Annual Android and iOS releases are boring and they need to stop

6 min read

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Annual Android and iOS releases are boring and they need to stop

You’re forgiven if you missed the official beta of Android 11, quietly launched by Google last week. In just a few weeks, Apple will do the same with iOS 14 at its all-online WWDC, and before long we’ll be doing it all again next year.

It needs to stop. Annual updates have painted Apple and Google into increasingly smaller corners, as they simultaneously rush and delay features to make sure each version update is packed with new stuff. With the relentless pace of updates over the years, it’s gotten harder to wow us with new features. The fact of the matter is, Android 11 is boring, and iOS 14 will be too.

There is another way. But will Apple and Google be brave enough to break with tradition? It may take a few more boring updates to know for sure. 

Is that all there is?

Android 11 isn’t so much a new version as an iterative update to Android 10. In fact, its most noteworthy feature, Bubbles, which lets you populate your screen with conversation circles, was a feature of the Android 10 beta that never made it into the final release. The power button changes that add home control and Google Pay as options, are simply borrowed from the Pixel. The rest of the enhancements are little more than tweaks and shuffles.

android 11 screen Michael Simon/IDG

Android 11 doesn’t bring the big features users want.

That’s not a criticism of Android 11 per se, but rather the forced perception that it’s a Brand New Thing. Under normal non-COVID-19 circumstances, Android 11 would have gotten a huge Google I/O spotlight and some serious stage time for what are largely incremental features. New privacy options and notification management are being touted as major changes, because something has to be.

But it needn’t be that way. If Apple and Google were simply to roll out new features when they were ready rather than focus on an unnecessarily restrictive roadmap, the surprise and excitement would return in a big way.

Hitting the wall

Each year Android and Apple fans count down the days until the grand unveiling. The expectation of annual OS updates inevitably leads to disappointment, however. Apple and Google have delivered so many incredible features and apps over the years, we’re let down when a new OS doesn’t bring something transcendent. Often there isn’t even a tangible reason why we wanted or needed something new, other than for the sake of newness. 

android 11 bubbles Google

Sorry Google, but Bubbles isn’t very exciting.

All of the features Google has announced in Android 11 will undoubtedly improve the experience. Grouped conversations will make jumping among various messaging apps that much easier. One-time permissions will add an extra layer of privacy. The new Power screen menu will put Google Pay front and center, just as contactless payments are set to take off. Screen recording is insanely overdue. Even Bubbles could be a useful feature if it gets the proper support.

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