Why my parents don't use Android

Summary:Last week, my parents needed to buy new cell phones. Guess which phone I told them to get?

This week, my colleague James Kendrick completely annihilated ZDNet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan in the Great Debate over Android growth.

This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, as this vindicates many of the things I have said in the past about Android.

Although I won the popular vote over Matt Miller in our previous iPhone 5 (cough) debate, TechRepublic Editor in Chief Jason Hiner gave the nod in that battle to Miller.

I felt like I was robbed.

Hiner believes that regardless of how much Android's market grows, the iPhone and iOS platform is just too compelling for many users who are invested in the system to bail from.

No matter how strong an argument I presented against the iPhone 4S, millions of people are going to continue to buy iPhones in droves.

Personally I agree with Kendrick that Android's momentum is too great to stop it in its tracks even for a company as powerful and influential as Apple.

The battle for user mindshare between two platforms have locked iOS and Android into an eternal combat which will generate competition and innovation in the mobile platform industry. That's good for everyone.

That being said, while I am a fan and user of the Android platform, I still can't recommend it to everyone yet.

Indeed, Android has made some incredible strides in functionality and usability since its first release in 2007. It has also managed to secure over a 40 percent market share as of the end of Q3 2011 and has along with iOS continued to erode what remains of BlackBerry's once dominant position in the consumer space.

If the trends continue, by this time next year, RIM is likely to lose all of its consumer share to competing platforms, most of it by the hands of Google's Android.

Despite the fact that I own an iPad 2 and a Mac, I use Android as my sole smartphone OS.

Both my wife and I have Android phones. I recently purchased a Droid Bionic and my wife is due for an upgrade from her original Motorola Droid next month. In all likelihood, she's also going to get a Bionic or similar 4G LTE Android phone from Verizon.

Why? Because we're both heavily invested in the Google infrastructure for email and calendaring and we use a lot of Android apps.

While it's true that many of the same types of Android apps exist on iOS, there is something to be said for familiarity. And that's another reason why iOS users for the most part will stick with iPhones, this despite the advantages of 4G networks like Verizon's LTE which only Android phones can take advantage of now.

But what about customers who have never owned a smartphone? What direction are they likely to choose? I think it depends on the requirements of the user.

Last week, my parents called me from their home in Florida and asked me what they should do about their cellphones. Apparently, my father dropped his accidentally in the toilet, and now his four-year-old plus AT&T "dumb" phone was dead. As a doornail.

My mother's phone was equally ancient and despite the fact it was functioning, the voice quality and reception was awful.

So mom asked me what kind of phones they should get.

"You use AT&T now, right?"

"Yup."

"But you don't have any contracts on either of the phones."

"Nope."

"Is there any reason why you want to stay with AT&T as opposed to Verizon?"

"The Verizon plans are too expensive and we get educational discounts on the plans with AT&T."

I had forgotten about that. My father, a retired dentist, teaches at the local dental school and my mother teaches Spanish at a local college. They get a really good plan discount, and they didn't want to spend a ton of money on new phones either.

And while they could have gone with new "basic" phones, they wanted to get with the 21st Century. They wanted email and FaceBook on their phones.

Now, AT&T has a bunch of Android phones in their arsenal, but none of them in my opinion are as good as any of the ones Verizon currently offers. Plus, most of them are loaded with AT&T bloatware and the company is notorious for being slow about Android over the air updates.

Yeah, I could point them to Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" devices, but despite their many years of experience with Hotmail accounts, I had just ported them over to GMail, and I wanted them to have access to large app ecosystems.

Mango is definitely a nice OS, but I'd prefer to give it time to mature before I give it the mom test.

I also thought about support issues. Sure, my parents are pretty sharp Baby Boomers, but if they encounter anything screwy with Android and Windows Phone  -- which even someone like myself does occasionally -- who exactly are they going to go to for support? The AT&T store? Do they call Motorola? Samsung? HTC?

Do they hunt down apocryphal threads on application compatibility issues on sites like XDA Developers?

No, they're gonna call me. And because I use a Verizon Android device, it's not necessarily going to behave or act like whatever random AT&T free Android device they'd end up buying. So I doubt I could help them at all.

So what did I do? I told them to walk into the AT&T store, renew their two year contract, and buy two iPhone 3GS phones (that they would get for free) with the basic data plans.

We debated whether or not they were going to go with the regular iPhone 4, but $99 per phone was still a bit expensive for seniors and they wouldn't make use of Facetime nor were they interested in the Retina Display or the better camera(s). For their purposes, the 3GS was perfectly fine.

I had already bought them a Wi-Fi iPad 2 for my mother's birthday, and at their age, screen size is a big issue if you're going to do browsing -- it doesn't matter how "sharp" the display is.

And since they had a few months experience with iOS already, there was definitely no point in introducing them to a new UI with Android or Windows Phone.

But the big decision maker? If something went wrong with their phone, or they had some problems using it, I could simply say "Go bug the Geniuses at the Apple Store."

And I would be one hundred percent confident that the Apple Store would do a much better job of supporting them than I ever could.

Heck, if the Geniuses are good enough for Steve Wozniak, they're good enough for retirees in Boca Raton.

And that at the end of the day is why my parents don't use Android. Without a unified tech support organization to go to and being left at the mercy of employees at carrier retail store locations or random phone support representative, Android just doesn't have the same value proposition for "everyone else".

Sure, Android is great for tons of people like myself that like having bleeding edge technology, but not for people like mom and dad.

Android just fails the mom and dad test, period.

Is Apple's superior tech support the frequent deciding factor in why many users go in the iPhone direction rather than Android? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPhone, Android, Apple, Google, Mobile OS, Mobility, Networking, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Wi-Fi

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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