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The Value of Operating System Updates

Android 5.0 -vs- Android 4.4.4

It wasn’t until late 2014 when I upgraded my Android device OS version from 4.4 (Kit Kat) to 5.0/1 that I truly was able to understand the impact that an operating system can have on a user’s experience. I was the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Samsung is currently on the cusp of releasing the Note 8). Samsung’s Note series was the highest tier of smartphone that Samsung was releasing to consumers at the time and was the go-to for “power users”. What allured me to the device primarily was it was one of the only phones with 3GB RAM; I was big into multi-tasking, so this was important to me.

Despite having a device that pretty much blew the specs of the most comparable iPhone at the time (the iPhone 6s Plus) out of the water; the user experience of the Samsung still couldn’t hold a candle to the experience of the iPhone. The Interface of Kit Kat was hard to navigate, unpolished, and laggy compared to the experience of the Apple phone which was fast, fluid, and responsive. However, I assumed that since I had the best hardware that this must be the best experience that was and would be possible as an Android user. That is, until the upgrade to 5.0 Lollipop.

This upgrade was monumental because at the time Google had recently and briefly acquired Motorola for a cool $12.5 billion and turned around and sold it to Lenovo just as quickly for $2.9 billion. Why did this make sense at the time? Because in purchasing Motorola, Google was able to acquire and retain Motorola’s patent portfolio which includes everything from new technologies, hardware designs, and software features. It is in my opinion that the acquisition of this portfolio resulted in the largest improvement in user experience in the history of Android to date. I remember thinking to myself “Wow, Android is finally able to compete with iOS”!

With the upgrade from v4.4 to 5.0 the Android OS saw a noticeable change under the hood with the transition of runtime from Dalvik to Android Runtime (ART) which is a cross-platform runtime which supports the x86, ARM, and MIPS architectures in both 32-bit and 64-bit environments. Unlike Dalvik, which uses just-in-time compilation (JIT), ART compiles applications upon installation, which are then run exclusively from the compiled version henceforth. This technique removes the processing overhead associated with the JIT process, improving system performance.

With the upgrade to Lollipop also came a new look and feel which Google referred to as “Material Design”, a design language developed by Google that utilized liberal use of grid-based layouts, responsive animations and transitions, padding, and depth effects such as lighting and shadows to create a paper-like appearance throughout the entire OS interface.

Other interface features integrated into the new OS also included being able to pull down from the top of the screen notification taskbar to access both quick settings and notifications. Furthermore, from the pull down bar by long-pressing a quick setting (ie. Bluetooth or Wifi) would now take you into the advanced settings of the said feature you selected. Lastly, the responsiveness had improved markedly which resulted in fluid transitions between the different pages of the OS which was a lot more on par with the iOS of the time.

Ever since the release of the 5.0 OS I have since been flashing current Android OS’s onto older Android devices which has seemingly breathed new life into a lot of devices I would have otherwise considered degraded. Although today we have primarily referenced the Google and Apple mobile OS’s this concept still holds true with other OS’s and hardware as well. All in all, never underestimate the effect a fresh OS can have on the hardware hosting it.

by: Brian R.