Is the Grass Really Greener Elsewhere?

May 17th, 2010

Overnight I read a blog post from someone who ditched the iPhone for an Android OS smartphone, the HTC Desire, but concluded that one of the flagship products from the other side of the tracks doesn’t offer a superior alternative. Reading that article should provide a huge wake-up call, particularly for some tech pundits who strive to romanticize Apple’s competition and conveniently overlook the flaws.

Before I go on, understand that few will say that the iPhone OS or Apple’s mobile hardware is necessarily perfect. The blogosphere is flooded with reports about the flaws or missing features. Certainly Apple got dinged big time because of the lack of multitasking support for third-party apps. But you should look carefully at Apple’s proposed solution, compared to the decision by Google and others to just let it happen on their OSs.

The author, Shane Lord, comments:

Auto memory management is poor at best. The OS can start closing apps (like the actual Sense UI) that you need, whilst keeping apps (like Footprints) running. Adding a Task Management app (which any phone user really shouldn’t have to do, not to mention any iPhone converts) doesn’t make things much better. With so many processes running at any point in time it is impossible to work out what should or should not be open or closed.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, here’s another related shortcoming:

The limitation of the OS not allowing you to install applications onto the microSD card means after the 5th or 6th app you have installed starts making the phone run more slowly and be more prone to crashing. Every app installed takes up the valuable system memory of the device. People used to having 10, 20, 30 or more apps on their iPhone will find this unbearable, and frankly it is just poor design from Google.

Now in fairness to Google, the OS was supposed to be updated to allow for installation of apps on an SD card, so you’re not saddled by the limits of the gadget’s built-in memory. It couldn’t come at a better time. I mean, Google can’t responsibly tout a wide selection of apps without giving you the opportunity to install a reasonable number of them on your Android smartphone.

Then again, what is the killer app for the Google OS beyond that infamous task killer? The point of a smartphone is convenience, the easy ability to handle phone calls, email, and Web access. If you can’t access those critical functions flexibly, with good performance, the device’s usefulness is severely reduced. Certainly, a flashy if unfinished operating system might have many of the key features you want but, as many of you have learned if you’re saddled with a Windows PC, if those features aren’t properly integrated to allow for easy, reliable access, they are useless except for power users.

Now this doesn’t mean all non-Apple products are necessarily bad. Certainly the hardware is revised more often, so many of Apple’s competitors are apt to be earlier to market with speedier processors, more memory, superior cameras and higher resolution displays. But having all these goodies means little if the underlying OS is poorly designed.

That’s the real hurdle with open source software, where any skilled programmer can submit changes, but overall integration may be lacking. That’s a reason why desktop versions of Linux haven’t taken off, although such an OS is quite useful for a server. You assume a server is managed by a power user with a reasonable set of admin skills. Since our Web server runs a flavor of Linux, I can tell you that it’s apt to do really flaky things from time to time, which require skills with the command line to sort out.

Now with RIM and the BlackBerry, these smartphones are noted for reliability and they do great for phone calls and email. Security is said to be first rate, with powerful management tools available for the enterprise. Even though the iPhone is gaining credibility in business, Apple is still working on adding the critical capabilities that many enterprise customers require.

The BlackBerry doesn’t do so well in the consumer marketplace because of a poorly-designed Web browser. Indeed, the version that’s becoming part of the next RIM OS is actually based on Apple’s WebKit. But that’s also true for Google’s Android OS. They sure know where to get the best browser engine.

Aside from the great design and marvelously integrated OS, the iPhone shines because of the App Store. Nobody comes close. Yes, there are said to be more than 20,000 apps for the Google smartphones, but how many of them fit that “killer” category? Where are the games, a category that makes up some 25% of the App Store inventory? Is an Android phone even suited for gaming? That’s a hard call, since there are lots of devices out there with different flavors of the operating system and different hardware configurations.

Yes, maybe some of you would prefer an Android-based phone so you’re not saddled with the restrictions imposed by Apple. But are you truly getting a better product. more suited to your needs? Even if you fall for one of those two-for-one deals from Verizon Wireless, don’t forget those exorbitant early termination fees if you keep it beyond the initial “satisfaction” period. Can you really say that sort of deal makes more sense?

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6 Responses to “Is the Grass Really Greener Elsewhere?”

  1. hmurchison says:

    A lot of the rather odd choices i’ve seen (like Mac users choosing Android) seem to have little to do with typical Apple ethos and more to do with this odd sense of philosophy some are carrying. The common complain is that Apple has a “Walled Garden” and with every app rejection Apple becomes seemingly more and more communist. Android is supposedly “open” and someone it’s going to be able to achieve what Linux never could do for consumers…unseat a system that has a more controlled software/hardware paradigm (Mac and Wintel).

    Android …”they are who we thought they were”

    Glad to see someone coming back to their senses.

  2. dfs says:

    The real question that will determine the future of the smartphone market isn’t so much as whether users will opt for the iPhone or decide that the grass is greener elsewhere because of what they perceive as Apple’s excessive control. The decisive question is how many developers are going to stick with the iPhone or jump ship to some other platform such as Android if they perceive it as offering a friendlier and more profitable environment for them to do their work. I quite understand the reasons behind Apple’s philosophy, and I can understand why they refuse to admit some apps to the Apple Store. That’s quite fine. But they still face a problem if they manage to alienate developers as a community. Gene ran a piece a little while ago about the silliness of legal challenges to Apple’ restrictive policies on the grounds that they violate end users’ rights, and I agree. But there’s also the question of developers’ rights and the point at which Apple policies become injurious to developers who are, after all, entrepreneurs trying to make a buck, and if the Feds ever start wondering whether there’s something monopolistic about Apple’s business model, they will more likely to focus on its effect on the developer than the end user.

    • Al says:

      @dfs, I think this talk about Apple alienating the developers is just way overblown. You hear it mainly from blogger types who will tend to have an overblown opinion about everything and those developers who have the perverse opinion that they, not the folks who buy the devices, are Apple’s primary customer. The only thing that is a guaranteed alienator of developers is poor app revenues.

      Apple should and will never ever sacrifice customer satisfaction just to placate a developer. This is not to say that Apple can just screw each and every developer over and over, which they have not. Sure there are some seemingly unreasonable, inconsistent, and even selfish moves that Apple has pulled on app developers, but the iPhone & iPad are continuously developing products and to expect that Apple would have perfected the developer management program right off the bat and never have to change it is demanding the impossible. Developers will have to accept that they are not the final customer and that their happiness depends on whether Apple’s customers are happy. Not on whether Apple has treated them ‘shabbily’.

      Most developers I presume are constantly reevaluating the decision to write apps for the iPhone, and in the end the bottom line is are app revenues worth whatever headaches or inconveniences come in dealing with Apple? [So far, it looks like a lot, if not most, have been rewarded for their troubles.] Everything else, like whether Apple is treating them fairly or have hurt their feelings once too often, are just histrionics.

  3. hmurchison says:

    The fact that WWDC sold out in 8 days despite lack of nextgen Mac OS coverage and a higher price resonates. The “Walled Garden” whiners are basically a “tempest in a teacup”. What makes the iPhone/iPod Touch system nice is that it is controlled and safe. The vast majority of consumers aren’t geeks who have a lot of time to spend on tinkering. Many simply want something that keeps them abreast of their calendar, social networks, and general communication along with a few games for fun.

    What can developers really do? You’re basically a fool if you bail on the iPhone. No other marketplace is going to deliver the same potential for profit. Doing it for principal is nice but that doesn’t pay the mortgage.

    Apple’s taken a stand here. They’ve decided that they want to own a significant portion of the mobile market. They have a vision and they’re going to execute that vision. Android may be open but they will never have the clarity of vision and speed at which Apple can take a prototype to shipping product. The iPad is likely 6 solid months ahead of the competition. They’ll have sold 4-6 million iPads worldwide before any competitor can gain any sort of traction.

    Why should I, as a consumer, invest in competing platforms that are behind the curve? HP and Microsoft were about to try to bring a fat and heavy tablet to market with half the battery life and a desktop OS They just don’t get it. HDMI, USB, SD slots, Flash etc are just marketing bulletpoints to prop up a product that is defective by design.

    I’m not convinced that anyone in the PC market understands shat from shinola about what consumers want which is why every quarter Apple’s sales rise and they sit around befuddled.

  4. Janey says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is media & email. The media players on Android are VERY basic. The Market doesn’t have any better third party ones. Email is another huge issue. If you’re a hardcore Gmail user or basic Yahoo mail user it will probably be fine. but if you’re a corporate Exchange or regular ISP email user, you will run into big time problems. Can’t move messages between folders. Try, and you’ll just lose the message. Accidentally delete a message? It’s gone, because Android can’t move between folders. Poor support for self signed SSL certs. Poor support for TLS. Poor support for nested folders. All things that the iPhone has handled with ease for a long time. All of these bugs and many many more are clearly documented at the Google code site too. I ditched Android for the iPhone because I found that Android was like a big clunky unfinished shareware project. Also, the fragmentation.. I couldn’t even install the latest Twitter client because it required Android 2.x.. my phone was only at Android 1.6, despite only being 4 months old. The typical answer to Android problems is “root your phone.” Seriously? That’s ridiculous. I gave up on it and don’t regret it at all.

  5. AdamC says:

    Is the grass greener on the other side… it is a personal choice. if he thinks it is great for his needs then that is his choice but to tell the whole world how he feels smack of being paid to do a job but then who cares.

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