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Android Code Names: Annoyingly Cute or Just Annoying?

I recently asked fifteen feature phone users to browse through some mobile phone brochures to find a potential new smartphone.  A simple task for some, but to these novice phone users it was an alien world.  The techy jargon was somewhat inevitable, but what really threw them was the variety of dessert names in the product subtitle.

Difficult to understand for novice users

Android OS dessert namesHow do you explain to a group of people who have never had phones with the capacity to download an app before, that Google are now using dessert-themed codenames to differentiate each version of their Android mobile operating system?  Faced with these bewildered-looking participants (who had tried, but couldn’t find any kind of explanation of these codenames in the brochures), I briefly explained that since smartphones are ‘mini computers’, they need an operating system comparable to Windows for PCs or Mac OSX for Apple Macs.  I explained the need to constantly enhance, improve and update technology to ensure it boasts the most advanced features to maximise appeal and as a result, its success.

Rationalising these code names

After they had taken this information on board, I then tried to rationalise (to both them and perhaps myself) Google’s move away from using a standard numbering sequence, to label each Android OS version with dessert-themed codenames.  Whilst I’m not saying that these codenames are a huge issue, there seems to be an assumption that the general public will know what they are, without much explanation given.  At the start I was able to think of some valid reasons for this:

  • cute names are likely to be easier to research and remember than strings of numbers
  • for people with a sweet tooth like me, the names will have positive mental connotations.

However, I then got stumped when I tried to justify the names themselves.  Racking my brains I tried desperately to remember the first dessert in the series, which surely must start with the letter ‘A’…  I switched tack and tried working my way backwards; Ice Cream Sandwich (2011), Honeycomb (2011), Gingerbread (2010), FroYo (2010), Éclair (2009), Donut (2009), Cupcake (2008) and then…I’m stuck.  After a bit of searching (ironically on Google) on, I found that the versions before that were actually numbered, so there was no A or B.  I realise that this theme in naming the OS may not have been in place from the start, however it makes the “pattern” even less clear.

Discrepancies in the presentation of OS versions

Using an HTC sense phone during the test sessions, I asked participants to find out which version of Android dessert OS was installed on the phone.  According to the phone’s software information, the Android version was displayed as 2.3.5!  This is likely to cause confusion amongst users who may find it difficult to equate the dessert name with the corresponding number shown in the handsets’ settings.  Further issues arose when one participant also highlighted that the mobile phone brochures mainly seemed to contain phones using Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich OS.  When they asked what happened to the Honeycomb OS, I had to further explain that this was developed for tablets and devices with larger screens, but had been clustered in with the versions for standard mobile phones.

More explanation needed

From these sessions, I could see that there may be some issues with these ever so cute, but perhaps confusing dessert codenames of the Android OS versions.  They appear to just be “a given”, and there is no clear explanation for the novice user.  This may cause issues in not only understanding what these codenames mean, but also in knowing which version they should have on their device.  Anyway, I’m now going to wait patiently to see what all the hype is about the anticipated Jelly Bean OS version…


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