A lot of noise is appearing on some popular tech web sites about the "polish" of Android compared to iOS. I'm not going to wade into that fracas as I recently voiced a similar complaint about Android.
My earlier article was in reference to going back to the Nexus S 4G running Gingerbread after using the iPhone 4S. A few Android enthusiasts took umbrage at my daring to compare iOS to the Gingerbread version of Android on the Nexus S 4G, neither of which were considered state-of-the-art for Android. Now that I have the Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0, both the latest and greatest versions of both hardware and software, I can state without reservation that Android is just not good enough for me.
The hardware comprising the Galaxy Nexus is really powerful, yet I still see occasional stutters and glitches during normal operation. It's not as bad as it used to be in earlier versions of Android on slower handsets, but it happens often enough to be aggravating. It is observable most often when scrolling in long pages, both in the browser(s) and in apps, and when swiping from one page to the next in apps. There's a little "hitch" in the scroll that is annoying as can be, at least to me.
Even Google's own software exhibits this stuttering behavior. It is common for me to swipe a page in the Android Market only to have nothing happen. Do it again and then the page starts scrolling as expected. It's not smooth, it's not fast, and it's not the way it should be. If you have owned a car that hesitates when you press the gas you know the feeling I get using Android. Push the pedal and nothing happens for a split-second, then it surges forward.
Ice Cream Sandwich is the best version of Android yet in my experience, but it still annoys in a lot of little ways that add up to a frustrating user experience. Google has made Android an open platform, a good thing, but there's such a thing as being too open. Android is too open for the user's own good. It's as if Google set out to make sure Android app developers could have a good time by doing things however they wish. In all that touchy-feely openness, me the user is not having a good time. And the user is the only one in the ecosystem that ultimately matters.
Don't misunderstand me, Android is good enough to do what the millions of users need it to do. It is a well-rounded OS that keeps getting better over time. Where it fails is in the way it does those things. At this point in Android's life it should be better than it is, especially given the powerful hardware it is now running on.
Pick up a Windows Phone handset and you will find using it to be a joy given how fluid and smooth the entire OS works. You touch a control on the screen and you know it will be handled properly. The same experience is provided by iOS on both the iPhone and the iPad. So why does Android still disappoint in basic operation? It is almost 2012 and things don't have to be this way.
I have been using Android since the very first phone. I like the OS, but I expect it to work as well as the competition. It should have evolved further than it has, and there is no compelling reason for me to put up with its shortcomings until it gets better.
I will hear from those claiming their Android phone doesn't do any of the things I have described. The experience I have described is what I have seen while using dozens of Android phones, running all versions of the OS since the platform launch. The performance issues I've described have permeated every single one of those devices I've used, so if yours is running perfectly then lucky you.
Sure I appreciate how customizable Android is, and how you can even replace the shipping OS with a third party version as desired. But that doesn't mean users have to excuse inferior operation. Having a fluid user experience is not mutually exclusive to the good parts of Android. We should have both. Until we do, Android is just not good enough in my book.
Image credit: Flickr user Eric Kilby
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