Android’s Shortcomings Proves Brilliance of iPhone

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Google phone

Today, the finest minds from Google, HTC, and T-Mobile on hand to launch the Android platform proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the iPhone's monomaniacal whole-widget development model is the only way to claim genuinely new territory in a market.


Today, the finest minds from Google, HTC, and T-Mobile on hand to launch the Android platform proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the iPhone’s monomaniacal “whole widget” development model is the only way to claim genuinely new territory in a market. The T-Mobile G1 comes up tragically short in the race to launch a widespread, modern mobile OS to prevent the proliferation of Windows Mobile. As Steve Jobs has learned, if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself. In fact, the Android Troika is making the same assumptions that have ensured that Linux will always be a marginal desktop OS in developed markets. Here are the top three reasons why:

3. Presuming that Someone Else Will Fix Your Problems

Google has left a lot undone with Android: no built-in Exchange support; no desktop syncing; no video playback; a comically variable UI. But it’s OK, Google says: third-party developers will definitely come up with solutions. While that’s probably true, it also means that standards won’t get established for these features, which means that new features will always lag behind more tightly controlled platforms like the iPhone. Worse, the Exchange omission ensures that this will never play with corporate IT environments that are looking to replace a fleet of aging Treos right now. That means the only credible alternative to Windows Mobile and BlackBerry? iPhone. I never thought I would see the day when Apple was more corporate friendly than the open alternative.

2. Believing Flexibility is More Important Than Usability

Geeks love the freedom to modify hardware. It’s one reason why the original Apple II was a nerd’s dream machine back in the day — it had a ton of slots for new hardware to fit into. The G1 is a little bit like that – it has very little on-board storage for holding applications and music, relying on a Micro-SD slot instead, which means people can have as much or as little additional storage as they like, with 1GB included. Unfortunately for tech companies, most people hate having to manage stuff like that. There are a ton of prospective G1 owners who probably couldn’t swap storage if they tried – which means they’re saddled with a high-priced media phone that only has the same amount of storage as an iPod shuffle. The G1 can take an 8GB card, but that’s expense above and beyond the regular price – and a major headache.

A resistance to simple design means that the new Google Phone is complex now and only destined to become more complex. It tries to meet every feature people could possibly want, and ends up leaving a few out and compromising the others. That’s why the phone has a bizarre Touch-with-Scrollball interface and can ONLY type in landscape mode with the physical keyboard. Trying to do too much always leads to mediocrity, and it does here.

1. Guessing that “close enough” is good enough

The iPhone set the world on fire by making multi-touch a household word. The G1 has a touchscreen that can’t do multi and hopes people won’t notice. The iPhone blended the features of an iPod with those of an advanced smart phone and created something better than either. The G1 has a kludgy music interface that make’s the BlackBerry media player look elegant, and it doesn’t even have a headphone jack – just a mini-USB adapter. Mobile Safari kicked the door down for the mobile web. Android Browser can parse HTML, but the browsing experience is feeble. The iPhone App Store uses a rigorous review process that creates headaches for developers but also ensures that users don’t install malicious code. The Android Marketplace looks exactly the same, but it does nothing to keep out malware. Unless you can know precisely which applications should have system settings access, you might hand the keys to the kingdom to a hacker. Can you say Norton Anti-Virus for Mobile? I knew you could!

The G1 comes up seriously short because its developers presumed that people are too unsophisticated to tell the difference between an iPhone and everything else. And on that point, they’re almost right. People probably can’t tell the difference on paper. The problem is, they’ll notice as soon as they start using it, and they might grow to hate its shortcomings. And if this thing isn’t better than it looks, public opinion might be poisoned to the initiative from the start. It’s not too late to make Android a huge hit, but it won’t happen because of this device. Let’s hope Google gets it right once they get all of this out of Beta…

The iPhone had shortcomings when it launched, too, but all of those (save cut-and-paste and video recording) have been addressed since then. It rocks because its software and hardware are optimized for each other and for its most important features. Apple kept software and hardware in-house and is miles ahead of the market as a result.

36 responses to “Android’s Shortcomings Proves Brilliance of iPhone”

  1. Dave says:

    There’s one mistake they and Apple have both made – no tethering, probably at the insistence of the network providers. While these new innovative products pander to network demands rather than customer demands they’ll both fall short of their potential.

  2. James says:

    iPhone and Brilliance – you really are joking. Stop smoking that stuff, it will screw your mind up even more.

  3. TK says:

    iPhone and Brilliance – you are joking right? Dropped calls, rubbish reception, limited GPS, crap camera, no security and you have to pay them to change the battery.

  4. Thumper says:

    Look at the T-Mobile new plans for the Google phone. You are only allowed 1GB max data use per month. What would be the point of tethering a G1?

    Verizon is also doing away with tethering. You live in the past which may bite you if you miss the changes in the terms of service.

  5. Mark says:

    “The iPhone App Store uses a rigorous review process…” HAHAHAHAHA!! SURE, it does. Keep telling yourself that.

  6. Robert says:

    I’m not really disagreeing with the shortcomings of this particular phone, but the lack of perspective that this author and many Apple enthusiasts suffer from.

    The iPhone is very popular and admired by many, including myself. But I will never buy one for the same reason I will never buy a Mac:

    I like to do what I want to do, how I want to do it. Which is why Windows and Linux are my primary OS, and OSX is unlikely to ever be used by myself or the general population. The term “Usability” has little meaning to me, but is often tossed around by Apple enthusiasts. Simple is elegant to me, and I don’t notice, or care that every application looks exactly the same. Referring, of course to Apple enthusiasts criticism when an application doesn’t LOOK like a Mac application.

    Now, I am excited about Android, and am not the least turned off by the shortcomings of this FIRST phone released. I won’t buy it. But Android will be coming on more phones by both the same manufacturer and others, AND on different networks. With the iPhone, you are stuck with ONE device on ONE network. As is typical with Apple, the USER can never get what the USER wants how and where the USER wants it. This is why good enough is always good enough. If I can do what I need to do, how I want to do it, I’m happy.

    But the market will decide which platform is more successful. Android is about USERS. The iPhone is about APPLE. The users always win.

    This isn’t a criticism of Apple or iPhone, as I said, I admire the engineering and planning behind it. I do get tired of peoples blind devotion to a COMPANY and its products though.

  7. Drew says:

    Nice try on the whole “SD card memory is bad” slant. Do you know how many people WISH they could expand their memory on an iPhone or an iPod without having to buy a new one?! The cost savings for the consumer is pretty substantial.

  8. Andrew DK says:

    So, Robert, the reason you won’t buy an iPhone or a Mac is because “The term ‘Usability’ has little meaning” to you?

    That’s… dumb. o_O

  9. Hari Seldon says:

    Nice article, haven’t seen this phone yet, but I’ve been following the Android story and this looks like a good start. Android is not really competition to the iPhone and contrary to the opinions expressed here, the iPhone is an amazing device and already a success.

    Windows mobile is Android’s real target and when they’ve revved it a few times Microsoft will have a hard time convincing handset manufacturers to pay for a winmob license.

    I wish Google well with Android, but the iPhone stands alone, the haters will continue to list stuff that It doesn’t do, completely missing the point.

  10. Pete Mortensen says:

    Interesting comments, all, but I think you’re missing my point. I agree that the iPhone is not flexible enough — but Android doesn’t have enough constraints to ensure excellence. It’s a kludge, and its apps will be kludges, too, because there are no standards of any kind here. Ask anyone who tried to create a truly wonderful GUI-based application for Linux in 1999 – you might as well just write for the command line.

    Obviously, the platform that connects best with users will win. But the question is this: WHICH USERS? Android is unfortunately tailored to hobbyists and developers. And there aren’t too many of them. Unless they figure out how to make this something that my mom would consider useful, they’re really barking up the wrong tree. Maybe one day this will be as widespread as S60. So? There are no good apps for S60. This isn’t about developing just a new operating system – it’s one that develops a new operating system that provides new ways to engage with the Internet. And Google’s missing that right now.

  11. Fernando says:

    @Robert: Well thought out rebuttal. I disagree on this one point:

    “But the market will decide which platform is more successful. Android is about USERS. The iPhone is about APPLE. The users always win.”

    I feel that in theroy Google and those in the open handset coalition state that Android is open, but let’s look at this carefully: ANDROID OS is open source. This does not necessarily mean that apps written to run on Android can do what ever they want. I believe that much like with iPhone development, the apps will be restricted greatly by each carrier.

    In short, the Android OS will surely see robust development as well as deviations much like we see in the Linux world. But I really doubt that developers will be able to plant any seed they want in to a handset garden, thus giving users all that they want.

  12. Fernando says:

    Oh, and Apple Haters: Keep in mind that the perspectives here are biased towards Apple. No point in shouting in this arena.

  13. JaneT says:

    the iPhone cant live up to the N95 8gb and will need a lot more functionality to get close.

  14. None says:

    “iPhone and Brilliance – you are joking right? Dropped calls, rubbish reception, limited GPS, crap camera, no security and you have to pay them to change the battery.”

    While I agree with the dropped calls and rubbish reception complaint, whats with everyone hating on the iPhone’s camera? Its an excellent camera for a cell phone, as it has far more dynamic range than any other crappy cell camera I’ve ever used. I know a lot of people bitch about the fact that it only has 2 megapixels but with a small lens and sensor like that, having more megapixels is just going to make more noise, less dynamic range, and take a picture of the defects in the lens.

  15. TerryL says:

    The iPhone is crap compared to the N95 8gb, not even in the same league. Where is the voice activated dialing via bluetooth? Removable battery!!!??? video? Flash for the rubbish camera?

    Just a few of the things that make it only fashion item.

  16. Isaac says:

    I think you could convince people better without being a cult. Plus, the G1 is a device being developed. Nothing is finished yet, Android is what should be discussed. The idea is to make an OS for phones that, like linux, can be used by anyone and coded by anyone. The word anyone seems to be one that Apple seems to be diametrically opposed to thinking of when they think of software and hardware, when everything is through the company. If I break something on a macbook, I cant fix it or buy parts, I have to go to the developer. I’ve received hatemail on campus when I have dared to make my own mac using PC parts as part of an experiment. Apple just seems to have problem with letting us in. Plus, white-washed chrome and using pricks in ads isnt helping.

    My name is Isaac, and I’m a COMPUTER user. OS is semantics.

  17. FireFly says:

    I like Apple but the G1’s secret weapon is going to be the apps! The iPhone is getting a lot of bad press lately because they reject so many apps. Bad move Apple!

  18. Phil says:

    I have a slightly different take on your points. I believe that Google has aimed android directly at those of us in the developer community. I ordered a G1 the day it was announced and downloaded the sdk the same day. I believe that by getting a load of hackers on board early that you will see the edges on this OS getting polished very quickly.

    Is Google getting us to do their work for them? Absolutely, in the grand open source tradition.