Friday, April 29, 2016

Samsung and/or Google: Do it better!

I got a Samsung Note 4 phone, I'm pretty happy with it. Good display, reasonable performance, software is rather stable (thought I'd have preferred if they'd ship it with stock Android).
However, yesterday I noticed something strange, my girlfriend called me and instead of showing the call as a contact, it showed just her number. Indeed, the contact was gone. Today, 2016-04-29, I digged into it, and found that my phone had a different set of contacts than my gmail (I use for managing my contacts). This is a rather critical thing, in my opinion, I'm trusting my device with remembering phone numbers and email addresses of people whom I may need to contact in urgent situations, so having them randomly disappear seems critically wrong to me. So I spent the better part of a day frustrated, trying all tricks in the book to get them to sync up. I followed the troubleshooting tips from Google, disabling/enabling sync, removing and adding the gmail account, rebooting the phone, all to no avail. What I was left with in each case, was the "sync" icon stuck next to "Contacts" in my gmail account. Everything else worked perfectly for that gmail account (calendar, apps, etc), except for the most important (to me) thing; Contacts. I looked in the marked for a different "Contacts" app, until I realized that this was an issue with whichever component is responsible for actually integrating with gmail, I suspect it is part of the operating system itself, and not something I can do much about. More frustrating is having to search for "sync icon stuck", it's humiliating and reminds me of something you'd have to do with an "I product", not with glorious Android. No error message to help, except for the universally unhelpful "There was a problem with synchronizing, it will be fixed in a moment" which I was shown through several hours of hair pulling frustration. At last, maybe by luck, I stumbled upon a post which helped me, a post more than half a year old (meaning that both Google and Samsung has known and ignored this problem for as long, choosing not to supply a patch). That post, from 2015-07-15, is here:!topic/gmail/OzUCbeu_jfk

While the first thing I tried, was wiping all caches and application data, on all programs I could imagine being relevant (…Google and contacts), since there might be some kind of issue with a newer version of contacts attempting to access an older version of its own database (inexcusable to begin with, when the default behavior is "discard information"), I did not have the imagination that the actual "contacts database" was stored in a whole different program, which is "Contacts Storage", except, it is a system component, not showing the Contacts icon (making it difficult to find) and even though it is a system program, some genius decided to name it (in Danish) "Lagerplacering af kontakter" meaning that it is not in any way close to the "Kontakter" app in the list, meaning I'd never have thought to look for it if not for one comment in the thread I linked to, which instructed to clear app-data not only for a "Contacts" app, but also for a "Contact Storage" app.. Nice.

So, in short, what's wrong here is:
  • Erroneously and silently discarding data on the device.
  • Not fixing the problem via automatic update for more than 6 months.
  • Not providing a meaningful error message to the end user about a critical data-access/corruption/migration error, but "playing stupid" and lying about the issue going away by itself (which it gawk-damn never would!)
  • Not contacting or otherwise informing users that their contacts are silently being deleted.
  • Not providing the actual fix in the official trouble shooting documents.