Google’s AOSP QA Team MIA for Android Lollipop?
As the launch of Android Lollipop continues to dominate headlines, and developers settle down to take a look at the sources for Lollipop, I took a critical first look, from my own compiled AOSP sources, and came to the worrying conclusion that Google simply doesn’t care about AOSP any more. Either that, or their own internal QA team has gotten lost somewhere in the Googleplex, unable to send a distress message out. Either way, the quality of the Android 5.0 AOSP release should certainly be alarming to the executives on the Android team. Let’s take a look…
Upon powering on my Nexus 7 2013, running a clean AOSP build (from the r2 release tags), I was greeted by a wonderful Jellybean-era default wallpaper. For a company apparently so keen to push forward the Material Design philosophy of bolder, more geometric designs, with brighter and more contrasting colours, it seems strange that a default wallpaper using slow-blended, muted colours would be part of a bright, pastel-oriented operating system. It doesn’t exactly set a brilliant tone for this release of AOSP.
Oh well, fair enough–it’s only a wallpaper! You could always just go and get some of the proper ones.
User Interface Consistency
After booting up AOSP, you’re faced with the ever-dwindling number of applications that are actually part of the Android open-source project. Unfortunately, we’re now down to the AOSP browser, a calculator, calendar, camera, clock, contacts browser, downloads viewer, email app, gallery, music player, search button, and settings. Yup, that’s it! Everything else has been offloaded into the closed-source Google Apps suite. Search barely counts, as it would appear to be unchanged from the era of Android, pre-1.5.
First off, I decided to get online–time to add a WiFi network. Unfortunately, it appears even a simple dialogue box (which every user will see) is too difficult for Google to get right! All of the headings had text-wrapped, often mid-word. For a final release, this is simply pathetic, especially given this was also present in the preview releases. It’s worth noting at this point, that I am holding the device in a portrait orientation, just like the device is pictured for promotional photographs.
It appears Google’s user interface department was taking a vacation when this part of the process was designed. Likewise for the quality assurance department. For something like this to be in released software is utterly dumbfounding. Does nobody in Google take responsibility for making sure the end product has a little bit of polish? They managed to get it right in landscape orientation (below), just apparently not for portrait!
Oh well, surely it can’t get any worse? It’s not too big a deal; no functionality lost. Perhaps just a little egg on the face of the savior and hero of Android design fans?
Opening the Browse yields a somewhat disappointing sight. It is visually identical to the browser included in Android 4.4. Which was pretty much the same as in 4.3, 4.2 and 4.1. And pretty much 4.0 as well, while we’re at it. The AOSP browser, sans Material-remake, is really a rather sorry sight.
It’s almost as though it’s stuck in a time-warp! The application’s layout is clearly not consistent with the User Experience (UX) design principles of Material design or colour scheme. But hey, let’s put that aside and actually use the Browser–we don’t want to be too fussy.
Heading to the Settings menu, I hit “General”, just to take a look at what was on offer. Unfortunately, all that’s on offer is a Force Close, due to a programming error. Checking the error logs makes it seem that the issue is one that’s easily fixable (and something I seemed to have to fix in 4.4, albeit for only one particular screen of Settings).
Undeterred, I proceeded to try the other options in Settings. Each yielded a similar Force Close.I have no idea what on earth has happened over at Google HQ, but it’s clear they have never heard of the two words, “quality” and “assurance” being put together to form a phrase. I’d made this discovery within about 5 minutes of booting up AOSP. Surely to goodness, someone actually tested this before releasing it?
Ah well, not really a usable browser, let’s take a look elsewhere!
Material, oh Material , Wherefore art thou Material?
Unfortunately, it appears that Google’s commitment towards Material design doesn’t extend to its own core applications. Although we recently saw an update to Google Calendar on Google Play, the AOSP calendar app appears relatively unchanged from 4.4. As do the dull grey status bars. The calendar has always been a key selling point of the concept of a smartphone or tablet, yet the AOSP one certainly seems to have had no love yet.
Unfortunately, the same can be said of the Music app. I won’t bore you with a screenshot, but needless to say, nothing has changed (at least from an appearance perspective) since Android 1.5 or thereabouts! Likewise for the Gallery, and Search.
OK, Let’s set up Email!
Android said no, unfortunately. Adding an IMAP account yielded a series of constant force closes. Apparently as a result of the IMAP account not specifying any details about calendar sync. Newsflash, newsflash, developers at Google, IMAP isn’t a calendar sync protocol–it’s simply an email sync protocol. Nothing more. At least Exchange email works, but it seems Google are determined to force users into using the proprietary Gmail application to access even non-Gmail accounts in the future. I suspect a fork of the AOSP Email app will be necessary if this continues!
It’s a real shame actually, as Email is one of the few apps to have had a Material design overhaul. Sure, it’s not perfect (the UX is a bit fumbly, especially the hamburger menu on the left hand edge), but it at least has some aesthetic polish. It’s just a real shame that Google can’t seem to get the basics right with this new release of AOSP, and actually support adding an email account!
I really wanted to like Android 5.0. I tried out the developer preview release, which was nice to use. There were issues and bugs, but that’s what preview releases are for! Preview releases don’t get the same QA as the final product. Unfortunately though, it seems that Google’s entire QA team went missing in action before the launch of Android L. With three new devices shipping with L, it remains to be seen if these issues will carry across onto the actual factory images – it’s notable that no factory images have been released for older devices, such as the Nexus 7 2013. Perhaps someone senior spent more than ten seconds with the release, and put on the brakes?
Frankly, I’m really disappointed by Lollipop. As a developer, the lack of testing here is truly shocking. Custom ROMs on XDA would certainly appear to undergo more testing than this release had. As someone who cares a lot about User Experience, the lack of quality assurance on the interface and aesthetics is downright disastrous. Either way, I would certainly not be surprised to see a large number of vacancies posted for positions on Google’s Android team, after this launch. Lollipop, at least in its AOSP form, is not ready for the big-time just yet. A trip back to the drawing board, and hiring of some people who understand test-driven development would go a long way. Or maybe go take on an external consultant to help get the team into shape and turning out quality products? My email is always open to approaches (lol, as if).
Maybe we should all just hang off in the hope of an android-5.0.0_r2.1 tag? It now appears that Google has delayed the release of OTA builds of Lollipop until the 12th of November (see comments). Hopefully the quality assurance team will have found their way back to the office by then!