I've being using Google's Android OS a lot lately. I've been using Android as my primary phone OS for around a year while writing three Pocket Guides for Peachpit Press (Nexus One, Droid, G1) and I've concluded that the Nexus One is a better smartphone than the iPhone - hands down. Why? Because Android is a better mobile OS.
I'm basing this on Android 2.1 as compared to iPhone OS 3. I've done some limited testing on the Pre+ (and Pixi+) on Verizon Wireless, but Web OS comes in third after Android and iPhone. In January I posted my iPhone wishlist for 2010. In this list I'm going to list 10 specific Android features that Apple needs to implement, or improve upon in iPhone OS 4.0 if it expects to make up any of the ground it lost to Android in the past 12 months.
This list doesn't include any of the excellent hardware features found in most Android handsets like an expansion memory card slot, removable battery or the home/back/menu/search soft buttons because Apple will probably never implement these. Apple will most likely improve the iPhone's screen resolution in the 4.0 hardware, as the Nexus One's 800 x 480 AMOLED display has 2.5 times the pixels of iPhone's 480 x 320 panel.
Here are 10 ways the Nexus One slays the iPhone...
- Google Voice – There's something compelling about having a phone number for life that you can forward to any phone. What makes Google Voice cool is that voicemail are transcribed into email so that you can preview them with a glance, imagine your voicemail in a Gmail interface. GV is cost-effective because SMS is and MMS are (update: MMS is coming) free and international calls are cheap. When GV allows number porting, I'm converting and never looking back. GV's allows you to receive your calls on any phone and poses a serious threat to the mobile carrier's business model. AT&T doesn't want GV as a native iPhone app because it would cut into its lucrative SMS and long distance charges. Unfortunately the GV Web app is no replacement for the real thing.
- Google Maps Navigation – The Maps app on Android alone has 10 features that aren't in the lame version of Maps on the iPhone. Take navigation for example, the Android version of 'Maps comes with full-blown, turn-by-turn, voice navigation that rivals anything from Garmin or TomTom. The free crowd-sourced traffic another bonus, plus it's permanent Internet connection mean less incorrect POIs. Maps for Android also has a bunch of cool features hidden in the Labs menu, like layers for Terrain, Buzz and Latitude.
- Voice Text - I used my Nexus One for an entire week without typing. I replied to email, SMS and Twitter all without ever touching the keyboard. That's because Android has system-wide speech-recognition. Anywhere there's a virtual keyboard you can touch a microphone icon and dictate your text. Although its experimental and requires a data connection it's a major time saver.
- Status Bar/Notifications – Ironically Android's status bar is more Apple-like than Apple's status bar. iPhone notifications are displayed as a model dialog box, but multiple notifications get truncated and answering a call or unlocking the phone dismisses them. Android notifications are persistent and live in the status bar. Why doesn't Apple have something like this?
- Widgets/Better home screen – Android allows you to have small apps for news, weather, twitter and flight info, called widgets that can run on the home screen displaying valuable information without having to launch an app. Apple updates the date on Calendar app icon, but that's about it.
- Background apps/multi-tasking – When streaming music from Pandora or podcasts from Listen on Android I can switch over to email, Twitter or the Web browser without the music stopping. Apple only allows a select few app (its own) to run in the background. Enough said.
- Combined email inbox – If you have multiple email accounts, switching between them requires several touches on an iPhone making it easy to miss emails. Android's Email and Gmail apps both have a combined inbox that allows you to view all of your email messages in one centralized inbox. This is a feature that Apple must implement.
- OTA software updates and syncing - It's embarrassing that Apple requires a cable to install software updates, Android does this over the air. Syncing contacts and calendars costs $100 per year [update: unless you're using Exchange/ActiveSync]. It's time for Apple to make syncing cable- (and cost) free.
- Amazing, free apps - Google's Listen, Shopper, Goggles and SkyMap are powerful, free apps. Contrast that with Apple's Weather, Stocks and Notes apps, which are junk and can't be removed.
- Free access to the music library – don't underestimate this one, Apple doesn't allow apps to access your iTunes music library, which is a drag for DJ apps
- An open app store
- Installing apps from any source.
[Update: I had to remove my previous #9 "unlimited apps" because the iPhone has that too (it only displays 11 pages of apps), I replaced it with three additional reasons, for a total of 12]
So there you have it. Apple's recipe for iPhone 4.0 if it just wants to catch up with Android 2.1. I expect that in addition to addressing these deficiencies, Apple will release some new and unique features that blow us away.
What's your take on Android? Can Apple catch up?