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Here’s why Android Lollipop is laggy

By Joe Levi January 7, 2015, 10:02 am
Android Lollipop

If you ask “certain” people, they’ll tell you that Android is inherently laggy (then again, if you don’t ask them, they’ll eventually volunteer that opinion anyway). In the past, generally speaking, Android hasn’t been “laggy” per se, the operating system just handles processes and priorities differently than others may. Put simply, as soon as you touch the screen of an iPhone or iPad all processing stops while the OS devotes its full attention to your interaction – at the expense of stopping everything else. This gives the impression of fluidity and speed, but in reality, processes take longer than they do using Android’s approach.


Android handles screen touches as just another event. All the processes currently running continue to run. If your device is underpowered or running a lot of “stuff” in the background, the perception might be interpreted as “laggy”, even though it’s finishing tasks faster than the competition does.

Be that as it may, this perceived “lag” seems to be more visible in Android 5.0 Lollipop than in previous versions of Android. While some blamed the new Material Design with all its new-fangled animations, others pointed to the encryption that defaults to “on” for the devices shipping with Lollipop. Others, however, started looking deeper, and submitted bug tickets to the Android Open Source Project Issue Tracker.

Finally a trend started to emerge. After around 40 hours of “on time”, lag started to crop up. “Weird” things started happening. Apps started to hang – and eventually crash. The good news? Everything was “fixed” with a simple reboot. Ah ha! The clue!

When things work for a while, and get progressively worse, and are resolved by a reboot, that’s typically an indicator of a memory leak. What’s a “memory leak”, you ask? Imagine that RAM is tea, and apps are tea cups. Every school girl will tell you that a proper tea set has several cups (what’s a tea party without a bunch of friends, right?).


In this scenario, you fill the cups (which represent loading apps from storage into RAM), then wait. Instead of the cups being emptied by the guests, they miraculously keep filling with tea. Your guests look on in wondered amazement!

Eventually the cups get so full that the tea spills over the edge of the cups. You, being the gracious host that you are, spring into action, grab a towel, and mop up the spilled tea. Then another cup overflows, and another. Eventually the tablecloth is soaked. Your guests’ amusement at the self-filling teacups has turned to frustration and ruined clothing (they’ll be sending you a bill for that!). Your party is a mess – literally as well as figuratively.

In our scenario, the apps keep filling up more and more RAM. This forces other apps to hang and eventually close, until running even one app at a time becomes frustrating. Finally, something triggers a reboot and just like that, the tablecloth is replaced, a fresh pot of tea has been made, and your guests are eager to catch up on the daily news – until it starts happening again.

This appears to be the case with Android Lollipop. Luckily, the issue has been reported and it’s even been closed as “resolved!” Sure, it took six weeks for Google to identify and fix the problem, but that’s not too terribly bad – I guess.

What is bad is that the fix will deployed in a “FutureRelease”. Whether that means Android 5.0.3 or 5.1, or 6.x, who knows. Hopefully it will roll out quickly in 5.0.3 – whenever that arrives.

Might I interest you in a cup of tea while we wait?


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