Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Argh! Stupid Automatic Updates!

I've been slowly coming to the view that "automatic updates" are evil.  E V I L!

Of course, there are some valid uses for this (from a software engineering perspective): namely for distributing critical security patches to users who would otherwise never install them let alone know that they were available. However, apart from that very small corner case, it is NOT ACCEPTABLE that automatic updates are able to barge their way onto users' devices, steamrolling working setups and workflows with little to no option for users to choose otherwise.

In particular, it is particularly not acceptable that an update which completely rearranges the UI, removes valuable point-of-difference functionality, and in the process also manages to make previously beautiful interfaces look like a pile of steaming crap designed by preschoolers, should be forced upon users without any way of opting out or easily rolling back to the previous setup.

This is the situation I find myself in with my tablet this morning, after it had a forced firmware update pushed and downloaded to it this morning.

The tablet in question is a Samsung Galaxy 2 Tab 10.1. From the looks of things, it has now been updated to a new TouchViz skin version (running Android 4.2.2).

What's wrong with this new update?
1) The TouchViz skin appears to have been designed with phones and other portrait-orientation devices in mind.
On such devices, there is less horizontal real estate (in the default orientation), so splitting the time/notifications/etc. stuff up to the top away from the bottom bar (with the navigation buttons) makes sense.

But, we're dealing with tablets here. Tablets (apart from the iPads) are generally orientated horizontally. We can afford to have all this information stored together along the bottom of the screen, but adding a separate bar across the top is NOT such a great idea.

2) Centered navigation buttons
What were they thinking? Again, if this were a phone held in vertical orientation, this would not be much of an issue. But, as this is a tablet, the larger horizontal dimension means that instead of being able to conveniently use your left thumb to press these (while holding the tablet using the same hand, leaving the other hand free to scroll and point to things), you now have to move your right hand all the way over to the midpoint of the bottom of the screen to activate things. Blargh! (Cue arguments about rehoming time, and loss of convenience)

3) Back button on the RHS
I know a number of devices in recent years do this, but I seriously hate this. Pressing back generally takes you to the previous item/screen, which in apps allowing side-swiping, means something on the left. Also, note that in all traditional browser interfaces, back buttons are always located at the top left corner BEFORE the forward button.

Even if you argue that by being on the RHS, it is somehow "easier" to hit when holding the device with one hand (right-handed), I'd again have to question whether placing something so that you have to bend and arch-back your thumb to hit as being that great/easy to hit.

4) Removal of useful functionality - Take Screenshot Button
AFAIK, no other devices provide an easily accessible button to take screenshots from the device itself (without having to find and install a separate app yourself).

Sure, there were some annoyances with the existing functionality. Namely that it would always pop up an image editor immediately, and that you'd have to manually tell it to save the screenshot:
  a. your app gets paused, which in some cases, may prove to be problematic, such as if you're trying to take snapshots of a game in progress, with said game having a long/lengthy resumption process where it basically needs to go through all its on-startup cinematics/loading screens, or
  b. it just breaks your flow of what you want to do - interact with your app and grab a few screenshots while you're at it. You can annotate these later, but annotating them immediately isn't such an interesting/necessary prospect.

I also understand the modern concerns about privacy leaks (*ahem* sexting and the like) from having this functionality so readily available. BUT, we're had the Print Screen button on practically every computer out there for decades, and we're still relatively fine ;)

5) Task Switcher that occupies the entire screen
What is it with various OS designers and their self-important beliefs that task switching is such an "big, scary, and infrequently performed" operation that it requires taking over the entire screen to display at most 1-2 tiny snapshots?

First it was the GNOME devs and the abomination that is GNOME Shell in GNOME 3. This apparently inspired (or incensed) the Ubuntu devs from Canonical to create their own fork of this concept, with a few quirks of their own thrown in for good measure. And then good-'ol Microsoft decides to get in the fray and launches their own take on this, with the "Metro" (wait, scratch that; due to those ever pesky "IP" issues, it's now known as the "Modern" interface) which likewise also takes over the entire screen with a side-scrolling candy-coloured flatland.

Yes, task switching isn't efficient when we have too many things visible to fit on screen in one go without having to scroll. But, seriously: why can't we stick with keeping these switchers taking as little screen space as possible in their default state, making it so that they only start taking up more space if and when there are enough items to display that doing so warrants such changes?

6) Gallery/Photos app looks like crap
Previously, the Gallery had a really elegant layout with a dark background and photos cropped to regularly sized square tiles. No photo was promoted in favour of any others - they were all the same size, providing a really nice overview of all the photos within a gallery.

The same can't be said of the new one. From haphazard layouts (partially inherited from Google+, but yet, somehow completely fudged), to the large light-coloured background/gaps between images which not only takes away from the images but makes everything just look cheap, the new app looks really crap.

The worst part is that this now completely destroys the visual effect I had spent ages carefully setting up when curating my set of favourite photos from over the past few years in the gallery on there. Thanks a lot for that! </sarcasm>

7) Order/Layout of Apps Totally Munted
Once again, I'd spent quite a bit of time tweaking the order that various apps were presented so that they were ordering in an optimal order for me to quickly get to things I use a lot. Now, with this update, they've completely blown all of that away, instead ensuring that only their apps are on the first screen, and then everything else gets pushed on to the other pages in the order in which they were installed. Blargh!

Closing Words
It would be much appreciated if someone could provide some instructions for reverting the firmware to the previous version used (prior to this update). Either that, or at least a way to revert it down to stock Android.

In the long term though, I'd seriously recommend that we stop trying to push out automated updates on users, especially those which have any significant impact on user interfaces (and which may/may not be bundled with necessary security updates). At least, that's what I'll be advocating for in any future projects I work on!

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