Android woes give iOS the upper hand

-April 07, 2017

Recently, my Verizon-serviced first-generation Moto X smartphone spontaneously transitioned (seemingly in response to my access of an email in the Gmail app) into an out-of-control state where, I presume, its dual-core CPU was pegged at 100% utilization. I couldn't take or make calls; I couldn't launch or shut down apps, I couldn't navigate the UI, I couldn't even access the normal touch-controlled power-off pop-up message ... the only option available to me was to continue to hold down the power button until the phone did a hard shutdown. After I restarted the Moto X, it would be fine for about 30 seconds after boot completed ... then it would go completely crazy again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I ended up having to do a full factory reset, followed by a reinstall (and re-setup) of my apps from cloud backup, reconfiguration of my non-Google email accounts, etc.


Source: Flickr user andsnleo

Two weeks ago, it happened again. I was early-morning driving at the time, and GPS-fed Google Maps got completely confused as to what my current location was. Fortunately, I had another phone with me, which I used instead to route me to my destination. Once there, I powered down the Moto X, restarted it ... and it went bonkers again. This time I didn't go straight to the "thermonuclear" full factory reset option; I first unsuccessfully tried wiping the cache partition, then resetting user data. If I'd known what app in particular was causing the problem, I could have booted into safe mode and attempted maintenance there, but as it was I didn't have a clue where to begin. I didn't have spare time on my hands for extensive debugging, either; I was in the midst of a business trip and needed to get my work phone working again, ASAP. So I resorted to another full factory reset-and-restore.

Last night, the phone went spontaneously wonky yet again; after three hours on a charger, its battery still wasn't at 100%, and when I held it, I noticed that it was abnormally warm. This time, the UI was at least still responsive, so I power-cycled it and it now seems to be fine again. For how long, though, who knows ... I've now got both OS Monitor and System Monitor perpetually running in the background, so that if the CPU goes crazy again, I can hopefully at least see what's misbehaving from the reported processor utilization in the utilities' app and process lists. But issues like this seems to be endemic to Android; regular readers know that my other smartphone, HTC's One M7 on AT&T and running Android 5.0.2, has also been plagued with them in the past. I've also struggled with various performance issues on my Android-based Moto 360 smartwatch, along with two generations' worth of Nexus 7 tablets.

Part of me can't believe that I'm about to write these words, because I've long been a critic of Apple's "walled garden" approach (no matter that much of the gear in my house has an Apple logo pasted on it), but the root cause of my (and likely many others') problems may very well be the Android ecosystem's comparative "Wild West" mentality. I discussed this characteristic at some length in an April 2016 post in which I attempted to draw an analogy between Android-vs-iOS and Windows-vs-Mac OS X. Granted, I admit that I'm a "bit" of a smartphone power user ... my Moto X currently has 203 icons in its application drawer (aka tray). If I stuck with only the apps pre-installed on my phone, would I have a lower likelihood of struggling with instability? Probably. But that defeats the whole purpose of the Google Play App store, yes?

Apple's got its own App store, of course, but my gut feel is that the apps there have been more heavily vetted prior to publication than is the case with their Google App Store counterparts. I've run lots of iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices over the years, and to the best of my admittedly imperfect recollection, the only times I've run into problems were after jailbreaking a device and installing something from Cydia. In fairness to Apple, that doesn't count, right? Similarly, if an APK I downloaded from some dodgy website and sideloaded onto my Android device ended up bricking it, I'd be unfair in blaming Google. But that's not what's going on here. Neither Android smartphone I own is "rooted"; all apps installed on them are legitimately sourced.

So what am I saying? Nothing definitive, to be clear. But the notable to-date discrepancy between my experiences with iOS devices (loaded up with an equivalent third-party app abundance, to be clear) and Android devices can't be ignored. When my Android-fueled hardware works, it works very well. But it's flaky more often than it should be. And when I'm on a business trip and my work phone is flat-out down for the count, that's downright unacceptable.

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