Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Android Rant: What were they thinking?

I have been using my HTC myTouch 4G since mid-February of this year. With its 1GHz Snapdragon processor and Android 2.2.1, it was considered a reasonably up-to-date Android handset. That doesn't mean I'm all enamored with the handset, especially the software running on it.

One annoying characteristic of my handset is its propensity to silently change certain features for unknown reasons. Couple this with the inability to easily find how to change it back, and you have the perfect combination of device-specific characteristics for frustrating end users.

Take as one example the software keyboard on my phone. When I first purchased the phone I was using the Swype keyboard.

Swype keyboard

I didn't bother to try and find out how to change it, and lived with what I had until yesterday, when I downloaded and installed the beta version of Firefox 4 for Android. That's when the keyboard mysteriously changed to the Dragon Dictation keyboard you see below.

Dragon Dictation keyboard

I immediately noticed when the Dragon dictation keyboard was enabled because its look is drastically different from both the regular touch and Swype keyboards. I found it annoying because of its look of lower quality to the fact it had changed without my consent. I can't offer a definitive cause-and-effect that installing Firefox for Android beta changed the keyboard, I can only say that I saw the difference after the installation. I have since uninstalled Firefox for Android, but uninstalling Firefox did not return the keyboard to its former state. For that, I had to finally go rummaging around the web for help because changing the keyboard is totally non-intuitive.

Input method mini-dialog

What I discovered was that in order to change the keyboard I had to press my finger into an input text box and hold it down long enough for an "Input Method" dialog to appear beneath the input box as shown above.

You'd think that you could do that in any text box, such as the text box for inputing URLs in the browser. And you'd be wrong. Or that you could find equivalent functionality easily enough in the Settings menus under "Settings | Language and keyboard". Again, you'd be wrong.

Instead, after finding the clue on the web, I had to experiment a bit before I found that I could only do this from the Google search widget. Once I finally figured all that out and pressed the Input Method button, I was presented with a simple "Select input method" dialog with the three keyboard selections you see below.

Select one of three keyboards

One big reason I like the regular touch input keyboard is it has a '.com' key on the space bar, as does Dragon Dictation. The Swype keyboard doesn't. Combined with how useless I find the Swype method of text input, I personally find the Swype keyboard the worst of the three. I just wish it had been more straight-forward to find out how to change it.

What happened to me with the keyboard violates in grand fashion the principal of least astonishment, both from how the keyboard changed, to how to explicitly put it back (or determine a better selection). In this case, the keyboard should have never changed, for whatever reason, without explicit action from me, and it should have at least been consistent with the existing system when it came time to explicitly change it at all.

This is the kind of behavior that either drives folks to non-Android competing alternatives (such as Apple, HP, and Microsoft) or drives many others to root their device in an attempt to either install a better working version or to fix it. At this point, I want to root my handset, but I don't know if the latest version of Android (either 2.2.4 or 2.3.4) would be any better. But at least it would get rid of the HTC interface corruptions, which I have truly come to loath, and give me the opportunity to fully open up the device.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant! you are so right! I am contemplating breaking my contract & going back to an iphone because of the frustration I've had trying to figure out how to get the input keyboard back. AND the fact that it stopped syncing my calendar.

    ReplyDelete

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