The iPhone vs Android War

This is going to be a long, hard war and there will be no clear winner. Let me start by saying that both phones are exceptional devices, and even as I’ve made my transition to Nexus One, there are days when I lust after the 3GS for seemly no reasons reason other than its sheer sexiness.

So, why did I switch to Nexus One? A combination of geekiness and practicality:

Openness: Let’s start with the geekiness. I like the fact that Android is open, and that developers have more freedom to develop great apps.  I like the fact that Steve Jobs doesn’t obsessively reign over the inventiveness of the entire mobile computing world, blocking competition and innovation in entire categories that potentially compete with Apple’s revenue streams. Browsers, podcasters, Turn-by-turn directions – Apple has selectively blocked anything potentially competitive. Mac freaks are prone to throwing hissy fits about the big bad PC, have they looked at the developer terms for the iPhone?

Multi-threading: Multitreading may seem like an obscure requirement, but its actually quite mainstream. Why should you get kicked out of chat everything you recieve a call? Why should your online radio station stop playing if you want to browse through your notes? Basically, why can’t applications run in the background? Android does multitasking beautifully. Notifications are subtle and effective, and running multiple apps has apparently little or no impact on battery life.

Tweak-ability: There are a myriad setting you can play around with until the feel is just right for you. iPhone has made improvements over time in its configurability, but its still not quite there. For example, I can specifically position icons on an empty screen in Android. May not seem like a big deal, it isn’t, but its a tweak that improve usability for me. Can’t do it on the iPhone.

Navigation: While I enjoy the minimalism of the iPhone, a single home button is too constrained. I like the navigation buttons on the Nexus One (and other Android sets). When I press Search, it brings up a context sensitive search bar. When I press Menu, it shows the settings and options available. The presence of context sensitive buttons makes the user experience more consistent, and the navigation better anchored.

Widgets: Widgets are little apps running on your home screens, making information and functionality available right up front. You can have todos and upcoming appointment showing on the home screen, or a stream of facebook status updates, or weather and news…basically anything you want, accessible right from the home screens. Android, especially the HTC variety, come with great widgets out of the box, and of course developers can build any widget they fancy. iPhone, so far, is “widgetless”.

The Devil’s Advocate

That, in not quite a nutshell, is why I went the way of the Android, but there’s a little more to be said. While the applications in the Android store are steadily growing (20,000 the last I checked), that’s only about a fifth of what it is on the iTunes. I don’t think this a particularly useful measure, since the number of apps is immaterial, 95% of  users need 50 great apps. These apps exist on both platforms. There are some things that Androis, and Nexus One in particular needs to improve upon:

A desktop app: I get the whole cloud thing, but contrary to what most engineers in Google may believe, people on earth still use desktops. Google needs to make it easy for people to  browse and install apps, sync music, download podcasts and sync Outlook/Lotus Notes from their desktops. In terms of managing podcasts and music, iPhone/iTunes is light-years ahead of Android.

Hard buttons: The navigation buttons on Nexus One are soft, which basically means they’re part of the screen and operate on touch. Having hard buttons (like HTC Desire) would be much much better, as sometimes you have to press multiple times for the soft buttons to ‘click’.

Oleophobic Coating: In plain language, Nexus One needs an oil repellent coating (which the iPhone 3GS features). N1 is a smudge magnet and the sensitively of the touch screen seems to go down as the smudges get thicker.

There you have it, a run-down of the iPhone vs Android war. To summarize, iPhone and N1 are both exceptional devices, but to put it in the words of Gina Trapani“iPhone’s for sheep, Android’s for geeks”. And I’m no sheep.