HOW TO: Android App Recovery via the Google Play library


Yesterday, I joined the ranks of smartphone users who have had to recover from a “hard reset”.  My HTC EVO 3D had in issue where the 4G antenna would turn on, and then right before it obtained an IP address from the network, would shut off and then back on.   They cycle would repeat endlessly unless manually stopped by turning the 4G antenna off during the 2 second grace period between when the antenna was on, but before it attempted to connect to the network.   If I failed to turn off the 4G, it would drain my battery completely in about 2 hours.

As my first Android smartphone, naturally I trawled the the Google Marketplace (later named Google Play) installing tons of free apps, and buying a few of the premium apps.  Of course, I filled up the memory, found myself moving what I could to the SD card, and finally removing a lot of the apps I used all too infrequently.  I did have apps that performed some backups, such as The Lookout backing up my contacts (which really isn’t needed if you keep your contacts in your Google account, anyway.)  But I did not have the awesomeness of programs like Titanium Backup, which require root access.

My particular model of phone has an hboot patched by HTC, which prevents root access.   The only way to root it is to either electronically sign a form at the HTC website in which they allow you access to install different ROMs without S-OFF (in exchange for giving up some aspects of the warranty), or use a method discovered at xda-developers, called the Wire Trick, where I judged the risk of bricking the phone higher than I wanted to attempt.

So, without root, and with hundreds of apps installed, I took the phone to the repair center.  After describing the issue and the troubleshooting I had already done, their technician confirmed the next step is to either remove the apps one by one, or perform a ‘hard reset’, which basically returns the phone to a state like it was fresh out of the box and completely un-configured.  One ‘hard reset’ later,  I had a phone in which the 4G works as intended.   Problem solved.

Except, where did all my apps go?

I researched all the usual forums and tech corners for the answer.  Outside of a premium backup tool, there is very little in the way of restoring the apps available to the non-rooted user.  I read in some forums where, after a ‘hard reset’ all the apps just magically came back.   Well, that is certainly not my experience.  And I certainly did not want to spend hours and hours re-installing hundreds of apps. What to do?  What to do?


That is when I discovered the “My Android Apps” link on the Google Play website.

‘My Android Apps’ has a very simple design.  While the design of this page felt a bit clunky for a mouse user, it is obvious that this page had touchscreens, tablets and a Windows 8 accessible design in mind.  I can easily see someone sliding between the pages with ease on a tablet.

So why is it simple?  It lists your devices and what apps are installed on your phone from the Google Play app store.  Beneath that, it lists all the apps in your Library, which is every app you ever installed on your devices from the Google Play app store.   The apps listed as installed have an option to ‘Uninstall this app’, and the apps listed in the Library have the option to ‘Install” the app to your selected device.  Add just one more section for recommending new apps you’ve never tried, and that’s it.

Despite its clunkiness, I was easily able to scroll page to page, and hit the install button on selected apps in the Library.   When I checked my phone, the apps were all downloading and installing.   In a matter of about 20 minutes, I had re-installed about 60 apps.  The only detriment to the whole process is that, once installed, the app icon was added to a free spot in my ICS screens.  Now I suddenly have 60 icons across several screens, more or less unorganized.  So I still get to organize that manually.  In addition, those apps which require configuration, such as email – wait for it – I had to configure.  No big surprise.   Whatever one thinks of the simple design, there is no denying its usefulness.

And this page also presents a look into Google’s mindset.   With the Google Play Library, we can install and uninstall apps to and from multiple Android devices.   In other words, you may purchase an App, remove it, and it will remain in your library where you can re-install it in a matter of seconds, to any device on the same account.  There is no more need to keep hundreds of apps on a device and fill up the memory.   Basically, install it when you need it, and remove it when you’re done. By this method, we can ensure that our smartphones continue to operate more efficiently, without being  bogged down unnecessarily.  The Google Play Library turns out to be our friendly app library in the clouds.


Conclusion:

The Google Play Library is our App Recovery source of last resort, and an excellent tool for managing those apps we use all too infrequently.  It won’t help you with apps installed from other marketplaces.  It won’t configure the apps for you.  But it certainly saved me dozens of hours of hunting for the apps I’ve grown accustomed to using.

Post Script:

The only real gripe I had during the entire process, and unrelated to the Google Play Library itself, was that I was unable to re-install my favorite Text-to-Speech Voice:  Loquendo TTS Susan.  With recommendations like Loquendo’s TTS Engines Are Miles Ahead Of Others (Including PicoTTS),  I knew I had found the voice for my Assistant.   Here is a video showing the difference between the built in TTS in Android, the popular SVOX TTS Grace, and finally, Loquendo TTS Susan.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m7RNEqJFrg[/youtube]

I paid for this voice about a month before the Italian company Loquendo was acquired by Nuance, the makers of Dragon Dictate.    The page now suggests that “This app is incompatible with your HTC EVO 3D”, despite the fact that it had been working fine in the 2 months after I upgraded to ICS prior to this hard reset.  And the app itself doesn’t say it is not compatible with ICS.  So – what happened?

Apparently, this TTS Voice was pulled from Google Play shortly after Nuance announced a new Virtual Assistant for Mobile Customer Service Apps:  Nina.  While Nuance develops applications across all platforms, they have been heavily focused in producing products for Apple iPhones.  Part of that development was acquiring TTS Voices for their products by buying out Loquendo.   Granted, the demo for Nina looks like a real Siri killer.  But it is not yet available to consumers, and the SDK is being marketed to enterprise app developers.  So there is no news on  whether Susan will make a come-back in the future. And despite an article saying Nina will be available on Android, the name is mentioned only once.

When it comes to TTS Voices associated or built into Virtual Assistants, the voice we choose gives our device a personality to which we grow accustomed. If this were hardware I owned, and the manufacturer was bought out my another company, the new company would usually assume warranty or service for the product.  But when it happens with software, the software is usually incorporated into the new companies products, and former users are typically left in the dust.  The best way I can look at this is that I got a good year out of the deal.  I will genuinely miss Loquendo TTS Susan as I begin the process of finding a new voice for my Android.

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About the Author

Jason Clement

After a 6 year stint with the U.S. Army as a Tactical Linguist, Jason worked as an IT Professional with DEC (Digital Equipment Corp), on a contract with both Time Warner and Oceanic Cable as they implemented the first publicly available broadband service, often troubleshooting network issues node-by-node back to the Central Office. After the acquisition of DEC by Compaq Jason began a long career working tech support for companies such as Dell, CompUSA, Perot Systems, and Ignite Technologies while freelancing for several law firms. While each position presented its own technical challenges and unique experiences. While Jason has worked in every facet of customer facing IT support from call centers to in-home support he looks back fondly on his days at DEC, where a ‘can do’ attitude was the norm.