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Day 65 Without An iPhone
I have an HTC Rezound. I hate the name. I think it’s an unholy combination of “marketing buzzwords” and “No Child Left Behind”. I don’t particularly like the back panel that feels like a giant Casio watch from the 90′s. The entire thing heats up like a 9 volt wrapped in foil whenever I leave the GPS going.
It’s perfect for me.
And I hate that.
I used to bemoan the iPhone and its wretched sidekick, iTunes. Then I was issued a Windows Mobile 6.1 phone for work (the HTC Fuze . . . an equally stupid name) and realized everything that could be done with a phone. Before then I had a collection of Blackberry’s and Treo’s for work but nothing was ever done outside of the occasional text or email. With my Fuze, I suddenly realized how much more was possible. And how much Windows Mobile sucked at doing it!
When the sliding screen finally gave up the ghost, I asked the powers that be to issue me an iPhone instead. I had been a critic of the previous iterations of iPhone before then, but the 3GS had just come out and it finally all came together. All the features that every other phone in creation had, the iPhone finally had too! The cool features that only the iPhone had? Those were just made better. I unboxed my new phone, turned it on, and immediately “got it”; that undefined point in time when suddenly a piece of technology no longer feels unwieldy and you are able to use it as an extension of yourself. Windows Mobile fought it, and as such it never felt particularly comfortable to use. Conversely, you knew everything about the iPhone you needed to know within 2 minutes of turning it on.
Think of Windows Mobile as an arranged marriage; you didn’t choose it for yourself, it doesn’t really work for you, and it isn’t quite the right fit. Using this analogy, iOS is the girl at the bar who is actually just as superficial and shallow sober as she is drunk.
After awhile, I was even able to forgive iTunes some of its more annoying quirks. While I never used it as my primary media player, it was certainly an easy to use “media aggregator” instead. If I wanted something on my phone, drag it to my iTunes and sync it. It’d keep up on app upates, automatically manage all my podcasts for me, and occasionally even do its original job of maintaining album artwork. For the most part, things just worked. You don’t realize how cliche that really is until you’re the one saying it . . . about you.
Things at work changed and we left AT&T as a service provider. By this time I had moved on from my 3GS to the 4, and again to the 4s. Feeling adventurous, I had them order me an Android phone; my Rezound. As phones go it’s a monster (in a good way). It has a massive screen, super fast CPU, and more storage than I can throw my media at. Sure it has all the problems I listed at the top of this article, but it was smooth enough and powerful enough to make me forget them.
First off, let’s go over what Android (as HTC skins it, anyway) does right:
- Allows me to link contacts from multiple sources, creating a much more complete profile for each contact in my address book.
- Allows me to sideload applications from nearly any source, thereby not limiting me to “authorized” apps.
- Allows me to watch flash videos.
- Allows me to change the UI on a whim.
- Allows me to install app purchases remotely and update them automatically.
- One word: widgets
These are all awesome things, and things that I always wanted on my iPhone. However, these features don’t come without a dark side:
- The contact manager occasionally “forgets” your contacts. Or, worse, it forgets parts of your contact information. To fix this, you need to log into Google Contacts and remove them and add them back in.
- Fragmentation in the Android ecosystem is so bad that even “authorized” apps aren’t guaranteed to not screw up your phone.
- Steve Jobs was right; flash on Android really does suck. The only online videos that work reliably are the ones rendered in HTML5.
- Many skins for Android are built primarily on what the designer wanted, not you. It doesn’t matter if that designer worked for T-Mobile or is 9 years old and really likes Naruto; it’s how THEY wanted you to use the phone.
- Many applications will update themselves by default. They don’t care if you’re on WiFi or 3G. They don’t care if you have an app organizer that puts them in specific places. They just go and do whatever. Others can’t uninstall themselves to then update, and require your intervention. This occasionally means you wake up to find that your phone needs immediate help for 30 different applications or it won’t work correctly.
- The thing about widgets is, like themes and UI’s, they were designed by someone who might use the phone in a completely different manner than you. You may have wanted a weather widget that shows you a five day forecast, but whoever built the app didn’t and so you have a nice animation of the current weather instead. This means that to find the widget you want, you need to search for it on the Market place, install it, tell it to run, and essentially have two separate apps on the same phone, running at the same time, doing the same thing.
This is not to say that Android is at all bad. However, it takes a lot more effort to get it working the way you want. A lot more than most people know how to do. Apple and Microsoft get this immediately. That’s why the iOS and Windows Phone 7 interfaces are so simple to use. Yes, they are also limited in their customization. However, you’re not going to worry about the animated background on your iPhone locking up and forcing a hard restart of the phone . . . because you can’t have it!
Ah, and here’s where we get the arguments from Android fans; “That’s because Android has more features!” Perhaps. But both iOS and WP7 have a feature that is often over looked; stability. My Android superphone requires a hard reboot (pulling the battery and restarting it) once every three or four days. My wife’s “feature phone” needs it almost daily. When we had iPhones, we never needed to reset them. My iPad is restarted more often because I forgot to charge it than anything else. Sure, you can do all sorts of things on an Android that might be harder to do on an iPhone. But the fact remains that you can still do them on an iPhone.
Another thing I hear about is how Android has so many features that iPhone has ever had, but people just didn’t know how to access them! Let’s run through a short list of them, shall we?
- Turn-By-Turn Navigation: This one confuses me, as actual “Turn By Turn” has been around since the old MapQuest days. I’m assuming that people mean spoken Turn-By-Turn. In that case, Android doesn’t have it either. It has an app for it. iOS has those, too.
- Cellular Tethering: This is the idea of using your cell phone as a mobile hotspot for other devices such as your laptop, by which allowing your laptop to use the phone’s data service and access the internet. Not surprisingly, most carriers don’t like this ability. However, Android does allow you to get around this and do it anyway . . . if you root your phone. iOS can also do this . . . if you Jailbreak your phone. Ironically, the app you use once you’ve rooted/Jailbroken your device is the same on both platforms.
- Voice Assistant: There was a big hubbub from the Android community when Siri came out for iPhone. Fans shouted left and right how Android had those capabilities all along. Allow me to break it down for you, as someone who has now used both; no you don’t. I don’t care if you’re using Vlingo, Voice Assistant, Jeanine, or any other of the hundred knock offs in the Android Market . . . none of them are anywhere close to Siri.
When most people think of Android fragmentation, they are thinking about how many different types of Android handsets there are out there, and how many different versions of Android are running on them. In truth, things are much worse than that. Take a typical usage scenario for example:
When using my iPhone I would connect it to my iTunes and sync over my music. I would then get into my car and plug my phone into the cassette adapter, turn on my Bluetooth headset, and start listening to music. When I wanted to call someone (let’s say, my wife) I would tap the button on the side of my headset, the music would pause, I would say “call my wife”, and my phone would then route the call to my headset.
When using my Rezound, I connect it to my computer and use HTC Sync to move music over. I get into my car and plug in the cassette adapter and turn on my bluetooth. I go to start listening to music, but because the default player that HTC loaded on the thing is so unusable in the car, I have to use some other player I downloaded. For whatever reason, this player reads some of music twice and other songs are missing entirely. I want to call my wife and so tap the button on the side of my headset. The music does not pause, nor does it dim, and it waits for my input. Instead of my input, however, it’s listening to the music that’s still playing.
I use still another music player that DOES pause the music . However the voice control app, despite having been initiated from the Bluetooth headset, is listening for input from the tape adapter.
In the end, Android’s biggest problem is almost solved by its biggest strength. That is to say, its not quite complete feature set is overcome by the sheer flexibility of the OS to allow you to tweak it. If something doesn’t work quite right you can always download something or tweak something or recompile something to make it work the way you want. But this leads to a huge overall flaw with Android, it only really works for those who are willing and capable of tweaking it constantly. That’s me, for better or worse, and it’s exhausting. It is not my wife, who despises her Android phone most the time and misses her iPhone.
In the end, the only thing holding Android back from being the very best mobile OS out there is the one thing people mock the iPhone for all the time. That super cliche feeling when “it just works”.