Google didn't announce a new version of Android at Google I/O, its annual developer conference last week, leaving our devices feeling sad and unloved. Android 4.3 may still be on the way soon, but for now, here's what we wish Google had announced — and how you can get many of these features right now.
A Smarter Lock Screen
Android's lock screen has evolved in many ways to include widgets and a Google Now shortcut, but it could use a bit more tweaking to add better shortcuts and notifications. Fortunately, a few apps can give you those features right now.
Dashclock (Free) supercharges your lock screen, and we have a great guide to help you set it up. Not only does it look great, it will provide notification via icons and/or text, useful information like weather and appointments, provide audio controls, and a lot more. As well, you can extend Dashclock to do a number of things to make your lock screen incredibly useful.
For those who prefer a more iOS-like interface, try LockerPro ($4). Due to its higher price and smaller feature set we wouldn't recommend it ahead of Dashclock, but you may prefer its interface if you particularly like the way iOS handles its lock screen.
If you want quick settings tweaks for your favourite apps, you can grab something like WidgetLocker or flash a ROM such as CyanogenMod, which give you a more dynamic lock screen. Not only will you get your favourite widgets, but you can add buttons to your most used apps for quick access — no swipe-to-unlock required.
Profiles For Settings
Android does a great job of taking care of things for you so you don't have to waste your time doing them yourself. But Android doesn't manage your settings based on your location or needs right out of the box. When our sister site Gizmodo went through the 15 features they wanted to see from Android, we particularly loved one suggestion: the ability to create setting profiles and switch between them easily. Custom ROM Cyanogenmod adds this feature, but if it doesn't support your phone you'll want to check out Setting Profiles ($4, Lite).
Setting Profiles allows you to automatically activate different settings on your phone based on your location, battery condition, and other rules. For example, when your battery gets low you could have a profile that automatically disables power-hungry features such as LTE, GPS and high screen brightness.
A Unified (And Global) Messaging System
Google Voice provides the ability to send and receive text messages and receive calls on Android and your computer — but only if you live in the US. Meanwhile, Apple's iOS offers a nice unified messaging system in the form of iMessage. It would be nice to see Android take Google Voice a step further, adding global availability and support for picture messaging, though we're not holding our breath.
If you want an alternative to Google Voice that offers these additional features, check out MightyText. It provides access to your text messages on any computer, via a web interface, and on tablets as well. This way you can not only keep all your messages in sync, but also receive MMS on every device. Future versions of MightyText will include photo sync, too, so you'll get new features as development progresses.
Simpler App Management
Installing apps through Google Play works greatwell, and organising your home screen doesn't take much effort either. When you want to remove an app, however, you can't uninstall it from your home screen — you can only remove it. We'd like to see simpler app management with options. Custom launchers, such as NOVA Launcher, allow you to press and hold apps and decide whether you want to remove them from your home screen or uninstall them from your phone. You also get quick access to app info pages so you can clear their caches and manage their other settings with ease.
Alternative launchers provide a number of other great features that enhance your home screen's abilities and its interface, so we highly recommend installing an alternative to the default if you haven't already.
Also, check out Andmade Share if all of this isn't enough. It'll allow you to reorganize Android's share menu and prioritise the apps you use most.
Other Features Google Needs to Improve
Unfortunately we can't add every feature and fix we'd like to see in the next version of Android. Here are the major items on our wish list:
- A consistent back button: Android's back button doesn't always work exactly the same way in every app, so it can take a little trial and error before you know where you're going. We'd like to see Google set some guidelines for how the back button should be used so users always know what to expect.
- Clean up the notifications drawer: While we've always loved Android's notification drawer, we'd like to see a little more organisation. Even something as minor as notification categories or organisation by app would make a big difference.
- More resizable widgets: We like the ability to resize widgets, but some can't be resized at all. Custom launchers help a little bit in some cases, but not in all. Additionally, sometimes certain sizes of widgets leaves them feeling unevenly spaced on your home screen. We'd like to see a few updates to make everything fit better and look nicer.
- Social media integration in the notifications drawer: iOS offers the ability to tweet and post to Facebook from its Notification Center, so why shouldn't Android? Also, if Google made notification drawer widgets an option we could do much more (such as check weather or search the web).
With all of this said, Google has made Android pretty amazing since 4.1 and a lot of the features we want we can wait for. But part of what makes new versions of Android great is that we get a bunch of cool features we wouldn't have thought of ourselves. With Android 4.3 rumoured for 10 June, we may see a decent update. Hopefully that will bring the excitement some felt was missing from this year's I/O keynote.