Monday, 4 April 2011

Two Weeks With Android

When a non-tech savvy thinks of a smartphone, usually the first thing that will come to their mind will be the iPhone. The iPhone is by far the correct and most logical choice for inexperienced users. iOS is both easy to learn and use (except for iTunes, that is) and works in most cases, straight out of the box.

iOS’s simplicity and ease of use is supported by the fact that it is a closed system. What you see is what you get, with no exceptions (this doesn’t apply to jailbroken devices, but I’m talking about a stock device). This is excellent and not so great all at the same time. I will explain why.

As I said before, it means that users can quickly learn how to use the OS and only run into problems when they want to upgrade the firmware or sync their data. But on the other hand, it means that more knowledgeable users who properly know what they are doing are closed within the boundaries of a smug, proud Apple realm. And it’s very tight indeed.

So of course you could jailbreak, but this takes time and is a fairly complex task. There is no effortless method to customize an iDevice to be exactly the way you want it. Apple want you to own and run you device their way, download only Apple-approved apps and use hardware designed only by Apple.

I wasn’t always this critical of iOS. I’ve spoken quite highly of it in past - praised it for it’s simplicity, spoken highly of it’s app store.  But more recently, I have seen the ugly truth, which is that iOS quite simply isn’t what a mobile OS is supposed to be. It certainly isn’t what a post-PC OS was supposed to be. And all this changed when I started using Android.

I have spoken briefly about Android and it’s openness (see “The Mobile War: Apple vs Google”) but never in detail. Back then I didn’t know enough about it and hadn’t had enough experience to talk about it in great detail. But about two weeks ago, I received a ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) and have been very impressed with an OS I rarely acknowledged a few months ago.

So, Android is of course not as simple to use and is not as clearly structured. But that really doesn’t matter. Because when there is so much powerful functionality, and so many hidden wonders, that general usability really ceases to matter altogether. What I mean by “hidden wonders” is that instead of shouting about all the amazing parts of the OS (as Apple never fails to do), it is all left for you to discover and I am finding things all the time. 
Recently, we saw the release of Android Honeycomb (3.0), a handheld Operating System designed specifically for tablets. I see it as an Android equivalent of Apple’s iOS for iPad. But Honeycomb is so much more than iOS for iPad. It is built from the ground up to maximise the potential of tablets, whereas iOS for iPad was built to mirror iOS for iPhone and iPod Touch, which is exactly what it does. It is no more than a standard iOS build blown up to fit a 9 inch screen.

Honeycomb doesn’t resemble the latest release of the mobile version (Gingerbread) in the slightest. I can see many features and GUI elements that are included in the more powerful release Honeycomb, that could easily be brought over to the mobile. In January, an Android chief told a writer from TechCrunch that the next version of Android is to be called Ice Cream Sandwich (the version number is still unknown). “Ice Cream” is fairly logical, as each Android release name is a dessert, but what is the reasoning behind the use of the word “Sandwich”? My prediction is that this will be a release incorporating all of the best Gingerbread features and all of the best Honeycomb features. Essentially, a “sandwich” of the best of Android features. Should be interesting...

Android is far more affordable as well. There are many devices to choose from, many of which are cheap to buy and run. Development on Android is easier and cheaper as well.

Of course, there are downsides to Android as well. Lack of immediate official firmware upgrades means that people resort to flashing their ROM with an unofficial release (I had to do this myself). Although not too complex, it is still very time consuming and this problem could easily be fixed if Google and the manufacturers were willing to work together to push new upgrades to customers faster. But apparently there are not, so we have to it manually, or wait for the official upgrade to arrive. iOS doesn’t have this problem only because they provide both the software and the hardware. So no points to either side on this one!

The worst thing about Android, in my mind, is the Android Market. Firstly, it’s security system has, in the past, been show to be inadequate, although people try not to remember the DroidDream nightmare. Secondly, it is pretty horrible to use and the search feature is absolutely abysmal. Most of it’s content is brilliant, though. I was delighted to find that apps that had cost me on iOS were totally free on Android (apps such as Angry Birds and WhatsApp Messenger). At least there’s something that's good about it.

But as I said before, it’s easy to forget the small glitches and problems that Android has, because altogether, it is a much more powerful Operating System than iOS. And not only that - it is so much better.

Raffi Maurer
Note: I have been away for a while because of a special celebration. Now that I am 13 I will endeavour to provide even more insightful and interesting iDeas.


Josey Williams, New Hampshire said...

About time! Nice article. Can you explain in another blog about the different Android operating systems please?

Anonymous said...

Very accurate although I think you are criticizing Apple a bit too much. Apple was designed to be different, and so it is...

Otherwise, well done!

Raphael said...

Very good!

Vishnu Kamadar, Mumbai said...

It simply comes down to cost for me. The iPhone is also a smooth operator. Good article but what special about 13?

Mike Thornton, Birmingham said...

It is nice to see that after many articles in praise of Apple you have finally made room in your life for Android.

Daniel Ehreich said...

Another very interesting blog Raffi, if a little provocative. I see old age suits you.
As you'd expect, as an iPhone user I fall on the other side of the Apple/Android divide.  Nevertheless I recognise many of the failings you've identified, and probably others as well.  However, as iOS has matured, along with apps available in the App Store, I'm finding less and less that I'm unable to do due to the closed system.
The thing which frustrates me the most is when I have to pay for an App that's free on other platforms.  When they were only available on iOS I was quite happy to pay a nominal amount for quality software, as was indeed the case when I paid 59p each for Angry Birds and WhatsApp.  Now, WhatsApp I justified as I viewed iOS as their principal market and I saw them offering it free on Android as a mechanism to increase the subscription to, and the usefulness of, the software.  Angry Birds on the other hand just makes me angry (even though I'm not a bird).

Martin, Aberdeen said...

Whilst we are at it are there any other os's that you could review? Windows phone 7 maybe?

Joshua Kishineff said...

Dude, you rock! Just got Devorah a cheap Android 2.2, rooted it myself, but she is unhappy. Unwilling to learn something very different from her old, run of the mill, Nokia. Can you help her? Does your ZTE get stuck? Is it a fast enough processor? Is the camera terrible?

Rakhi Dave said...

Nice one Raffi
I was going to buy a Droid tablet but then the iPad 2 came out and well I succumbed :)
Would be interested ato know your thoughts on an iPad user using a Droid phone! Also will my apps synch across Droid & ipad?
Like Josey interested to hear some info about the different Droid OSs.
Happy 13th & congrats!
Nice job as usual.

Paul, London said...

My prediction is that Android will be number 1, windows 7 at number 2 and iOS at number 3. Its about time Android got some bigger press. Nice one Raffi.

Howard Glick said...

Mazal tov Raffi, great to meet you on Shabbat.

Thanks for the post, you have given me my first insight into Android!

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what operating systems out there are "better" it's just great that there is choice.

Anonymous said...


Well done! Yet another very interesting blog.
How about comparing some apps iPhone vs Android?
Where is YOUR list of must haves?

Looking forward to your next blog


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