14
Feb
andy_sisyphus

This is part three in a series of editorials addressing our editors’ biggest gripes with Android. Part one, which focuses on fragmentation, can be found here; part two, which is centered around cohesiveness and uniformity, is located here.

Let's be honest here: Android's current multimedia situation is a mess. For one thing, the included music/video players are seriously lackluster; for another, there's no officially sanctioned way to buy songs or movies from an Android device. Though such features are probably in the pipelines, I believe these are issues Google needs to address now - after all, the iPhone has had these features since its incarnation.

Multimedia Stores

Music

Even after more than two years of being on the market, Android still has no official music store.

I’m very much aware of Amazon MP3, but frankly, that’s a subpar third-party application that most consumers view as more pre-installed bloatware. The truth of the matter is that if Google really wants to compete on the multimedia front, they’ll need to develop a really good first-party music store with lots and lots of music.

I have hope in this respect, as rumors of an official Google music store are older than dirt. Coupled with the cloud-to-device streaming service previewed at I/O 2010, Android could be packing a serious multimedia punch in the near future.

At least when it comes to music, that is...

Video

This is where I’m starting to get seriously worried.

Google does have a small selection of movies available via the YouTube Store, but for some unfathomable reason, it isn’t accessible from Android phones (when you click on a title, you are told that “this video is not available in your country”).

And even if Google did allow Android phones to access the YouTube Store, the experience still wouldn’t be able to stand up to the likes of iTunes or even Amazon’s Video On Demand service. Why? For starters, the Store only offers a rental service, with no permanent purchase option in sight. Additionally, the process of actually finding movies to rent is a good deal more complicated than it should be - when you search for an item on youtube.com/store, regular, amateur YouTube videos are displayed alongside Hollywood productions. A third issue I have with the YouTube Store is the sheer lack of content available - want to watch a Warner Bros. movie? Out of luck! Or how about a TBS show? Look elsewhere!

But I digress.

Android's lack of a video store will be even more of an issue once Honeycomb tablets start launching - tablets are a media-centric platform (Motorola's own promo video for the XOOM noted that the tablet allows users to watch videos the "way the filmmaker intended"), after all.

Android needs a decent multimedia store, and soon - ripping DVDs and sideloading the files onto a so-called "entertainment device" just isn't something the average consumer wants to deal with.

The Applications

The critics all agree: stock Android's multimedia applications still lag far behind those of the competition.

b3212a1515oidmus.jpg snap20110213_201622

Left: Stock music player; Right: Slightly modified video player playing back a ShootMe screencast

If you don't believe me, look no further than the stock music or video players - sure, many manufacturers try to conceal their horrid interfaces from end users by prettying it up with proprietary customizations, but that only leads to more issues.

The problems don't end with the user interface, however - Android's multimedia applications are lacking in the features department as well. Take scrubbing, headset controls, lockscreen widgets, or even something as simple as deleting a song - all missing from Android's stock music application. Sure, you and I know that third-party apps like Winamp exist to solve these issues, but does the average consumer know that? Does the average consumer want to know that? After all, most people are looking for something that just works, not something that requires them to hunt down alternative software the moment they take it out of the box.

The bottom line  here is that Google needs to improve stock Android's multimedia applications - this will help Android's public image, improve its ease of use, and perhaps even help solve the custom skin problem. Go for it, Google!

Jaroslav Stekl
Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

  • cybik

    IIRC, there's a pretty sweet new version of the Music.apk coming, probably in 2.4-I or something.

  • Pierre

    You can delete a album/artist/song in stock player by long press (or by pressing menu while playing a song, but i'm not sure about that one).

  • Phil

    I've been kinda with on the previous articles. I've had my difference of opinion. But I think here is where you tread into just wanting to be iOS a bit.

    I don't think there needs to be a "sanctioned" way to buy media for your device. Thats part of the beauty of Android. I can get media from anywhere I want and play it. I don't need this single all encompassing store that I have to wait on if they don't offer what I want. By the same token I have the option to download a better media player if I want to. And this is where the TRUE problem with the Android ecosystem arises.
    People have forgotten than Android was really built to be a platform. Its not supposed to be the answer to everything out of the box though it has taken that route in some areas. What Google did was give everyone a platform where their software can be just as powerful and integrated as anything that ships with the OS itself. So everytime I see an article about something stock Android doesn't have or doesn't do I see a business opportunity. Its an opportunity to develop an application to fill that void or fix that problem.

    But the problem for Android is that the community around it is lazy. App devs aren't taking advantage of the platform and bloggers don't promote the benefit of third party solutions. Instead they knock the lack of 3rd party solutions. And when third party solutions are reviewed theres always a sort of feeling like "its good BUT its not a first party app" as if third party apps are treated as first party apps on Android. And if the consumer doesn't want to know about or explore third party apps then why do we have these app stores in the first place? Just bake as much as you can into the phones from the jump. But obviously people want apps.

    So if theres no stand out media player. Build one. No great media outlet? Build it. Yea I know that one is a huge undertaking but I hope you get the point. No one seems to be taking the business opportunities that Google has dropped on us and running with them. Everybody just wants to wait on Google to do it. Then we turn around and complain that apps aren't selling well in the market. Maybe its because we as devs aren't taking advantage of opportunities when users talk about lacking features. Instead it seems like many of us just try to clone what hot over on iOS.

    Oh and I could have sworn I have a lock screen widget for any playing music on my phone. Maybe its the custom ROM but I thought this was standard as of 2.2.

    • Darius_bd

      Amen, brother!

    • James

      Agreed.

  • chris

    To be honest your mixing your trains of thought up. You keep mentioning the average consumer, the average consumer never sees stock Android. They see touchwiz, motoblur, timescape or sense. Which do have better music/video players. Even if Google made the most amazing player, do you think HTC or Samsung will use it? While Google could fix the lack of decent stock apps, they couldn't fix the core problem which is manufacturers and carriers.

    • Chris

      It would still be included as a competitor though. Quite frankly, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung haven't come out with amazing players either, which is why the Market has so many alternatives.

      If Google made a good player with an integrated media market, it would go a long way toward sustaining its market share. Not just against the iPhone either, since Windows Phone 7 includes Zune Marketplace integration that turns every Windows Phone into a Zune HD.

      Right now, Android has the disadvantage of essentially being a phone with some multimedia features going up against integrated media solutions. Sounds very corporate, yes, but there's a reason why my Nexus One hasn't replaced my trusty iPod Classic, regardless of how much I love it.

      • Chris

        "If Google made a good player with an integrated media market"

        But why should their market be intergrated to the player? They have a market. I whole-heartedly agree that they need a unified market for apps/games, music and video, but it does not need to be part of any player app on the phone.

        Also if you know how to get SRS on the desire HD to work with a 3rd party app let me know. That is an amazing player from HTC.

        • Chris

          Either integrated into the Market itself or integrated into the player, at this point any media market would be better.

          Integrating it right into the player would be best for ease-of-use, provided the player has a good degree of polish and streamlining.

          Perhaps both would be best, to create an open market that other third-party programs can create a front-end for to allow in-app access and purchases.

  • Phil Oakley

    @ chris Google Nexus One's and Nexus S' have stock Android.

    Google really need to tighten their rein on Android. When 3.0 (or a version of it) comes out for phones, I'm expecting Google to say they'd prefer manufacturers to have less of a UI layer. Custom widgets, maybe a different colour scheme is fine, but what they have now is over the top IMO.

    • Phil

      To be honest I don't truly think what the OEMs do now actually has anything to do with how long it takes them to update. I think they are just blowing smoke and holding back to see if people will just buy the next phone to get the update.

      Everything outside of skinning that you need to do to customize the Android experience is doable by applications. Desktop apps, media apps, dialer app, contact app. And most of that stuff is open source so you can make sure it fits right in with what the original app is capable of doing as well. If Google added a better skinning mechanism where skins replaced the unstyled looks on even 3rd party apps it would be great.

      I think its time we start calling out these OEMs on this update situation. If Cyanogen and others can have working builds out from AOSP in weeks theres no reason these corporations with paid developers can't do the same.

      • Dan

        Yep! Why buy and Sumsung Galaxy S2 running 2.3 in a few months when my Fascinate or Vibrant already has 2.3?

        Oh wait...

        I think Google needs to be in control of pushing updates, not carriers or OEMs. I'm not sure if that's possible, even on stock devices like the G2, unfortunately.

  • Dan

    Agree on all points. I know what you're saying is hard to swallow for all the nerdy Android fanboys out there, but the reality is that opens source purists are in the minority and Android is a product for the masses. And the masses don't want to have to replace a half dozen apps when they buy a phone with third party apps that actually compete with what Apple and Microsoft offer. Especially since app discovery is so difficult in Android.

    Apple and Google in many ways have the exact opposite problem. Apple is obsessed with flashiness and style and they wind of stifling their consumers with lack of customization and choice. Google on the other hand seems to give too much control to their engineers at the expense of a good user experience.

    However, the hiring of Matias Duarte to design Honeycomb is a really good sign. I've seen interviews with this guy and he really gets it. If Google takes UX seriously in Ice Cream Sandwich and gets their music service up and running fairly soon, I think I'll stick with Android. If not, I'll starting looking at WP7 (don't worry, I'd never go to the dark side).

    • baley

      for some ppl thats the dark side :P (as well!)

  • Anonymous Coward

    I'm a big fan of the MIUI music app. Was using WinAmp until I switched to MIUI on my N1 about 3 months ago now.
    Only time I looked back was when Gingerbread came out, I dabbled for a fortnight, but went crawling back to MIUI! It's awesome and the Music App + Lockscreen Widget is my favorite by far!

  • Myria

    There are no shortage of places one can buy video or audio content, to put it mildly. The stock Android player is functional enough (frankly more functional than the PoS kluge in iOS, god how I hate that pathetically limited player), if you want more features there are no shortage of feature-rich players available.

    I fail to see where the problem is, here.

    The only real advantage Android has going is that it is an OS for adults, not children who need to be confined to a walled garden and only allowed to buy from an "official" source.

    The last thing on Earth Android needs is to become more like that walled garden.

  • Stam

    The stock music player needs improvement, there so many and easy to find third party players that although i welcome a new one, i don't need it.

    I would never use a store on my phone to buy music. Apple has an entire different tactic on iOS including to lockdown every method of moving your files and force you itunes so you will only buy from the.

    That which i would realy like (and lack) is a cloud based player, where i can easily radio stream/transfer mp3/mixed cloud store and sd store. Kind like dropbox only for mp3, with the option of having or not a hard copy.

  • BlueScreenJunky

    "there’s no officially sanctioned way to buy songs or movies from an Android device"

    Yeah, there should be an official store which would let you buy music, and an official app for your computer that lets you synchronize your phone with your library.
    Oh, and you should be able to use ONLY that store and that app so it wouldn't be so confusing and so hard to choose the one you prefer.
    And they should also disable the ability to just plug your android phone on your PC and copy files... I mean who uses that ?

    Well you get the point : Stop lying to yourself, you don't want google to improve android, you just want to buy an iPhone.

  • Andrew

    Google has made its success by being ahead of the curve and looking to the future; so let's remember a few key points:
    - The platform is new, as are most app developers. 2010 proved the system's success to the point major corporate developers will ramp up apps (including UI enhancement apps) in 2011 and beyond.
    - Google wants everyone's phone to look 'pretty', but they want the development community to be the driver, they just provide the means.
    - Carriers and manufactures are behind the curve; their customizations cause issues now, but they also cost those companies reputation and resources. Look for more phones with a minimally modified OS and in its place more custom preloaded apps and launchers. This will cost them less money to develop and test while making updates much faster.
    - As the OS matures, updates will become less frequent and based on hardware technology improvements, making app development and updates easier.
    - Google sees a future based less on carriers (think VOIP) and more on hardware and OS selection.
    - Expect more phones offering a choice of OS, even at the time of purchase.

  • Paul Atreides

    Power Amp FTW

  • baley

    Fair points for the media player. However the idea to buy music from my mobile phone haven't even begin speculating about the mere possibility of crossing my mind!

    I much rather buy it from my computer instead ;)

  • http://www.trouble-tickets.org/cgi/yabb/YaBB.pl?board=general_general_board;action=display;num=1308901123;start=0ActivationResult:chosennicknameabsorryMubs;profileedited;loggedin;success-postedtoGener Adena Fritzinger

    Co tu wiele przemawiać... Fajnie napisany tekst. Trafiłam tę stronkę przez przypadek przeszukując w Yahoo, ale znalazłeś we mnie od dzisiaj wiernego czytelnika :) siema