After wearing 5 different Android phones over as many years, I’ve moved on to the iPhone. It’s been a good run. There have been some hit phones, some misses, and a couple I wish I’d rather forget. I will miss the smug satisfaction of having developer access to a phone. I grew fond of that anti-establishment, hacker mentality not beholden to the cult of the big apple, not being evil and all that. Like I said, before it ended, it was a good run with Android.
I well remember the excitement of the first Google Developer Conferences. Lots of smart geeks who weren’t making much money but who were passionate about their mobile phone hobby. People lugging around G1′s with the slideout keyboard, a breakthrough device but bearing all the charm of a tabletop calculator. Then the first Nexus, my favorite Android device and also the only phone I’ve ever owned that fit ergonomically in the hand.
To be honest, the buzz died for me two years ago when I bought the errant creation of a misbegotten marriage between HTC and Verizon. It was the first LTE phone on the best cellular network in the US and the Internet was as fast as blazes and unlimited. I remember walking around streaming high quality video just because I could. It looked fantastic until three hours passed and the battery died. And so I bought an extended battery which felt like some kind of power tool in the pocket and the battery still didn’t last an entire day.
My last Android phone was actually a perfectly decent phone, which just two years ago would have blown away any other phone on the market. It bears the elegantly masculine name of the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD, has wallpaper that looks like an exploding spaceship, and enthusiastically chants ‘Droid’ every time it powers up. The battery even lasts all day.
Then I traded it in for an iPhone 5.
Why the loss of faith? It’s not a simple answer but there are some things about the Android ecosystem that just don’t work well.
First of all, there’s fragmentation. Each Android phone has a uniquely inconsistent user interface, different software, and requires a different integration into your life. The apps are lower quality, because from an application developer’s standpoint, there are literally thousands of hardware and software combinations out there which are very hard to design for.
Bad carrier and OEM decisions. Most Android phones come with preloaded apps which can never be uninstalled. This latest phone, when I first plugged it into my Mac, prompted me to install some proprietary backup software on my laptop which was useless if not harmful, and of course it had an extremely well hidden installer. My last phone repeatedly prompted me to enter my Facebook and Twitter accounts only to produce an unusable list of ‘contacts’. This is the result of decisions by large carriers and handset manufacturers, or actually, their tiers of mid-level product people with little experience of what mobile users need and executives who understand even less. Apple has made some tone-deaf moves (for example, a Maps app with faulty directions) but overall keeps users at the center of the experience.
The market statistics correctly show the ascent of Android to market leadership and that’s because there are millions of inexpensive Android smartphones being churned out. Carriers like it because they can be customized to their needs and they aren’t forced into a business relationship with Apple. Many consumers who can afford the iPhone still prefer an Android phone for specialized purposes such as gaming, video viewing, and enterprise app integration.
The future mobile market is still wide open. Microsoft has a war chest in the billions to fund their next generation of phones. Personally I hope PalmOS gets revived under a better caretaker and gives Apple some beautifully designed competition. Or maybe there’s a new startup out there that will create a better phone or networked watch or digital glasses. I sure hope so.