I hesitated for days before writing this post because this topic is just so overblogged already that it has gotten borderline boring. Having said that, I am now strongly considering replacing my Bold with an iPhone 3Gs, and almost everyone that has heard that has asked me the same question: “Why not get the Google phone?” As I write this post, I honestly do not know the reasons that will appear below as for why I am not going to get a Nexus One, but one thing is for sure, I am not.
I would also like to step away from the rest of the million blog posts about why the iPhone is better than the Nexus, and I will do that by taking a beginner’s approach to the issue. I find it hard to believe (not really), but there are many people out there, and even many people reading this blog post that are not “techies”, and have no clue what Android is. In fact, just two days ago, in response to a tweet about Android, two of my followers asked me what Android is. I am not going to discuss the entire history of the Google mobile OS, but I think I will give a little overview of what Android is and what makes it special.
Android is the name of the first mobile operating system that was designed and engineered (Well, kinda. They actually bought out a company called Android in 2005. Thanks Itamar.) by Google. Why do you care? Well, for starters, historically speaking, it is safe to say that any almost industry that Google has entered has changed drastically as a result. Take email for example. Yes, there was Hotmail and AOL in the Web mail space years before Gmail ever showed its face, but without even checking the official numbers, it is a fact that Web mail’s popularity over native clients such as Outlook has grown tremendously since the introduction of Gmail. Gmail changed the way we access our email forever, and I, for one, will never feel the need to use a 3rd party client such as Outlook, Outlook Express, or even Thunderbird again. Gmail is just that good!
This is true about endless industries including maps (bye bye Garmin, hello Google Maps), document editors (bye bye Microsoft Word, hello Google Docs), calendars/organizers (bye bye Outlook, hello Google Calendar), and many more. With the introduction of Android, it was clear to all, that the mobile industry was going to experience an earthquake the likes of one we have not seen since Apple entered the arena. Were we right? Well, yes and no!
On the one hand, while the Android numbers do not yet compare to those of Apple, I think in the long run, as things stand now, Google is the only one making Apple a little nervous about their current status of Makers of the Smartphone King. Unless RIM decides to pull something unbelievably different out of its sleeve, Apple and RIM primarily target different audiences. Android on the other hand, do not need to completely redo their entire OS or do anything major in order to take the throne. They are so close, yet so far.
Moving on from the name behind Android, it does bring a lot to the smartphone table besides the Google stamp of approval. Android is open while the iPhone OS is closed. What does that mean? Well, it actually means different things to different people. From a developer’s point of view, the Android Market is open in that there is no annoying and nerve wracking approval process like there is when submitting an iPhone app to Apple. I completely understand the frustration of developers when working on an app for months and having it rejected by Apple for no apparent reason. Apple does not allow Google apps in the app store, so there clearly is no pulling strings with Apple. They decide what to let into the App Store and that decision is almost always final.
Going beyond the approval process, the actual development for Android is completely different than on the iPhone. The Android code (and I have to admit here that I know close to nothing about app development, so if I got the lingo wrong, please forgive me) is open source, so anyone can access it and customize it how they see fit. That is why you will see one Android on the Samsung Galaxy and a totally different looking OS on the HTC Magic. Each manufacturer changed the OS to fit their own needs. Now on the one hand, transparency is always good, so having access to the insides of the Android OS is a blessed initiative on the part of Google. However, as usual, from a consumer’s point of view, this is a disaster. Every app developed for the Android platform has to be redeveloped for each and every phone. An app that works flawlessly on the Droid might not even work on the Nexus. This obviously causes frustration among Android users, and from what an Android developer, who will remain unnamed, told me, it does not make their life easier either.
However, the development process is not where it ends. Apple’s entire experience is closed. This can be felt in all aspects of the iPhone from the non-replaceable battery, to the inability to run more than one app at a time, to the lack of full customization of the iPhone, which can be seen in changing things as basic as ringtones. At the end of the day, Google’s OS is best known for its open nature, while the iPhone is known to be jail-like.
OK, now you should have a basic idea of what all the excitement is about, and when you add to all that, the fact that Google actually designed the hardware of the Nexus One in addition to its OS, you might get a clearer picture of the unprecedented hype it has generated.
Now to the big question… iPhone or Nexus? Well, as tempted as I am to write a short list of things I like better about the iPhone OS and the iPhone itself, the reasons I am not getting a Nexus cannot be summarized in the bullets of a blog post. As so many reviewers have written, Android, even with all the improvements of version 2.1, still feels half baked when compared to the most polished mobile OS in the industry.
Before I get into Android and its shortcomings, to be fair, I will say that the Nexus has some serious advantages over the iPhone, and to ignore them, would just be lying to my readers. I am sure I am going to get many comments on this post calling me an Apple fanboy, and writing about the iPhone’s disadvantages won’t change that, but to clarify, I am still using a BlackBerry as my primary mobile device, and I am still not sure that is going to change any time soon.
So the Nexus has a bigger and higher resolution screen than the iPhone, you can’t argue with facts. The processor is significantly faster than that of the iPhone. The initial reviews point to a stronger and longer lasting battery, but more important than the battery’s standby time, the Nexus One has a replaceable battery, while the iPhone does not and you need to have Apple replace it for you, which takes both time and money from the consumer. The Nexus has expandable memory, which might be an advantage when Micro SD cards exceed their current capacity, but right now, the iPhone 3Gs offers 32GB of storage, and with an SD card, the Nexus, I believe maxes out at 32GB as well. Then again, when they start making 64GB SD cards, I am pretty sure there will be a higher capacity iPhone on the market as well. The Nexus has some other advantages over the iPhone, but generally speaking, they all stem from the basic philosophical differences of Open vs Closed.
So, this all sounds great, why am I not getting a Nexus? In reality, I could end this post with a link to one of my favorite tech blogs, Boy Genius Report, where he discusses his personal feelings about using a Nexus vs an iPhone. The post can basically be summarized by saying that Android OS was clearly designed from the ground up based on statistics and numbers, while the Apple OS was designed purely based on the most superior user experience. Apple spent years researching what users like in their phones, and built the ultimate device in terms of its usability. For that reason exactly, the iPhone is closed. They do not want you “damaging” their phone’s exreme ease of use with apps running in the background eating away at the battery. Apple wants to carefully monitor what apps are approved for the App Store, since they spent all that time making the phone so user friendly (yes, I know this does not explain the Google apps rejections), and Apple does not want people opening the phone both hardware and software, since they believe they have created the perfect overall device.
So, it seems like I am justifying Apple’s jail-like mentality. Well, in a way, I am. Yes, in an ideal world, I would like the entire mobile experience to be in the hands of the consumer, but today, when the two choices are complete freedom or top notch user experience, both in terms of app development and usability, I prefer a better experience. Before you jump down my throat, and claim that the Android experience is not any worse than the iPhone’s, let me give you a few examples of what I mean. A perfect indication or summary of the App Store (Apple) vs the App Market (Android) debate is Twitter apps. Whatever Twitter app you choose on the iPhone, open it, then take Seesmic, which is generally considered to be the best Android Twitter app, and compare the two apps. I could go on and on explaining how, as much as I like Seesmic for Android, comparing it to Echofon, Tweetie 2, Twittelator Pro, or Tweetings, would be like comparing a Nissan to a Mercedes. They both get the job done, but the experience…
So, that is in regard to 3rd party apps and I took Twitter apps as an example, but feel free to run that comparison with any other app on the two platforms, try Facebook for another extreme example. Let me also clarify that at no point did I mention the 130,000 apps on the App Store compared to the 20,000 on the Market, since if those 20,000 were quality apps, I would not even pay attention to the numbers. I am talking quality here, not quantity.
“OK, so the App Store has better apps, but the phone’s experience is just as good on the Nexus.” Is that what you were about to say? Well, I disagree. One of the common threads I have noticed in almost all the Android reviews I have read (and I have read a lot) is that when using Android for the first time, you generally don’t “get it”, but after a week or two, you discover the Menu button or you begin to understand the concept of the Back button and it all starts to click. That, I think, pretty much sums up the basic difference between Android and iPhone OS. With iPhone OS, you do not need that week, when you open the iPhone for the first time, whether you are 3 or 70 years old, it all clicks (trust me, I tested this). For some concrete examples of Android usability issues including screen shots, check out this review.
Generally speaking, the iPhone is the ultimate phone in terms of usability and when the first generation iPhone was released that simplicity came as a tradeoff for “advanced” features such as 3G or copy and paste. Now, 3 generations later, the iPhone as a smartphone, can pretty much compete with the best of them, with the exception, some might say, of the email experience and running background apps.
Like I said in the beginning of this post, the reasons I am not considering a Nexus cannot be summed up in a list called “Five Reasons I Am Getting a Nexus over an iPhone”. Trust me, I wish they could, it would get a lot more attention from the online community (people like lists), but there is no such list for me. I could give some examples of why I prefer the iPhone OS over the Android OS, the biggest one for me being the text input, which is one of the more frustrating things I have experienced in a long time. However, the bottom line is, I prefer the iPhone, not because of this feature or that. To me, a phone, which serves my every need throughout the day must have the best user experience. If that means, developers are going to have to make a top notch app in order to make it into the App Store, as much as I feel for developers who get rejected, at the end of the day, the app is here to serve the user and not the other way around. A short walk through the Android App Market will clear things up for you. It is confusing, hard to navigate, and overflowing with bad apps, not to mention loaded with things that are not even apps, but rather add ons to existing apps. That would not fly with Apple.
In conclusion, I am sure if anyone in the market is making Steve Jobs lose sleep at night, it is Google, but the time when Google will really offer a consumer experience equal to the iPhone’s, in my opinion, is far off. Having said that, the Nexus is BY FAR (I don’t generally like capital letters mid sentence, but extreme times call for extreme measures) the best Android phone to date and there are definitely some users who will prefer the Nexus One over the iPhone. There are those that will prefer it out of protest of Apple’s closed philosophy, there are those power users that will prefer it since running one app at a time aint gonna cut it for them, and there are those that will prefer it because they see what Android might be five years down the road.
For me, I need a top notch user experience now, I need quantity and quality apps for my phone, and I need to be able to type on my phone without getting more grey hairs every time. Now, the big question is, am I willing to give up on my first rate email experience courtesy of my BlackBerry Bold, in order to have all those things? Check back with me in a week, might know more then.
What are your thoughts on the whole Apple/Google/RIM battle? Who is your favorite and why? Please let us know in the comments.