, the action for opening the app drawer had to switch to a long upwards swipe that’s almost impossible to easily pull off, or more commonly a second upward swipe, which means it takes longer to access. With the Pixel 3 I find that the five suggested apps, which change based on your usage and time of day, accessible with just one upward swipe, usually contain what I’m looking for, but there are still times when you want to access the app drawer fast.
Swiping left to right along the bottom also allows you to switch between apps, but only the last two – you have to swipe to the right and hold if you want to swipe through all open apps and it’s quite tricky to stop at the right one if you have a lot of apps open. It feels strange that swiping right to left doesn’t take you back.
It’s also a little weird that Google chose to keep the back button and the home button but got rid of the multitasking button on the right. Why is that better? It feels like a halfway house at the moment and we expect to see several tweaks that will hopefully improve gestures in Android Q.
Improved sharing options
The sharing system in Android is poor. It’s slow to load, it throws up a weirdly random group of suggestions and never seems to learn what apps or contacts you like to share things with, and there’s no consistency in the way it’s triggered.
I’d like to see a quick loading menu that actually prioritizes the people and places I usually share files with, and thankfully things are looking up for this feature in Android Q. The beta adds a faster share menu that loads instantly, and there’s also a new feature called Sharing Shortcuts, which lets you share a file or photo to another part of the same app much faster than ever before.
But it would also be nice if I could share files with other devices in the area a bit more easily. Android Beam is handy, but it doesn’t work for every scenario. It’s great being able to stream photos and videos from your phone to the big TV, but I find it only works well with the right combination, such as an LG phone with an LG TV. It would be great if you could stream from any Android phone to any brand of smart TV and not have to rely on Chromecast.
System-wide dark theme
Whether you’re sick of being dazzled in dark rooms or worried about the potential drain on your battery, white backgrounds are aplenty in Android 9.0 Pie and it’s sometimes a bit much. You can dig into Settings > Display and turn on Dark in Device theme, but it only changes the background of the notification shade and the app drawer. The option to turn on a truly system-wide dark theme would be welcome.
The good news is that we may just get this option in Android Q. We’ve seen a few rumors to that effect, suggesting that everything can be tinted dark gray, so it will impact every app. Ideally, we’ll be able to schedule this dark theme to switch on automatically when night falls. It should be noted that several Android phone manufacturers have implemented a full dark mode into their respective phones, such as Samsung and Huawei.
Better backup system
As someone who has to switch phones a lot, I find that the backup system built into Android leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, it has improved by leaps and bounds from the early days of Android when you needed half a dozen third-party apps to carry over all your bits and pieces from an old phone to a new one, but it could be improved further. App data that includes configuration and login information is frequently lost. Google does actually allow for this if you go to Settings > Google > Backup and toggle Back up to Google Drive on, but it depends on how well app developers have implemented it, which is often not well. It also means trusting Google with everything.
With an iPhone you can create an encrypted backup in the cloud or on a local computer or laptop using iCloud or iTunes. When you restore a backup it generally feels exactly the same. Of course, that’s partly because Apple makes both the software and hardware and limits customization. You can get similar results with Android if you upgrade from a Pixel phone to the next generation, or switch from a Galaxy S9 to an S10, but switch brands and there are always problems.
As much as I don’t like iTunes, Android lacks a similar option and it’s an important option, especially for people who mistrust the cloud and like to back up manually. Some Android manufacturers offer software, but it’s useless unless you stick with the same brand phone after phone. There’s definitely room for improvement here.
Fine-tuned app permissions
So, you can either grant an app full access to a permission in perpetuity or block it completely. What if I just want to give it temporary access or only give it access when the app is actually open? Android could definitely use more fine-grained options for app permissions, and this is another feature we’ll see in Android Q.
You’ll soon be able to set app permissions to always, never, or just when an app is open, and you’ll also be able to decide immediately what areas an app can access, like storage, the camera, the microphone, and more. This is an important development that should lead to improved privacy and possibly battery life, as apps won’t be able to do as much in the background when we’re not looking.
While some of these features are in the Android Q beta, they could always be removed before the final version is released around August. Here’s to hoping they stay in, but these also aren’t the only things I’d love to see in the update. It looks like we may also get built in screen recording, a desktop mode, and more notification options. Better support for hearing aids is also long overdue, and I know it’s in the works, so hopefully it will land in Android Q. Whatever is unveiled, we’ll have all the news from Google I/O.