There is an old plot device, which goes back to at least Homer, although the version which popped into my head this evening was Genesis of the Daleks, a 1970s Dr Who story. A group of warriors fight a short but intense battle, and appear to triumph. In Dr Who, the Kaled freedom fighters burst into Davros’s headquarters and think they have dispatched him and his dalek bodyguards. Just as they are starting to celebrate, one of them, typically an old, grizzled soldier who has been round the block a few times, says "Have your instincts abandoned you? That was too easy." True enough, a few seconds later the elaborate trap is sprung, and the tables are turned.
Android 8 is like that. Not that it’s in the service of a malevolent genius, although I’m beginning to wonder, but it lulls you into a false sense of security, and then throws some significant challenges at you.
I got a new phone last week. I have loved my Sony Experia XA Ultra which I have used for the last two years, but been constantly frustrated by the miserly 16GB main memory. The Experia XA1 Ultra is an almost identical device, but with a decent amount of main storage. I had to forgo the cheerfully "bling" lime gold of the XA, replaced by a dusky metallic pink XA1, but otherwise the hardware change was straightforward.
So, initially, was the transfer. Android now has a feature to re-install the same applications as on a previous device, and, where it can, transfer the same settings. This takes a number of hours, but seems to work quite well. I had to manually transfer a few things, but a couple of hours in I worked through the list of applications, and most seemed to be in order with their settings. I could even see the same pending playlist in the music player which, after a lot of trial and error, I installed to randomly play music while I’m on the bus.
The new version of the Android alarm/clock app seems to be complete b****cks, and more trouble than it’s worth, but there’s no barrier to installing the old version which seems to work OK. My preferred app to get Tube Status updates is no longer available to download, but I could reload the old version from a backup. So that was most of the problems in the upgrade dealt with.
My instincts had abandoned me. It was too easy…
I had also forgotten Weinberg’s New Law. ("Nothing new works")
I got to the gym, and tried to play my music, using the standard Sony music player. Some of it was there, but the playlist I wanted wasn’t. I realised the app could no longer see WMA files (Windows Media format), which make up about 95% of my collection. A bit of googling, and it turned out the recommendation was to install PowerAmp, which I did, and it worked fine.
Then I got on the bus, and tried to play some randomised music. Nothing. The app had the files in its playlist, but couldn’t find them. I rapidly confirmed that the problem again was WMA files, which had suddenly become "invisible" to the app. After yet more trial and error installing, the conclusion is that it’s the Android Media Storage service which is at fault. Apps which build their own index (like PowerAmp) are fine. Apps which are built "the proper way" and use the shared index are screwed, because in the latest version of Android this just completely ignores WMA files.
Someone at Google has taken the decision to actively suppress WMA files from those added to the index. This isn’t a question of a problematic codec or similar – they had perfectly good indexing code which worked, and for some reason it has been removed or disabled. I can only think it’s some political battle between Microsoft and Google, but it’s vastly frustrating that users are caught in the crossfire.
I trust Dante reserved some special corner of Hell for those who break what works, for no good reason. If his spectre wants a bit of support designing it, I’ll be glad to help.
And I’ll resist saying "that wasn’t too bad" when I upgrade my technology…