If Android "Feels Wrong" then I don't want to be right

If Android "Feels Wrong" then I don't want to be right

Summary: Android may not have the polish or the sex appeal of Apple's iOS, but it's the smartphone platform of my choice.

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Artwork courtesy aidanwojtas on flickr

It seems that my friends and colleagues have gone iPhone crazy, yet again.

This is of course to be expected. iPhone mania happens every year, like a force of nature. Like the seasonal rushing bloom of the sakura in Japan, or as in North America where the expectation is that the trees will change color during the last weeks of October, ushering in the fall and the inevitable winter. You can't stop it, it simply is.

iPhone happens. Deal with it.

Still, despite the real enthusiasm -- all 4 million orders and counting for the newest version, the 4S -- this is not the platform I choose to use for my own particular smartphone requirements.

I use an Android device.

Indeed, I have frequently recommended the iPhone to others, including my own family. I also own and use an iPad 2, among other tablet devices, and I currently believe that iOS and the iPad is really the only good consumer tablet platform available for now.

However, I really want to see what Ice Cream Sandwich and what Amazon's Kindle Fire offers before drawing any further conclusions.

My ZDNet Mobile News colleague James Kendrick feels that after playing around with his iPhone 4S after a few days, Android Gingerbread 2.3.x just "Feels Wrong."

I'm not sure how to quantify exactly what he means by "wrong", but I'll take my best shot at it.

James' biggest complaint is that Android does not feel as "fluid" to him as iOS does, particularly when using the web browser and that there are inconsistencies in the user interface.

I'll give him that. Compared to Safari in iOS 5, neither Gingerbread 2.3.5 nor Honeycomb 3.2's web browser is as "slick". And I agree that configuration screens and apps that come from Google and various developers don't always integrate well, especially once the handset OEMs get a hold of the source and pollute the "vanilla" Android base code with their "value add".

I've complained about these issues numerous times myself. But let's move forward.

As a "finished product" I agree with James that iOS is more "done" than Android. Like all Google products and services, their mobile OS is constantly in a state of flux and enhancement. This is a reflection of the way Google does things as it is a software engineering culture.

This is not a dig at Google, it simply is. As a company, Google is not afraid to release things in varied states of completion. They are the Yin to Apple's Yang in virtually every aspect when it comes to how they approach software engineering and product releases.

While some people prefer the consistency and stability with the iOS software releases on an annual or biannual basis, some of us would rather get our enhancements constantly and incrementally rather than through big OS updates once or twice a year.

Google is always presenting us Android users with nice surprises and improvements, particularly with their core application updates.

Arguably, some things may be of a more experimental nature like Google Goggles or Google Maps Navigation, and some are more "Done" like the GMail app.

However, with Android, unlike iOS, which has a highly refined set of core apps that come with the OS that cannot be modified or reconfigured, you can easily switch out things that you don't like and replace them with completely different or even slightly-altered third party apps. Android is a tweaker's paradise.

Heck, you can switch out Google's Android Market for Amazon's Appstore. You can add adult app stores like Mikandi. You can also "side load" vertical market applications for special enterprise use simply by turning on a toggle switch in the configuration settings.

With iOS, this is not so easy to do. Want to install a custom app? You need to become a software developer and download the enterprise deployment kit. Want to switch out or add a significant piece of functionality that Apple won't approve of on its App Store? Forget about it. Have fun jailbreaking and using Cydia, and good luck when you have to install a major OS update.

All this has been bandied about and documented ad nauseum. Apple is a closed ecosystem with rules that must be followed (which change constantly and are applied inconsistently) in order to be a good citizen of App Store land, or one faces app rejection or account expulsion.

This not only hurts the developers that spend a great deal of time and energy building apps, but it also hurts the end users that could have benefited from using them.

Conversely, Android is rampant with deregulation to the point that even malware can enter the system if left unchecked. And because of the diversity between chipsets and hardware and 3rd-party OEM software overlays and additional APIs that make up Android devices, applications do not behave consistently between different devices.

Each platform has extremes that are undesirable and both very desirable at the same time. It all depends on what the needs of the target user is.

Fundamentally, what it boils down to is the difference between one platform of homogeneity and another of heterogeneity.

Without these two things, we would not have innovation in our industry. Innovation and competition is good.

With Android, I have the option of completely replacing my system ROM with one of 3rd-party origin, particularly when or if my OEM decides it's not worth their time to continue to support my device.

Case in point, I brought my last device, the original 2009 Motorola Droid, from its final 2.2 "Froyo" update to the latest 2.3.5 Gingerbread courtesy of the CyanogenMOD community.

This is an activity fully endorsed and encouraged by Google due to the OS's Open Source nature -- not once have I seen a rooted, custom-ROMed device denied access to the Android Market.

Conversely, while a large "Jailbreaking" community exists for iOS for customizing and adding functionality in an underground manner, custom iOS builds just do not exist openly -- they would be considered to be pirated software, like Hackintoshes.

Cupertino has pursued legal action against those who engage in Jailbreaking-type activities, and Apple is constantly finding ways to thwart the efforts of jailbreakers and the jailbroken devices. I just don't want that to be part of my lifestyle.

I have other things to get done, like actual work.

If I need a custom app written with special libraries, I want to get it installed without some nanny in Silicon Valley telling me what I can and cannot do with my phone according to some stupid set of rules I don't necessarily agree with.

And development versatility? With Android, a developer can write in any language or platform that they choose, be it Dalvik's special Java implementation, Adobe AIR/Flash or write totally custom C/C++ libraries and functions in the NDK if the APIs for what they need do not already exit in the Android SDK.

It doesn't matter to Google -- they give developers the power to do whatever they want because it is in Android's design to be exploited and modified.

At the end of the day, this is why it is likely that Apple will not be able to easily engage the enterprise and special vertical markets to the extent that Android will, because the iOS platform is designed to be heavily consumerized and inflexible in order to prevent tampering.

I don't even want to get into issues of mobile hypervisors and other enterprise enhancements and technologies that will further prove the versatility and power of Android in the coming year which you will never see on iOS, unless Tim Cook makes radical changes to Apple's business model and accommodates partners the same way Android does.

The Inflexibility that makes iOS an excellent consumer platform is also its greatest weakness. Flexibility is Android's greatest strength, at the cost of some refinement.

So sure, I'll admit that Android has its flaws. But as a technologist and a power user, I'll gladly put up with a few quirks and rough edges for the flexibility and power that I have to make my phone do what I need it to do for me.

Are you willing to put up with the flaws and imperfections in Android in order to have the power and flexibility that Google's mobile OS offers? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Smartphones

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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116 comments
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  • RE: If Android

    Sorry, but the truth is you are part of a minority who wants to tweak the system. I bet 99% of people who buy Android do not buy it because they can tweak it or they can load any App store or they can create their own apps and load into it... People bought Android because it was available on multiple carriers and it was cheap. Good luck to Android to keep up the momentum
    browser.
    • RE: If Android

      @browser. Over 41 percent market share as recorded by Nielsen, ComScore and NPD seems to indicate that the momentum is pretty much unstoppable.
      jperlow
      • True, but most of these sales indeed are not OS-conscious: people wanted ..

        @jperlow: ... cheap phones with big screen to look at photos. The do not care about the OS. If Microsoft will storm the market with masses of cheap big screen devices, they can gain the marketshare fairly quickly, even though their platform is about as integrated/closed and untweakable as iOS.<br><br>This is because even among Android buyers percentage of people who actually want/care to tweak their system is low. Others just buy what the market offers (especially internationally, where there are no contracts and buyers see that even iPhone 3Gs is pricier than competition).
        DDERSSS
      • RE: If Android

        @jperlow Great !!! If iPhone dominate the market, then iPhone will lose it's exclusivity. Go Android !!! I'll stick with my iPhone.
        Voltus
      • RE: If Android

        @jperlow Wow, your NOT very smart! In the tech sector, the only thing that counts is PROFITS!! Google/Android clearly make "0" dollars from their devices. You can't be blatantly stupid! Free & cheap doesn't = success! You bloggers make being dumb look like a full-time job! Plus, if "ICS" gains a large portion of current-user upgrades, then Android would've just foolishly joined tablet & smartphone OS's, making iOS the dominant OS! Whoever runs Google is clearly NOT very smart either, so believing you work for them isn't much of a stretch!
        SBMobile
      • Wow. Just Wow.

        @SBMobile Thanks dude (or dudette). I needed a good laugh today and you definitely provided it. I thought about replying with facts and figures to show why your claims are just plain silly, but after a second read (and quite a few chuckles!) it dawned on me that your comment was intended to be funny!

        Good job! Keep the funny troll posts coming!
        jeff.redding@...
    • RE: If Android

      @browser. I disagree, part of why I chose the Android phone is because of some flexibility it offers. I like the widgets, I can't get away from them, other aspects of the phone such as the external Micro SD card options most models offer in addition to tight integration with Google Maps/Navigation are reasons why I chose Android over iPhone. I do enjoy the option of the Amazon App store, this helps create a competitive environment in this space, as evident by Amazon's aggressiveness with the free app of the day and discounted specials. These benefit me as a consumer greatly. I also like the option that my phone has a full slide down qwerty, I never liked the virtual keyboard and it seems like an option that the iPhone will never come with. Android gives more flexibility with its flaws, but its that flexibility that has won me over as a consumer.
      ImaginaryFriend
      • RE: If Android

        @ImaginaryFriend
        going off on that "Google App integration" Google needs to start reducing or even stop completely their availability of applications on the iPhone.

        See how many smart remarks you get from iPhone users when you stop producing (or even remove completely) Gmail for iPhone, or Google Earth, or Google Voice. Take away the You Tube App from the iPhone! block connections to Google websites by Safari Mobile browsers...

        See who is laughing then. Why should Google give two poops to Apple, you don't see Apple providing any iApps for Android. (no need to block WP7, they aren't suing half of the technological world....)
        aiellenon
    • I choose Android because its simply better

      At so many crucial things for my work.<br><br>Multitasking is key. With an IOS device I can only control one external device. With Android I can control over 64 with no degradation in performance, because multitasking works the right way. On IOs only the application thats running has priority over the CPU. On Android you can slice it as you wish.<br><br>Then there is customization. Looking at ICS, there will still be some minor stutter but its polish is getting there with better integration. Voice activate actions and dictations is still a generation ahead of Siri's meta tag based interpreter. <br><br>My only complaint about Android is that 12 and 16Megapixels cameras with a BULB option have not shown up yet. Android devices offer a lot of options IOS can't dream of:<br><br>a) Run a virtual machine (Linux, Fedora, Windows, Mac or IOS) is here now. Apple has none.<br>b) Be able to connect a Mouse, 3D monitor, external hardrive and keyboard is here now on Android. Not so on IOs<br>c) Swype and keyboard choices (Swype alone allows a user to type ten times faster than anything on IOS).<br>d) The ability to control remote device on Android is so powerful, that only within a year, will Apple recognize the difference and have to rewrite their multitasking to emulate Android. (they will call it improved!)<br>e) Hardware options for all conditions and budgets. Super Amoled HD is just amazing! Compare that to the washed out yellow 3.5 screen on an iPhone 4S.<br>f) The ICS features are real nice. My only complaint is TAKE TILES AWAY It stinks!. Android did wrong in going that route. Would have been nicer to have a different layout.<br><br>So no.. there are a few bugs. But if we compare todays Android (Gingerbread, Honeycomb or ICS) with that of the G1 (Cupcake) it has made significantly more strides than what IOS has. In three years the difference will be so large in Android's favor, that IOs will become irrelevant.
      Uralbas
      • RE: If Android

        @Uralbas Sorry. The screen on the iPhone 4S is way better than any other I have ever seen. There is nothing "yellow" or washed out. After less than a week of having it, I can't stand looking at the EVO screen... and the Galaxy S II my friend has with that giant blurry fuzzy screen? Seriously, it isn't close to the same resolution. When the screen gets bigger, it needs even higher res to keep up. The Android model ALL have lower res. than iPhone.
        condelirios
      • RE: If Android

        @Uralbas im sorry but ur so ignorant. every friend i know that has an android says it crashes at least once a day.....ios users.......never heard a peep about crashing.....unless u jailbreak...how can you possibly say ios is going to become irrelevant when 4 million 4S's have been sold already. and have u ever used an ios device to remote into a machine? i dont think so because ive used MANY remote clients and they work better than any android app. and btw that yellow tint on the screen is a from the manufacturer and will go away after a while....do ur research
        eastonl33t
        • RE: If Android

          @Uralbas and go ahead and try to compare the hardware of android devices good luck getting a screen as clear as the iphone 4/4S retina display and btw AMOLED is god awful outside with the sun...cant even read text...n00b
          eastonl33t
      • RE: If Android

        @Uralbas oh by the way show me a android that has a camera as good as the iphone 4 or 4S and ill show u a lier. oh and btw android tablets are doing REALLY well too hahahha.....lol u n00b. i can give my grandma an ipad and she could start using it without asking me a question.....she would most likely throw the android out the window just like the nook color i rooted for her
        eastonl33t
    • RE: If Android

      @browser.

      Agreed 100%!
      Some of the arguments presented here are just plain silly. To state that a company puts out unfinished buggy code and make it sound like a plus is just ridiculous. Would you buy a car because the company is unafraid of releasing it with faulty brakes? Please!

      If you???re are a hacker and like to play with the OS more than having a reliable mature OS that just works well then go for the Android. That whole walled garden has not seem to stop the release of over 500,000 from being created and published and having Apple approve them helps to make sure they work as expected and are not virus filled.

      Also I find it nice to own a device that I know will be able to run the next OS with our wondering if it will cripple my phone, assuming I can get the update at all.

      Android has a long way to go before it is in the same league as the iOS and I myself can't wait to dump my slow, buggy, unreliable Android for an iPhone.
      KBabcock75
      • RE: If Android

        @KBabcock75


        yes, but with iOS, that "list of of over 500,000 apps" is limited to something that Apple wants me to use.

        I will just present a couple of arguments to make my case that Android is the superior OS:

        I can get apk files in email from friends or through Web site visit, whenever there is a good app that I could put to good use, and load it in my device -- without having to hack the device.

        I can install a lot of applications that are not designed to be made available in my country. I can install a lot of applications that adds values to the device without having to pay for the apps.

        Also, I am not limited to internal device memory when it comes to file storage. I get to plug in microSD cards.

        Not to mention the three letters: LTE. It's available. The iPhone is already behind the times in terms of network speed capabilities.
        CyberGuerilla
      • RE: If Android

        @KBabcock75 Slow and buggy? That's what happens when Android gives you the option of paying $30 for a maybe-less-than-decent smartphone. I hardly have problems and my phone is 2 years old. I'm going to be picking up the Nexus Prime as soon as it's released and I don't expect anything to be slow and buggy either.

        Sure, the iPhone is much better than the cheap Androids you get from MetroPCS. But with a real phone like the Nexus or EVO you don't have those problems.

        I find it nice to own a device I can hack and modify without worrying about not being able to update to the next OS. Especially when I can depend on CyanogenMOD creating a ROM better than that OS update.

        People like you may be better off with an iPhone, for some people knowing how to make a call and play sudoku is sufficient.

        Releasing a beta is no where near buying a car with faulty brakes. I can flash something experimental without worrying about dying. If it doesn't work on my phone I can always go back. Android is freedom.
        thefatalepic
      • RE: If Android

        @KBabcock75 Who wants something that "just" works? :-) It's not working for Jason Perlow precisely because it's tailored for a small subset of possible use cases with no ability to work outside them.

        Also, Mr. Perlow never claimed Google puts out "unfinished buggy code". There's a difference between being feature incomplete and "buggy" or "faulty".
        jgm@...
      • RE: If Android

        @KBabcock75

        What phone are you using that you want to dump? You have an android device that is slow, buggy and unreliable? Sounds like you made a poor decision in your selection. I have EVO, Bionic and iPhone 4s in front of me now and I can tell you that neither the EVO or Bionic is slower or "buggy". I'm just curious about what you have?
        heathman
    • RE: If Android

      @browser. As a developer at a software company that would like to provide mobile apps for its customers I applaud the freedom that the Android OS provides.

      As a user who has just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone I am also pleased to be able to choose my own email client, my own browser, have a quick link shortcut to toggle the screen brightness.

      I agree that most users won't tweak their phone in the same manner but I think there are much more than 1% who do. Probably closer to 50%.
      johnd126
    • RE: If Android

      @browser - "Sorry, but the truth is you are part of a minority who wants to tweak the system". <br><br>A reported *50%* of Android users install the Swype keyboard to replace the stock one (more-or-less identical to the iP one). That's a perfect real-world example of how very wrong the "Apple knows best" blinkered mindset is.
      Psdie