Home Latest News Think Android 14 seems boring? Think about this. – Computerworld

Think Android 14 seems boring? Think about this. – Computerworld

By , Contributing Editor, Computerworld |
Not your average Android news — a diverse mix of advice, insight, and analysis with veteran Android journalist JR Raphael.
Look, I’ll be honest: When I first got my grubby gorilla paws on Google’s latest and great Android version — the hot-off-the-griddle first beta of this year’s Android 14 update — two terse words kept ringing in my head:
That’s it?
Also: Mmm, pancakes. But that’s just because of the griddle reference I’d already cooked up in my deeply demented man-brain.
All flapjackery aside, there’s no way around it: On the surface, the inaugural beta of Android 14 isn’t exactly exciting. In fact, in most day-to-day use at the moment, you’d be hard-pressed to notice much difference between it and the Android 13 update that came before it.
So while the instinct to label Android 14 as a ho-hum underachiever is understandable, framing this as a moment in which Google isn’t doing much to move the Android experience forward misses one major point — a point that’s important to ponder if you care at all about understanding this platform and how it actually fits into this wide, wild mobile-tech ecosystem of ours.
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It’s a point that folks on the Apple side of the divide love to gloss over. But doing so paints a misleading and woefully inaccurate picture of what actually happens here in the land o’ Android.
We’ll get to that major point in a second, but before we do, we need to speed-skate our way through two other Android-14-related asterisks we’d be remiss not to mention as a part of this conversation.
First, it’s always worth emphasizing: What we’re seeing in the early beta of a new Android version is rarely the full story. Particularly with Google’s current development cycle, El Googenschplort’s almost always got something still up its sleeve and saved for a splashy debut at or around its grand Google I/O showcase in May.
If nothing else, we know Android 14 will be the foundation for an entirely new type of tech-type product via the upcoming Pixel Tablet. So, y’know: Stay tuned…and all of that.
Asterisk two is that oftentimes, it’s the under-the-hood stuff in a new Android version that’s ultimately the most consequential — even if it isn’t the most immediately electrifying piece of the puzzle. That’s where the critical enhancements in areas like privacy, security, and performance appear, and while those tend to be far less tangible than the fancy front-facing stuff, you’d better believe they matter.
In reality, in fact, those elements are generally more important than the surface-level changes and convenience-boosting feature additions — particularly when it comes to professional use.
But those asterisks aside, here’s what you really have to remember: We’ve reached a point where the smaller updates to system-like components across Android are often much more interesting and meaningful than the big honkin’ OS updates, at least from a purely experience-based perspective.
And that leads us to the real overlooked realization with all of this: On Android, those sorts of system-like updates show up all the time — year round — by way of individual app updates in the Play Store.
That’s where Android is decidedly different from that other mobile operating system and where all the comparisons and new version assessments always fall flat.
Consider just some of the following system-app-centric improvements we’ve seen on Android in the past few months — since the start of the year. Take a deep breath:
WHEW! And holy moly: If this were iOS, all that stuff would be bundled into a once-yearly major operating system update and getting all sorts of attention. Here on Android, we hardly even notice it or think about how incredible of a collection it adds up to create. (And remember, too, this is looking at only a tiny sliver of the stuff that’s rolled out over the past few months — not even going all the way back to the last major Android version update.)
For context, Google’s been pulling what were once core operating system elements out of the operating system proper and treating ’em as standalone apps for well over a decade now. That means those elements get updated numerous times a month, all throughout the year, in a way that reaches every single Android device more or less immediately.
But it also means those updates tend to get lost in the shuffle and seen as scattered little scraps instead of as part of a larger, connected story. And yet, a fraction of these same updates would make up an entire Apple iOS release and be touted as a massive leap forward.
No exaggeration: If you look at the list of features in Apple’s latest iOS update, the vast majority of the items there revolve around these very same types of updates — updates to core system components for photos, messages, email, on-screen typing, health and fitness, home control, and notes. It’s the same exact sort of stuff, only instead of showing up scattered throughout the year in an easily overlooked a la carte manner, Apple bundles it all together into a heavily hyped annual package.
Google’s approach actually presents a pretty significant practical advantage, since the updates to all these pieces often land multiple times a month instead of being collected into annual clusters — but with the way bigger OS updates command the most attention, it also presents a very real problem around perception. Plain and simple, Google doesn’t do much to emphasize the fact that we get these sorts of updates constantly on Android while iPhone owners get ’em only once or twice a year. When you stop and think about it, it’s really no surprise that so few people see the forest for the trees and realize how it all adds up.
So the next time you find yourself thinking that Android 14 or any other incoming Android update seems underwhelming, remember that the OS update itself is only half the story — more like the foundational groundwork than the full construction. And remember that in actuality, all of us on Android get the equivalent of multiple iOS updates multiple times a year.
That may not create as cohesive or as powerful of a marketing message as what Apple delivers — something Google could absolutely stand to work on — but when it comes to real-world experience, it’s arguably a much smarter, more sensible, and more advantageous approach. It’s just up to us to put the pieces together and consider the whole they create.
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Contributing Editor JR Raphael serves up tasty morsels about the human side of technology. Hungry for more? Sign up for his weekly newsletter to get fresh tips and insight in your inbox every Friday.
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.
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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.