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Is the Grass Really Greener Elsewhere?

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?