When Android Apps Go Bad

By Mike Wheeler

  • No testing of Android apps
  • Apple and Nokia go through rigorous testing with apps
  • Bad apps not covered with most manufacturer’s warranties

So you download an application from iTunes or the Ovi Store and it doesn’t work? What do you do to get it fixed? Well, the first port of call will be Apple or Nokia themselves, who in turn will send you to the developer who has designed the faulty app. There is a nice, logical pathway to get your problem sorted.

But what about the Android platform? Is there an overall one-stop-shop you can appeal to in order to correct the mistake? Well, yes and no. But there’s an even bigger question, which I’ll get to soon enough.

First let’s look at Apple. They will take no responsibility for problems associated with an application that leaves a customer dissatisfied, as they are the reseller. It is up to the buyer and developer to sort the issue out.  However, what happens if an application causes problems with the iPhone 4’s operating system? A kink or a bug causes it to crash? Not a company that can ever be accused of lacking confidence, Apple simply believes that will never happen.

“By its very design, an app downloaded from the App Store cannot corrupt or damage an iOS device,” says Apple internal PR spokesperson Fiona Martin. “The approval process for apps on the iTunes App Store was created to ensure avoiding apps that degrade the core experience of the iOS device, protect customers from malicious code such as malware, spyware and viruses. The most common reason apps are rejected is bugs and crashes. We support the developer in remedying issues and they can resubmit for approval.”

And what about Nokia? When asked if an app crashed a Nokia’s operating system, the answer was pretty much the same as Apple’s: “This is extremely unlikely to happen as we test all applications before they are published.”

What both Apple and Nokia also made clear was that the manufacturer’s warranty did not cover that kind of problem in any event. In other words, if by some one-in-a-million chance an app that had been put through vigorous testing did fail, then it wasn’t their problem. In the case of Nokia, it is plainly laid out in its warranty Terms and Conditions: “This Limited Warranty does not cover user manuals or any third party software, settings, content, data or links, whether included/downloaded in the Product, whether included during instalment, assembly, shipping or at any other time in the delivery chain or otherwise and in any way acquired by you.” (my bold)

So this brings about the question of who tests Android apps, and if there is a catastrophic failure of a smartphones operating system due to an app going rogue, then who’s to blame? And more importantly, how does it get fixed? Well, don’t go looking for redress from Google, the company that created the Android platform.

A spokesperson from Google, who did not want to be named, said in an email that if an application fails “Please contact the developer of the application or game for more information and support. We don't provide support for any of the apps, as they are built by third-party developers. You can find the developer contact information on the application screen in Market. However, in the Android Market Help Center, we offer help content about adding or removing applications, and some general information about apps in Market.”

The company says it does not review applications for the Android operating system, but if an application does violate Google’s terms and conditions, it will be deleted. A bit late for that if it crashes the operating system, no? What they do say is: “If a problem recurs, we recommend removing recently downloaded applications. If you have reason to believe that an application has harmed your device, you may flag this by going to Market » My Downloads, selecting the application in question, and then choosing Flag content. You will then be able to choose the flag "harmful to my device or data."

The only problem with this scenario, is that the horse has already bolted. Their other piece of sage advice is: “If your device continues to be defective, please report the issue to your mobile service provider.”

And what about Android manufacturers? There is some reassurance from at least one manufacturer – with a caveat attached.  When queried about their Galaxy S phone that runs on the Android operating system, Samsung said it is willing to act as a facilitator. “If a consumer has an issue with their phone, regardless of whether this may have been caused by an application or some other reason, they should contact Samsung in the first instance so that Samsung can review the issue and determine the cause and correct course of action for repair,” said spokesperson Ana Vrinat. “If the issue is with the app itself then it needs to be taken up with the app developer but you should still come to Samsung as we will facilitate the interaction with the developer.”

HTC, whose Desire uses the Android operating system, can’t help if something goes wrong. “I was told that the user shoulder go to the App developer [if there is a problem],” said Caroline La Rose, from the company’s PR agency. “Also if the hard reset could not recover, HTC won’t cover the unit under warranty.”

While it is understandable that the smartphone manufacturers are distancing themselves from any possible problems, why doesn’t Google step up to the plate and put processes in place that will make sure the chances of a catastrophic failure of its operating system are minimised? While Apple and Nokia appear to have confidence in their processes, it doesn’t mean we all have the same faith. But at least there is the supposed rigorous testing, which Google cannot claim.

Overall the Android operating system is pretty good, but there is that little voice saying, “what if?” With Australians, and the rest of the world, taking up smartphones at a huge rate, people are soon going to have a lot more invested in a mobile phone than just the ability to make calls and SMS’s. Maybe a little bit of investment in a testing process by Google wouldn’t go amiss.

Have you ever had a bad experience with an application? If so, leave a comment…