Google Play’s compatibility checker is so flawed it deserves an award

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Android app compatibility is based on Google Play checking an app’s requirements up against what the device you’re using can do. The problem is that this system is perhaps the single most flawed, useless, ridiculously backwards and self-destructive software system I have ever seen. It has caused me so many issues and demonstrates such an amazing lack of a grip on reality from Google that . Changing the device’s DPI setting using root in order to make everything on the screen smaller (fit more in the same space) turned out to be the ultimate Pandoras box in this regard.

I always knew that this caused issues, but not quite how many issues until I switched my DPI back today to update Gmail. Waiting for me were about 25 updates divided between manual and automatic updates. This means that a very decent chunk of my apps were rendered “incompatible” when I changed the DPI, and as such, Google Play refused to update them. The apps work perfectly fine of course, showing absolutely no signs of caring even a little bit about having to display interface items smaller, as if my device had a larger screen. That’s just natural, as these apps work perfectly fine on larger tablets, it’s just that Google Play’s compatibility checker has a stroke when it detects a tablet with an “unknown” screen configuration.

“It’s your fault for tinkering with it” you might say. Well, first off, the DPI thing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these issues with the compatibility system. Back when I first got the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, I had to constantly sideload all sorts of apps ranging from free train time apps to GTA III because the system listed my device as incompatible with them. Again, nothing was actually incompatible in the slightest, and the 7.0 Plus actually ran GTA III better than a wide range of other tablets. I’ve run into this issue countless times, and on both my Android devices. At the same time, I’ve also run into many apps that are actually incompatible – like Wii remote pairing apps being incompatible with my Galaxy S II due to its Bluetooth stack – without the system picking that one up and allowing me to install it just fine. Neither did it pick up the issue with Splashtop HD on the 7.0 Plus, one of the first issues I ran into with that tablet and one that took emails to Spashtop, creating log files for them, and eventually getting a refund to “fix”. So in other words this system is perfectly capable of failing horribly both ways: both by showing me apps I shouldn’t see, and refusing to show me those I should.

Second, Android is supposed to be open. That’s what Google is trying to sell it on, no corporate lockdowns holding you back. And yet it gives you no way of circumventing this system by letting it know that “I know what I’m doing, let me download that app”. It’s perfectly happy letting you sideload .apk files via a setting, use third party app stores, and apparently also feed you misinformation on a daily basis by ignoring this issue in Android, 4 freaking versions in. Being so arrogant that you don’t even allow for the possibility of your software being wrong is not what you’d expect from Google. It’s what you’d expect from Apple. Then again,you can say a lot about Apple – in fact I tend to do just that – but at least incompatibility with apps on iOS is the conscious choice of the developer, not just an unintentional bug in the manifest file that suddenly makes your app shows as incompatible on possibly hundreds of millions of devices. Want to know why Android apps have trouble selling? Hundreds of thousands of apps where an unknown – but trust me, significant – portion of them aren’t even available on all the devices they work on might have something to do with it.

In my personal opinion, Google is clueless. I like the company, its philosophies, and I like many of its products, but with one idiotic decision after the other I have no faith in its abilities anymore. If there was even a hint of faith in Google’s abilities left in me, that disappeared this last weekend when I was visiting a friend, and I unlocked his face unlock-enabled Android phone with the contact picture I had for him on my phone. Apparently that’s a feature that made the cut for Android 4, while fixing the system that determines which apps to offer to the hundreds of millions of Android users out there did not. I rest my case.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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