As with our Ubuntu wishlist, we can't actually tell everyone contributing to Google's open source Android mobile phone software what to do. All we can do is suggest five things that would make its smartphones even smarter.
A better keyboard
A good handful of developers and handset makers have taken steps to improve Android's stock virtual keyboard. Some have suggested it's really an issue with hardware responsiveness. Either way, Lukas Mathis does a masterful job explaining exactly what's wrong with Android's keyboard, as compared to the iPhone, which has had a few years to mature and iterate:
Typing on the iPhone ... works perfectly well, perhaps better than on a physical keyboard. Doing the same thing on an HTC Magic is often annoying and wrought with errors.
We'll leave the physical keyboard debate out of this. The virtual keyboard is the route more handset makers that aren't BlackBerry seem to be taking. What's more, for a device that's supposed to give you premiere mobile access to Google searches and information, having a device punish you for trying to type with one hand is off-putting. Handset makers need to widen the screens, and Android's developers need to learn how to better anticipate what a user is trying to type.
A web-based Market with great search
When you think about Google's origins and mission of providing good information to the masses, it's hard to square that against how the Android Market is organised. On the phone itself, everything is an App or Game, broken into a few sub-categories. On the web version, you can browse the Featured, Top Paid and Top Free sections, or browse the hopelessly stuffed sub-categories — without any search function.
In actually using the phone, people search with a tag and functionality mindset. "I need a highly-rated free Twitter client", or "I need a screen widget that shows a calendar". As it stands, you can search descriptions from the phone, but you have to scroll lots of results on a tiny screen, with no sorting tools. You can sometimes find an app's "QR code" on the web and point your camera's phone, with a Barcode Scanner app running, to link to the right spot on the market, and—wait, no, this is ridiculous, and we're in CueCat territory.
In other words, Google needs to forge a smarter link between a great web-based Market and individual phones, and improve the search and sort abilities on Android phones themselves.
A serious hardware contender
Even the best-reviewed Android phone out right now, the HTC Hero, suffers from the same middling processor and laggy operation as its predecessors. That's not to say it isn't perhaps more functional and fun than many other web-enabled phones out there, but we haven't seen what Android can really do when it's allowed to move into the passing lane.
Not to be lazy, but writer of things Mac and design John Gruber already pointed out what Android device makers can do to make users happy, get attention, and even push Apple as a real competitor. Simply put, build a top-shelf device, don't be afraid to charge for it, and don't try to eat from the same piece of pie as the iPhone:
Consider trade-offs that Apple is unlikely to make, like, say, device thickness. Beef your phone up with a bigger (and, yes, slightly thicker) battery than the iPhone's and then make battery life a major selling point. Something along the lines of, "The iPhone's battery life is fine for casual users, but serious users need more than just a few hours."
A syncing, Chrome-powered browser
Android's built-in browser is based off the same WebKit roots as Google Chrome (and Safari), but it doesn't move one-fifth as fast, even on a Wi-Fi connection. That might be a hardware issue, and so may improve soon. One thing it doesn't do, though, is allow you to import bookmarks from a file, or otherwise match them to another browser you've already filled with your web preferences.
The most exciting part of our interview with Mozilla Mobile VP Jay Sullivan was when he mentioned how Fennec, a Firefox-based mobile browser (that might land on Android someday), will give Firefox users the ability to sync browser history, passwords, bookmarks, or even the last set of tabs opened. Google can likely go beyond these basics, and should. The only thing better than a fast and snappy browser is one that's a simple extension of your already-snappy desktop browser.
Open up, or just be nice, to modders
Earlier this month, Google sent a cease-and-desist letter to the coder behind CyanogenMod, a totally unofficial, but pretty awesome, custom ROM. It offered features from the next build of Android, much-needed speed optimisations, a few cool secret abilities, and generally made nerdy, tech-savvy Android owners excited to have their phones. It also copied a few of Google's proprietary apps to make the phone fully functional. It seems like the issue has settled down, and Cyanogen is even getting help from Android developers in forging his next project, and that's pretty encouraging.
Know who some of the most enthusiastic, and evangelical, Xbox owners are? Those who manage their entire home entertainment lives Xbox Media Center. Before the app store, and, to a lesser extent, after it, the iPhone cultivated a similarly dedicated group of "jailbreakers". Most of the folks who would dare to "flash" a phone, or even get that far into the process, know the risks of doing so, and take their lumps when things go wrong. At worst, they do little to no harm to the average customer who sticks with the system and updates provided by their carrier. At best, their enthusiasm and unofficial discoveries generate a good deal of publicity and bragging rights for the platform. It seems like Google's taken a soft stance on modders so far — let's hope it continues.
What needs to be changed or added on the Android platform, not just an individual phone, to make it truly great? Give us your own wishlist in the comments.