A friend of mine, Eric, started talking today about potentially switching from iPhone to Android.
I don’t know if this is a good change for him or not – there are some people that fall into Android’s sweet spot (though I think far fewer than the sales numbers would indicate – many customers pick carrier first and until recently, that often meant Android).
What I am confident in is that for me, Android isn’t the best choice. This is a good opportunity to explain why.
First off, I should inform you: I own an HTC Nexus One that I bought the first day it went on sale. I was Android-curious and it was a way to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t regret that purchase but it never made it into daily rotation either. These opinions are based on it and Android 2.2.2.
My online life isn’t dominated by Google. I do use Google Search and other services like Maps but unlike others for whom Gmail and their Google ID are really important, I don’t rely on them for all that much. If you’re an avid Gmailer, Android has a great client for you. If you’re not… well, there’s a second email client (WTF is up with two apps for email, BTW?) you could use. Unfortunately, it pretty much sucks compared to the Gmail app. Far fewer features and occasionally flakey IMAP connections. I have 8 email accounts and only one is hosted at Gmail. I’m not interested in maintaining two email apps on my phone and having most of my email running through a second rate client is not attractive.
In some respects, the UI design feels like the Soviet-made cousin of iOS. Where the iPhone has an elastic band effect when you reach the end of a scrollable view, Android just ends. After using iOS for awhile, it feels very stark. This kind of thing is found all over the place. I’m sure some people don’t care or even notice this stuff but for me, it’s something that adds up. As I said today on Twitter – the Android UI is death by a million paper cuts.
Moving off of iPhone would mean no more AppleTV remote, no more iTunes protected content and no more App Store. These things matter to me. I have a large investment in iTunes content and I’d like to be able to continue to play it on my mobile devices. Since the release of iOS 4.2, I’ve also gotten pretty into AirPlay (a technology allowing you to stream media content from an iOS device to an AppleTV). I’m not willing to give these up.
When it comes to apps, there are quite a few iOS exclusives that are part of my daily routine. Some, like Instagram and Reeder, are just for fun but others, such as OmniFocus, Instapaper and Simplenote are a critical part of my workflow. They don’t exist on Android and switching to other, similar apps would mean giving up the integration I enjoy with my tablet and desktop machines. It’s just not worth it… And let’s not even mention Netflix. Sure, it’s supposed to be coming to Android eventually but only on certain devices. Who knows if my Nexus One will be on the preferred list.
Since I’m also using an iOS based tablet, many of my apps are what Apple calls ‘Universal’ – they run on both platforms with optimized UIs on each. This is another significant advantage to sticking with iPhone.
I have been begging people to show me examples of fantastic Android-only apps for a long time but I’ve yet to see one. If you know of one, please, let me know. I tried to launch Android Market tonight to see what was new and popular. The app ended up in an endless crash cycle that even a reboot couldn’t resolve. Hmmm.
This post isn’t about developer tools or APIs (don’t get me started – only RIM has worse tools than what Google is giving developers) but I have to say that the fragmentation of Android OS versions does bother me. My Nexus One is telling me that the 2.2.2 version it is running is the latest. That’s obviously not the case (as of this writing, 2.3.3 is current). After watching what has gone on with Windows Phone 7 and it’s updates, it seems that Apple is the only vendor that can make this process work properly. That’s too bad – it’s nice to know you’ve got the latest features and bug fixes across all of your devices.
It doesn’t help Android’s case that in some of the areas that it is strong, I simply don’t care about it’s capabilities. Sure, you can replace the Android dialer with something custom, put tons of distracting information on your home screen or choose from any number of multiple app stores based on your preference. These are not compelling features for me.
I’m over thirty and what little spare time I have, I don’t want to spend it fucking with some setting on my phone. In my book, the endless customization and configuration options are a negative, not a positive. I want something that just works – I grew out of tinkering a long time ago.
Design is about curation and making choices – it’s about being opinionated. Android often likes to punt on those hard decisions and leave it up to the user. ‘Hey, let’s put it in preferences’ is not the same thing as having an opinion. Don’t get me started on the mis-use of Android’s ‘menu’ button – in many apps, it’s like the kitchen drawer filled with crap that you never get around to cleaning out. The stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Ouch.
Of course, the above list doesn’t mean iOS is perfect – far from it. I have a long list of things I’d change if I had the power to do so. One of those items that is on pretty much every user’s list is the notification system. Get multiple alerts on an iPhone and not only do they take over the entire screen but dismiss one and you’ve lost them all. This is a pretty sorry way to solve this problem.
Android gives you a notification center of sorts, punctuated by a seemingly endless stream of meaningless icons in the top status bar. For the record, while I think the iOS way of handling this stinks, the Android version isn’t the ‘right’ way to do this either. In some ways, it’s almost as lazy as the iOS solution. I have a feeling Apple is going to improve their setup but I also think that Goggle has closed the book on this issue in Android.
Those are just a few of the reasons that Android doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. This post isn’t supposed to be about what is better for you or for someone else. I honestly don’t really care if you’re happy with your smartphone… I just care that I am with mine.