Last July, three weeks into the purchase of my iPhone 4, I waited for Steve Jobs to say one particular word in the Apple press conference – recall. Instead, he spoke about correct grasping techniques, other mobile manufactures antenna issues and his generous reparation to owners of faulty device – complimentary rubber cases. This was Apple’s last opportunity to come clean, right a wrong, reward early adopters and they didn’t. Instead they blamed the victim (and fired the Product Manager weeks later). Personally, this was my last straw after weeks of defective proximity sensors causing my ear to hang-up or unintentionally mute conversations regularly with my wife and clients.
As a mobile strategist (and iPhone devotee of four years) this was an opportunity for me see how the other half were living. I returned my iPhone (per Steve’s recommendation) just under the 30 day trial and picked up the last DroidX at the local mall 2 days after its release.
It took a few days to get my sea legs under me to use this new handset comfortably… and another week or two of fiddling with settings to customize it to my preferred needs. Now, after five months of daily usage – I am confident of its strengths and weaknesses, what I miss and what would be a mistake to forgo.
- Cloud Sync – I have never synched my phone to a computer since purchase. At the store, I inputted my Google credentials and all of my contacts, calendars, and email were downloaded and configured prior to leaving the Verizon store. In the past 5 months I have had two OS updates that magically appeared with a one-touch ‘update’ button. I’ve pushed my favorite photos to Flickr and social spaces with ease. Music is generally streamed (Pandora, rdio) or downloaded via DropBox app. Videos upload straight to YouTube. Daily backups to the cloud occur automatically and without thought.
- My Type – While odd at first, the ability to hold keys for additional characters is now preferred over swapping between alpha/number screens. The iPhone does this for odd characters (like … ellipsis) however its true potential should be unleashed with more commonly used keys. I’ve found that simple haptic feedback (like when you use a Wii-mote) to acknowledge pushed button is very gratifying. These simple vibrations do wonders as feedback mechanisms when you have all of the interface blips and beeps muted. Lastly, the ability to use Swype instead of typing is no less than revolutionary as an input method. So much so, I catch myself dragging fingers over my iPad interface hoping for a similar experience.
- Set it, Forget it – With my iPhones of the past, I had to purchase apps like This American Life to listen to episodes without syncing first with a desktop or downloading them one by one from the iTunes app. The Google Listen service (essentially an audio version of Google Reader) lets me subscribe to my favorite podcasts and then sync ALL of the latest episode (with one button) locally to my handset and/or stream them.
- Drive-time – The native Maps app really comes to life when requesting driving directions. The native Google maps implementation transforms into a Garmin-style GPS device with turn by turn audio cues and optimized driving maps that are not limited to a bird’s eye view. Your arrival is elegantly confirmed with a voice cue as the map is replaced by Google’s StreetView photo of your destination. Additionally, the DroidX has a CarDock interface with six enlarged buttons to help you quickly control key tasks while you are driving and at a glance.
- Insurance – Moving away from AT&T also reconnected me with the long forgotten option to have a $5 insurance plan protecting me misplacing (or mis-splashing) my new gadget.
- Calling – I’ve had no issues calling people, few dropped calls, and now receive calls in the office where other’s iPhones go straight to voicemail.
- Mod’ing – While my geek-cred leaves much to be desired, I enjoy that even I can customize my phone without jailbreaking or voiding warranties. Simple applications like Tasker arm a simple tech enthusiast with the abilities to program elaborate behaviors like playing a particular song when the handset is lost and then receives a trigger word via a friend’s SMS message. I’m still working on the power-saver code that automatically powers down all of the apps and services, except for cell reception, when you place the phone face down at your desk.
These great features – some nice and others extraordinarily useful – do come with a price. Apple’s intuitive UX and iXD efforts have won the world over for great reason. The interfaces have been unified, codified, and refined many times over to ensure my 2 year-old or his great grandmother can find and use the device independently. The DroidX, and other Android phones, have native app and OS interfaces employ novice aesthetics and often times remind me of color schemes that programmers place in prototypes before the designers get hold of them. The rawness of visual themes tends to extend past the OS and into the long tail of privately developed apps available in the Android Marketplace. While being free of Apple’s notorious app publishing approval process, the resulting software is often reflects the minimal oversight and scrappy budgets behind them.
- Turn-Offs – As a newbie to multi-app usage, it took a bit of time to figure out why my battery was draining in 4-6 hrs regularly. It turns out that you need to actually turn off apps every so often when you’re regularly bouncing between a dozen or two. With a free app like Advanced Task Killer, I can now quickly kill unnecessary apps and streamline my power usage.
- Sluggish Contacts – I’m a pack-rat and tend to roll with my full rolodex at all times. This is around 4000+ contacts and .vcf that runs upwards of 275MB. Searching for contacts is a painfully slow process at times and feel like i’m pinging Gmail’s server versus my local device. It is nice that the DroidX marries Twitter and Facebook profile photos and latest status next to the vCard… unfortunately the further delay and un-cached nature lessens the delight factor.
- Voicemail – Visual voicemail, similar to the iPhone, is and upgrade in the service plan. The bigger issue is the dodgy reliability of alerts that are wired to an aftermarket app which can be shut off during power-saving efforts. These types of core activities should be baked into the device IMHO.
- Social Notifications – The Boxcar app is sorely missed despite the native Twitter app’s push notification abilities. Flagging keywords, multiple accounts, and now even key Tweeters, is critical when you are monitoring brands in real-time… even if that brand is you.
- Alerts – I’m still on the fence whether I prefer the Android or iPhone placement of notifications. Android has a great list of everything that happened while you were gone with little detail. iOS on the other hand pushes notifications to publicly appear on the screen and then buries other updates as numbers on top of the app icon.
- Eyes Without a Face – Facetime is amazing. It is sorely missed. My iPad has asked Santa for a video camera.
- No App for That – Many of the most popular apps for iOS are non-existent on Android. LinkedIn, Netflix and many others are nowhere to be found. They are rumored to be en route to the party and thanks to Zuckerberg’s recent adoption of an Android handset we NOW have a native Facebook app that is slightly better than the mobile web site.
- Show and Tell – I use screenshots daily for my job and find it is ludicrous that there is no native ability to create them. I haven’t even found a good app to do the job; all workarounds seem to include timers and some level of coding. (tips welcome…)
There are things left to be desired with both iOS and Android devices, apps, and their carriers. The carriers are potentially the biggest catalyst and risk to Android adoption. The more private app stores and custom OS implementations that occur will could divide and fragment this burgeoning platform that has become a market force.
I’m happy with the deep ethnographic research i’ve gathered in this ongoing experiment and know that my Android app strategies will benefit greatly. I also have to say that my iPad has been extremely helpful in motivating me to venture into the unknown. Knowing that my previous iOS knowledge and app purchases were still accessible was (and is) gratifying. Even more so was exercising the ability to keep my mind open and move in the direction of my convictions.
“Evaluate everything you have been told and dismiss that which insults your soul.” ~ Thoreau