D on Droid: Big updates for popular Android apps

  • YouTube
  • Wednesday, 28 Aug 2013

We take a quick look at the major updates that have recently reached some popular Android apps. 

AT ITS annual I/O Conference held in May 2013, Google announced that Android has reached 900 million activations, which is a huge spike from the 500 million in the previous year. 

With such a huge database of users, it isn’t surprising that the Google Play Store has also grown tremendously. 

Google also announced that there were 48 billion app installations from the Play Store as of May this year. 

The Play Store currently has almost 900,000 apps available for download and the top apps have hundreds of millions of downloads to their credit. 

The Facebook app, for example, has been downloaded over 500mil times according to the statistics given by the Play Store. 

The apps usually receive small incremental updates, but developers will sometimes surprise users with major UI upgrades. 

The following popular apps have received the kind treatment by their developers. 

IM upgraded 

Popular instant messaging app WhatsApp Messenger (bit.ly/zLJ23H) has recently received a major update, now coming with voice messaging features that makes it work just like a walkie talkie. 

This upgrade is a little late to the party as other messaging apps have already had voice messaging for quite some time. 

But even with the new upgrade, WhatsApp has yet to reclaim its title as the most popular messaging application.  

Once widely regarded as THE instant messaging app to use, it has lagged behind in the competition against other instant messaging developers who push to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. 

Aside from the heavy onslaught of marketing, these contenders have brought other goodies to the table such as voice messaging and a wider range of emoticons, something that the younger generation in particular is excited about. 

This is reflected in the Play Store’s top free app standings as WhatsApp is no longer the highest ranking instant messaging app.  

Vintage videos 

Despite being the ire of professional photographers, Instagram (bit.ly/HSkGCL) has grown to be one of the popular photography filter apps. 

In the first major update since Instagram introduced video to its Android app, users can now upload videos from their phone gallery instead of just those taken with the app’s built in camera. 

This update further extends the video experience to devices running on the older Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) instead of making it available only to devices running the newer Jellybean (Android 4.1, 4.2, 4.3). 

When Instagram first introduced the feature to upload videos up to 15 seconds in length, it attracted many skeptics. 

However, it seems to have been catching on just fine and the recent update should encourage more people to start uploading videos of their own. 


A new version of the famous YouTube (bit.ly/K71xLG) app for Android users is here. 

The version 5.0 update brings a major revamp to the YouTube app layout, now featuring a card-based user interface (UI) similar to that seen in the Google Now app. 

The most exciting addition is the ability to multitask within the app. 

Working in a similar way to Samsung’s pop-up video, all users need to do is either swipe the video screen down while it's playing, click on another link, or press the back button to reopen the video in a smaller screen. 

This fixes a pet peeve that I’ve had with the YouTube app on smartphones which restricted users to staying on the video’s page throughout the length of the video. 

It’s not a perfect solution though, as it only works in-app as mentioned earlier.  

This means that the pop up video can only work within the YouTube app itself, so the only multitasking you get to do is browsing for other videos. Still, it’s a step in the right direction for the app, as users are now allowed to create playlists and let the videos run continuously by clicking ‘Play All’. 

The update also fixes another major complaint that I’ve had with the YouTube app which has something to do with screen rotation. 

I’m one who always disables the auto screen rotation as I do not want my phone to keep switching between portrait and landscape modes. 

The YouTube app did not seem to adhere to this command, so it will still rotate automatically even though I’ve disabled it in the phone’s settings. 

This has been addressed in the latest update, and the app no longer switches to landscape mode unless you click on a button on the bottom right corner to force the video to full screen. 

I’m very pleased with this solution, although I can’t help but feel that it should have been there right from the beginning. 

The icon for the app is also different now, sporting a red icon with a play button. 

Now, when launched in tablets, the new YouTube app plays videos in landscape mode without going fullscreen. 

Sadly, the update also comes with a setback.  

In fullscreen mode, the timeline bar is not accessible so you can’t properly track the the video time nor can you skip to a particular timeline. The only way to do so is to minimise the video for the timeline to show. 

It can get very inconvenient at times and hopefully Google will release an update to fix this soon. 

Improved Play Store 

In addition to that, the Play Store app has also received an update from Google.  

And they have brought the featured apps page back. 

This is a feature that I have sorely missed when the Play Store was last revamped. 

Now with the feature back, users can discover awesome new apps that they wouldn’t have even heard of otherwise. 

Also in this update, the ‘My Apps’ tab will show a short list of the recently updated apps so you can have an idea of when an app was last updated. 

This can be very useful, as I’ve experienced a situation whereby an app update caused my device to suffer unusually poor battery life. 

With my apps set to auto update, it was tough to pinpoint the rogue app. Now with the ‘recently updated’ section, I can at least narrow down my search if I notice my phone behaving weirdly. 

(Donovan is a full-time auditor and big-time gadget lover who discovered the wonders of the Android world back in October 2010)

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