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Google’s 15 funniest flip-flops with Android, Chrome OS, and beyond

Now you see it; now you do not.

As any Android fan can let you know, Google’s grow to be a bit infamous for altering its thoughts. At some point, we hear about how some new app, function, or concept is the manner of the long run and the reply to all of our urgent issues — and the following day (or so it typically appears), that notion is mysteriously gone and forgotten.

One of the best fickle flipples are when Google doubles up and does one other 180 quickly thereafter and finally ends up going again to the factor it initially offered us on after which deserted. It is sufficient to make even essentially the most secure tech fanatic bemused and befuddled.

With a handful of recent about-faces getting added into the combo in current months, I believed it would be a high quality time to look again at a few of Google’s most memorable, amusing, and infrequently groan-inducing U-turns right here within the land of Android and different related apps and companies.

So buckle up and seize a bottle of Dramamine, simply in case. Some critical flipping-and-flopping-caused flabbergasting is straight forward.

1. Android: “Hangouts is gonna be Android’s single default messaging consumer!”

We’ll begin with the most important, floppiest flip of all: the mess of Google’s ever-evolving method to messaging companies, particularly as they pertain to Android.

After a protracted and often-confounding journey, Google lastly acquired its act collectively in 2013 and got here up with a single unified messaging app for Android. Hangouts could be the “single communication app [for] customers to depend on,” a Google exec mentioned on the time. It’d deal with instantaneous messaging, SMS-based texting, and even internet-based audio and video calls.

Finally! Android’s rusty outdated Messaging app was dishonorably discharged, and Hangouts began to function the platform’s default messaging software. Till about two years later, that’s, when Google Messenger came along and took over the default spot — splintering issues again right into a muddled messaging mess.

And that, in fact, was only the beginning. (Allo? Can you hear me?)

2. Everywhere: “Google Messages and Duo are for casual consumer use! Google Chat and Meet are for businesses!”

Speaking of messy messaging about, erm, messaging, after many more years of complicated confusion and no consistent focus on a sensible messaging service strategy, Google got its act together again in 2018 and settled on a new approach that actually almost made sense (if you allowed yourself to forget the past for a moment).

Ahem: Messages and Duo were the text and video messaging apps for consumers, while Chat and Meet were the group chat and videoconferencing apps for enterprises. Google made this distinction abundantly clear, with a member of the messaging team going as far as to create and share a handy chart that illustrated the breakdown:

Google Messaging Tweet Twitter

However then — properly, y’know. By 2020, Google modified its thoughts about that and made Chat and Meet broad-use companies, for each groups and people, whereas Messages and Duo remained minimally totally different variations on the identical fundamental ideas.

And this is a bonus U-turn inside this U-turn: Final fall, Google introduced display screen sharing into Google Duo…two years after removing that exact same function from the app.

Cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

three. Android (and past): “RSS is lifeless!”

Manner again within the prehistoric period of 2013, Google made a lot of its most loyal customers steaming mad by saying the shutdown of its common (not less than in sure circles) Google Reader service. Reader was a software for following RSS feeds from particular person web sites, which made it super-easy to create your individual customized feed of information from the sources you cared about essentially the most.

In its 2013 announcement, Google mentioned that “utilization of Google Reader [had] declined,” and “as an organization, [it was] pouring all of [its] vitality into fewer merchandise” — as a result of it thought “that sort of focus [would] make for a greater consumer expertise.”

Quick-forward to 2021, and what do we have now? Why, it is a new “experiment” that mainly recreates the Google Reader idea proper inside Chrome on Android!

Per that announcement:

In the present day, individuals have some ways to maintain up with their favourite web sites, together with subscribing to mailing lists, notifications, and RSS. It’s lots for anybody particular person to handle, so we’re exploring the best way to simplify the expertise of getting the most recent and biggest out of your favourite websites straight in Chrome, constructing on the open RSS net normal. Our imaginative and prescient is to assist individuals construct a direct reference to their favourite publishers and creators on the internet.

The function brings a brand new “Comply with” button into the Chrome Android app that permits you to subscribe to a web site’s RSS feed after which see all of its newest tales within the browser’s New Tab web page.

Gee willikers, that positive does really feel acquainted.

four. Android: “Backside tab bars are dangerous, mmkay?”

When Google’s Materials Design normal debuted in 2014, it actively discouraged using backside tab bars — the iOS-reminiscent rows of instructions that seem on the backside of the display screen inside Android apps.

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This was no refined suggestion, both. Google’s official design pointers have been adamant concerning the platform’s stance on the bars:

Google Android Bottom Tab Bars JR

However then, one thing modified. Inside a pair years of that proclamation, backside tab bars began showing in Google’s personal Android apps. And by 2016, Google’s design pointers have been up to date to encourage the use of bottom-dwelling packing containers in Android functions.

And this is the actual kicker: Over the previous 12 months, we have seen some Google apps get up to date once more to do away with the underside tab bars and move back to that unique bar-free normal — for a short time, not less than.

Oh, Google.

5. Android: “We’re gonna put all of your browser tabs within the Overview checklist!”

Talking of design about-faces, with 2014’s Android Lollipop launch, Google made a daring transfer: It took the power to leap between browser tabs out of the particular Chrome app and put it into the system Overview checklist as an alternative. Every browser tab would seem like its personal app or course of, we have been instructed, and it’d make excellent sense alongside all the opposite apps and processes in a single system-level vacation spot. We might get used to it!

Solely, um, we did not. For most individuals, having tons of tabs blended in with apps and numerous different playing cards made issues harder to handle — and solely added to the cluttered and complicated nature of the Overview interface in that period.

After about 4 years, Google appeared to confess that the transfer was misguided. In 2018, the corporate rolled out an update that eradicated the tab-Overview possibility and introduced tabs again into the browser for everybody.

6. Android: “Widgets ought to go within the app drawer!”

The Android Ice Cream Sandwich period of Android was all about taking the simplification launched within the tablet-only Honeycomb launch earlier than it — the strikes to eradicate hidden instructions and make the working system extra intuitive — and bringing those self same ideas to telephones in a manner that made sense for the smaller display screen.

A part of that effort concerned shifting the choice so as to add dwelling display screen widgets from an out-of-the-way and hidden long-press menu into the primary app drawer, the place it would be plainly in sight — with widgets current proper alongside all of the common app shortcuts. The concept was to create a single streamlined place for locating all the pieces that could possibly be added onto your house display screen. It appeared to make an terrible lot of sense.

Android Widgets App Drawer JR

However, alas, it lasted for under a short two years: With out rationalization, Google yanked widgets out of the app drawer and put ’em again into their former long-press menu with 2013’s Android four.four KitKat launch. And even with the magically renewed give attention to widget discovery on this 12 months’s Android 12 replace, the component stays vexingly out of sight and accessible solely through that long-press motion.

7. Android: “Widgets belong on the lock display screen!”

In different widget-related flippity-floppity, again in 2012, Google offered us on the notion that widgets could be a wonderful addition to our gadgets’ lock screens. Lock display screen widgets have been a key component of that 12 months’s Android four.2 Jelly Bean launch, in reality, and the pitch was spectacular: Widgets have been so darn helpful on the house display screen — so why not additionally make ’em obtainable one step larger?

By Android two years later, user-configured lock display screen widgets have been however a mere reminiscence. And on this case, I do not suppose too many individuals have been choked up over the change.

eight. Android: “The app drawer ought to scroll horizontally!”

That is moving into fairly geeky waters with the historical past of Android variations, I notice, however Android’s app drawer scrolled vertically — up and down — all over the platform’s 2010 Gingerbread period. Then, in 2011, Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich launched a horizontal scrolling drawer, the place you’d entry extra pages by swiping facet to facet as an alternative (a sample we nonetheless see utilized by sure third-party device-makers right now). It was a neater, extra wise method to entry your apps! Or so we have been instructed.

Issues stayed sideways up via 2015, when an replace associated to that 12 months’s Android Marshmallow launch arrived with out warning and moved Android’s core interface again to its unique up-and-down scrolling setup.

Déjà vu a lot, Monsieur Marshmallow?

9. Chrome OS: “The launcher needs to be ginormous!”

Within the early days of Google’s Chrome OS platform, the launcher — the Chromebook’s model of an app drawer — was a small window that appeared on prime of your desktop. The interface wasn’t far faraway from what you see with the Home windows Begin menu mannequin.

Sooner or later, although, Google rethought that method and reworked the Chrome OS launcher into a large, full-screen kind of affair — extra like what you see on MacOS. That is nonetheless how the software program behaves right now.

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Erm, for now, not less than. Indicators within the open-source Chrome OS code recommend Google’s experimenting with a revamped launcher design that’d go again to the unique, smaller pop-up-window setup. It’d supposedly “enhance app workflows by optimizing entry to apps, app content material, and app actions.”


10. Google TV: “It is Android TV, gersh dern it!”

Perhaps the funniest Google flip-flop of all time is the corporate’s stance on its streaming media platform, Android TV.

Android TV, y’see, truly began off as Google TV when it first launched again in 2010. 4 years later, Google introduced it was changing the name to Android TV. After which, final October, the corporate launched a new Chromecast device that featured a brand new software program layer referred to as — look forward to it — Google TV.

Technically, Google TV is a customized interface that exists atop the Android TV software program. However ultimately, Google says Google TV shall be built-in into Android TV and your complete platform will grow to be Google TV as an alternative of Android TV (besides possibly in sure exceptions the place device-makers resolve to stay with Android TV with out the Google TV components).

In associated information, Google’s advertising and marketing division is outwardly now headed up by the ghosts of Laurel and Hardy.

11. Put on: “Smartwatches are all about notifications and proactive data!”

At its begin in 2014, Google’s wearable know-how platform revolved across the concept of easy interactions and quick access to pertinent info. As a very dashing Android-focused author put it as soon as:

It was what Put on did not attempt to be that made it particularly attention-grabbing. In contrast to different wearable-tech efforts, the platform did not attempt to cram a lot of tiny buttons and complicated instructions into an awkward-to-use wrist-based display screen. It reframed the smartwatch to be much less about performing grand duties and extra about transmitting pertinent data rapidly and with out fuss. 

However then, properly, one thing occurred: The early Put on gadgets weren’t promoting like hotcakes — and Apple’s well-marketed various, on the opposite facet of the cellular universe, was hanging a chord with tech-hungry customers. So Google determined to take a bit of time-out and reassess its smartwatch technique.

Self-quoting genie, hook me up once more:

The Apple Watch got here alongside, full with its overly difficult interface and app-centric nature (one thing Apple would refine considerably over time however that was nearly laughably dangerous to start with). And Google, relatively than sticking to the elements of its platform that made sense, determined to revamp Put on solely and parrot Apple’s flawed method.

With 2017’s Wear 2.0 update, Android Put on misplaced the core component that made it wise as a wearable working system — the give attention to simply glanceable data from each notifications and predictive intelligence — and as an alternative put the give attention to issues that sound spectacular in adverts however do not make for an amazing real-world expertise on a tiny wrist-based display screen: difficult standalone apps, cramped on-screen keyboards, and notifications that do not seem in a glanceable manner and require a number of faucets and interactions to course of.


And everyone knows how this story ends. Identical to clockwork, a 12 months and a half after that ill-advised revamp, Google pulled one other 180 and went back to its original vision for the platform — with the main focus firmly on glanceable data and proactive help as soon as extra. To this point, indicators recommend this 12 months’s coming Wear re-re-re-revamp will roughly comply with that very same sample, albeit with much more give attention to making an attempt to make merchandise individuals will truly need to purchase.

12. Android: “Android tablets deserve their very own specialised interface!”

In 2011, Google held a splashy occasion at its headquarters to introduce a brand new period for Android. It revolved across the launch of Android Honeycomb and a newfound give attention to optimizing the platform for pill use.

Honeycomb established a completely reimagined interface for Android on tablets, with key features like navigation buttons, notifications, and the app drawer dwelling in corners of the display screen with a view to present straightforward two-handed entry. It was a dramatic departure from the usual Android interface and was designed to let the working system take full benefit of the bigger display screen area.

Android Tablet Interface JR

The tablet-specific UI was unceremoniously dumped earlier than lengthy, nonetheless, when Google’s Android four.2 Jelly Bean replace introduced a extra conventional phone-like setup again to pill screens — with “consistency and value” being cited because the driving causes for the reversal.

At that time, Android’s notification panel remained cut up into two separate elements on tablets — a configuration that might stick round till 2014’s Android Lollipop launch, when the tablet-based panel completed its transformation and have become a single pulldown like its phone-based counterpart.

13. Android: “Face unlock is the brand new normal in smartphone safety!”

Ah, 2011. Do not forget that 12 months in Googley devices? All of the cool children unlocked their telephones with their faces for about 5 minutes again then, when Google first launched the Face Unlock function as a part of that 12 months’s Android launch. However even because the facial safety system grew ever-so-slowly extra dependable through the years, it was by no means as quick or as straightforward to make use of as a great old school sample swipe or fingerprint faucet — and it did not take lengthy for most people to surrender on the notion of it being something greater than an impractical-in-the-real-world parlor trick.

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With the launch of 2019’s Pixel four cellphone, Google gave facial recognition a recent begin. It launched official system-level support for superior that’d make face-driven cellphone unlocking extra constant, safe, and efficient, and it performed up the Pixel four’s facial recognition function as a meaningful advancement and advantage.

That give attention to face unlocking lasted all the way in which to the next 12 months’s Pixel 5 flagship, which ditched facial recognition solely with out a lot as a puff of rationalization.

Naturally, it now seems just like the function might probably make a comeback on this 12 months’s Pixel 6 cellphone. Hey, Google: You are makin’ me dizzy.

14. Android: “Android wants its personal native video editor!”

The high-profile launch of a brand new native video modifying app for Android was a very huge deal in 2011 — particularly since there weren’t many nice third-party choices for that operate on the time (and in addition since, y’know, That Different Cell Platform™ had gotten its personal high-profile native modifying consumer only one 12 months earlier).

However Google’s Film Studio app was deserted roughly instantly after its delivery. The app by no means acquired a lot in the way in which of updates or enhancements, and after delivery sporadically with Android gadgets via 2012’s Nexus four cellphone, it simply kinda silently evaporated — by no means to get replaced or mentioned once more.

This previous February, a full decade later, Google finally introduced a good video modifying operate as a part of its Android Google Images app. It is not the standalone video editor Android as soon as had, however hey, it is somethin’.

15. Android: “This working system is all about individuals, mmkay?”

In 2011’s Android Ice Cream Sandwich model, Google curiously renamed the platform’s default Contacts app to Folks.

The concept behind the shift was logical sufficient: Our telephones have been about a lot greater than contacts, the considering went, and so it made extra sense to name the app Folks — and to have it act as a hub for all of our social communications.

To that finish, the Folks app aimed to carry all your contacts’ social networking connections into single, centralized profiles. You possibly can see an individual’s tweets or, sure, even Google+ postings proper then and there — a “dwell window into your social world,” as Google put it on the time.

Sadly, renaming Contacts to Folks principally appeared to confuse individuals who could not determine the place their contacts had gone. By the Lollipop replace a number of years later, the app unceremoniously went again to its unique identify, and it did not take lengthy for the entire “single hub” factor to fade away, too — not less than, up till final 12 months’s Android 11 launch, when individuals abruptly turned a key focal point for the working system as soon as once more.

Oof. My head hurts.

So what provides?

Trying again via all these U-turns, it is exhausting to not surprise what is going on on — why Google so often goes forwards and backwards in an nearly random-seeming method with comparatively important selections about how its platforms and companies work.

The reply, greatest I can determine, is definitely fairly easy. Prepared? Google is Google. Inside Android and with out — for higher and for worse — the corporate has at all times proven a willingness to attempt issues after which change course a short while later if it decides it would not like the brand new route.

Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior VP in command of Android (and most everything else now, too, it appears), acknowledged the development throughout a chat I had with him a handful of years in the past.

“From a product improvement perspective, I believe it is an amazing factor to have the ability to experiment and check out new issues and see what works [and] what would not,” he mentioned. He went on to notice that an excessive amount of forwards and backwards can undoubtedly have its downsides — specifically on customers who simply need issues to work constantly and with out superfluous change.

“We’re looking for the correct steadiness of the best way to iterate but in addition present stability in order that we’re not inflicting whiplash,” he instructed me.

It is an admirable aim. And who is aware of? Perhaps to some extent, experimentation is best than stagnation — even when it does include the occasional flipping and flopping.

Then once more, possibly it is not.

Oh, hell. I can not resolve.

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