Google has never been ashamed to admit that its services are continually in development. From the ‘Beta’ label applied for so many years to Gmail, to the amazing new tools and features constantly popping up and disappearing on the company’s Google Labs page, users have become accustomed to the knowledge that the application they use today may not be the same one they’ll be using tomorrow.
And so it goes with Google Android. The mobile operating system is in a constant state of revolution, with serious chunks of functionality and user interface being updated constantly in response to criticism, competition or sheer whimsy.
While this has led to a strong and integrated experience overall, certain parts of the patchwork let down the whole. The Market application has drawn negative comments from the beginning, with developers and users criticising both its aesthetic style and functionality. The failings are especially clear when going up against the mammoth that is iTunes, which despite a catalogue of restrictions and annoyances at least presents a clear and attractive window to buy and download content.
And so, with the latest update to the app, Google has set out to remedy some of the problems in Android Market.
On starting the new application, it’s pretty clear that the grumbling about the utilitarian style of the previous interface has been addressed. The new front page displays a highly graphical list of featured apps, along with new slots to promote up and comers. ‘Staff Choices’ and ‘Editors’ Choice’ provide a handy way to find useful tools that would not appear immediately in the traditional ‘Top Paid’ and ‘Top Free’ lists.
Those traditional ways of finding apps are still available, however. Swipe right from the home screen to find ‘Top Paid’, ‘Top Free’, ‘Top Grossing’ and so on. Swiping left brings you to a list of application categories, which take you to a sub-screen that mirrors the choices available from the home screen.
App pages remain fundamentally the same as in previous releases, although Google has added a share button to the menu alongside search, which allows happy customers to brag about their latest find on social networks. Screenshots and videos are now immediately visible, giving a pleasant visual clue to prospective buyers. Big chunky buttons at the bottom of the page give access to the developers website, and support email address. Related content is automatically picked and displayed above the option to report a malicious or inappropriate app.
Reviews are still a major feature of the service, and tend to be slightly more helpful than the sub-YouTube standard of commentary on the iTunes App Store.
The downsides are pretty minor, perhaps because the fundamental functionality of the application really hasn’t changed much. I encountered a couple of crashes when browsing the store, one of which I was impossible to recover from, and forced me to kill the app with Advanced Task Killer. This may be a result of my slightly odd custom Android configuration, and in any case didn’t interfere unduly with normal use.
Performance is still poor, with the application taking up to 10 seconds to open at times. This could be down to caching the graphical elements, but the delay doesn’t seem to correlate to how often the promoted apps change. Managing your downloaded apps is slow as well, with the tool taking time to register update and uninstall requests.
Unfortunately, this is one area where Google failed to improve over their previous effort, and indeed the lovely new home screen may have introduced extra lag into the mix.
The new application is certainly more attractive than ever, and the new promotional opportunities should delight devs at risk of jumping ship to the iOS platform. For users, being able to find good quality new apps is certainly a bonus, but won’t change my established practice of trawling Android forums for advice before installing anything. The performance issue is the only real downside of the update, and that’s been a problem ever since I started using the platform.