Flagship smartphones are often billed as computer replacements, as they have the power and performance of a premium laptop with the portability of a mobile phone. Android as a platform is capable of doing a lot – and arguably a lot more than Apple’s iOS can – but there’s one iPhone feature that absolutely every Android smartphone needs.
“On every Android smartphone I’ve used, there’s never been a way to undo your last change”
I personally don’t like Apple’s smartphones too much – as I prefer the flexibility of Android – and I’m what you might refer to as a mobile worker, in that I spend a lot of time on the move and often have to compose articles, emails and more from my smartphone. However, the main reason I do like the iPhone – and arguably, the key reason that the iPad is better than Android tablets – is that Apple have included a laptop feature that’s sorely missing on Android; the undo button.
This might sound strange but let me explain why the undo button is so key. A week ago, I was drafting a long article on my phone and having just drafted over 1000 words, I selected all only to type something before I could press copy. The result? I just lost the entire article I had written.
On every Android smartphone I’ve used, there’s never been a way to undo your last change – whether this is pasting a lot of data or changing blocks of text – but iOS has this built in. If this had happened on the iPhone, I could simply shake my device and a pop-up menu would have given me the option to undo (or redo) my last action (like the one in the picture above).
As a company, Apple have taken a different approach to Google and others by limiting the options and functionality available to end-users. From the closed-nature of the App Store to limitations around customisation of your smartphone, there’s a lot of features that I don’t personally like, but the Undo button is certainly one I’d love on any smartphone I used.
Read on: Android vs iOS
It’s likely that Apple has protected this feature in some way – whether it’s the contextual menu or just the feature itself – but that’s not to say that Google can’t find a way around this. Furthermore, this shouldn’t even be limited to Google to find a problem, as each OEM adds their own UI with new features and they could easily add the feature themselves.
The Play Store comes with dozens of third-party keyboards that you can install and, given that many of these keyboards track your input history, any one of these developers could also easily add the feature. The fact that none of these manufacturers have implemented this simple feature yet – despite Android being several years old – suggests that Apple’s UI team takes a different approach to its rivals when considering what features to add to the platform.
Adding the feature would also increase the usefulness of Android tablets for business purposes and considering that Android has failed to dominate the tablet market like it has done with the smartphone market, there’s clearly features that are missing which might be considered core to business users.
So, how could Google, its partner OEMs, or third-party developers implement an undo button? Here’s a few of the ways:
- Gestures: Gestures are present on lots of current Android smartphones and allowing a user to make a gesture with their hand to undo their last change would certainly be intuitive and easy to use.
- Permanent Button: The easiest way to implement the undo/redo feature would be to have a permanent button on the keyboard. Whether it’s the arrows that many people are familiar with – thanks to Microsoft Office – or a simple button, adding the button as part of the core Android OS would mean developers/partners would not need to add it themselves. If its available in the core OS, there’s very little reason for partners and keyboard developers not to include the feature. Ironically, this post was written a couple of days before WWDC 2015, where Apple revealed it had tweaked the iPad keyboard to include quick access to the copy and paste buttons directly above the keyboard (as you’ll see in the image above).
- Swipe: Alternatively, the undo button (along with other contextual buttons) could be revealed by swiping the keyboard or on a second page in the keyboard’s alternative characters menu. This would be the most complex for usability and would likely be missed by most users.
- Copy/Paste Menu: The best way by far would be to simply add the options to the pop-up copy/paste menu. The feature is present on all Android devices, is frequently used and would be familiar to all users. Adding the option to this menu would also likely require the least development time as the menu is already present.
Any of these options would provide an easy way for customers to undo their last change and increase the potential for Android to be used for business and productivity purposes. While there are certainly lots of applications that replicate desktop software on your Android device, there are several laptop-features – such as the undo button, a clipboard (although this is present on LG’s G UX) and more – that are missing.
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As the saying goes – it’s the simple things in life that mean the most – and never has this been truer than with smartphones and technology.