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Was I Wrong About Android?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 August 2011

Problems With Android Phones

Over two years ago I wrote a post entitled This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away. In the post I described how Bathcamp participants were invited to … identify “the one technology that has blown you away more than any other in the last year, and [describe] why“. The challenge was in three minutes or less to “tell us about your chosen technology: why it has changed your life, the way you work or ways in which it has improved the world“.

I took an ironical approach and described my frustrations with my HTC Magic Android phone. Although I was excited when I first purchased the phone in June 2009 I quickly became disillusioned with its poor usability, as also did Tony Hirst who commented “A few weeks ago, I got my first “real” mobile phone, an HTC Magic (don’t ask; suffice to say, I wish I’d got an iPhone:-(

A few months later, in November 2009, I wrote a post on Signals from CETIS09 and was rather sceptical about Bill Thompson’s enthusiasm for the Android operating system:

I have (fairly rapidly) gone through a period of excitement over my open source (Android) mobile phone (the camera application kept crashing on me a few days before the CETIS conference) and so felt Bill’s belief that the benefits of an open source environment would inevitably (within about 2 years, Bill suggested to me) deliver a better tool that the closed environment of today’s market leader, the iPhone.

I found myself agreeing with Mike Ellis’s post on Quality, functionality and openness which he wrote in May 2010 in which he told his readers:

I wanted to love Android. I wanted to embrace openness, turn my back on Apple’s rejection of free markets, join the crowd of developers shouting about this new paradigm.

I can’t.

Mike’s post generated an interesting discussion including comments from developers who felt they should prefer using an open source platform on their mobile phone but acknowledged Android’s limitation. As Richard Osbaldeston put it:

A long winded way of saying the Android phone felt like it’d been designed by a search engine company rather than one that’d spent the better part of 30 years making desirable, innovative consumer electronics and software?

This reflected my experiences of having used two Android phones and an iPod Touch. On occasions I ended up using the tethering capability on my Android phone to create a WiFi hot spot so that I could use my iPod Touch to access online resources rather than access them directly from my Android device!

Have Things Changed?

Having a blog can be valuable in providing a record of one’s views in the past and, potentially, in being able to demonstrate one’s foresightedness.  On the other hand old blog posts can also be embarrassing if your prediction for the future proves to be wrong!  So having acquired my third Android phone a few weeks ago  am I still in agreement with Mike Ellis regarding the undeniable ease-of-use of the iPhone or should I tell Bill Thompson that he was right and, two years after his predication, the Android phone has caught up with – and perhaps even surpassed, the iPhone?

The HTC Sensation

imageI recently intended to change my mobile contract from my current £20/month to a £10/month deal which provided the same amount of data but with less free minutes and text messages as I tend not to use much of my existing monthly allowance. However I found myself being offered a deal on the  HTC Sensation which meant I continued on my existing contract and , as I signed up for an additional deal, I didn’t have to pay anything for the phone :-)

The phone itself is a delight.  As described on the HTC Web site the phone is large (4.96″ x 2.57″) with a 4.3″ touch screen display. It is also powerful with a 1.2 GHz dual core CPU and 768 MB of RAM and 1Gb of phone memory.  I’ve added a 32 Gb microSD card and have been taking photos and videos of the recent Sidmouth and Bath Folk Festivals and of a recent evening visit to the Roman Baths.

The phone is running the Android 2.3.3 operating system and the HTC Sense 3.0 GUI. This has provided various tweaks (including support for Flash) which, in conjunction with the increase in processing power and storage capacity over my previous HTC phones, makes the phone a delight to use. I’ve also noticed that the increased size of the screen makes my iPod Touch screen look tiny.

I’ve had the phone for about a month now and I’m now embedded it in my daily working practices. I’ve subscribed to the Guardian and the Observer on the Kindle app which I now read on the bus travelling to work.  I’ve also purchased a couple of additional chargers which I use in the office and when travelling as the battery life of the phone is one if its weak points.  I also bought a portable battery pack so that I’ll be able to recharge the device if no power supply is available.

The phone does have some weaknesses, however.  I’ve not yet found an RSS reader which is as good as the Netnewswire app I’ve used on the iPod Touch and the lack of consistency in the user interface of the applications I’ve used compared with the iPod Touch can be irritating.  In addition the phone has crashed on me: after installing an application launcher which appeared to have conflicts with the HTC Sense GUI I was forced to open up the phone and remove the battery before the phone would reboot.  This reminded me of the days when the MS Windows operating system would crash. But, just as that no longer happens, I suspect that once I’ve installed  a stable set of applications on the phone this problem will disappear.

Conclusions

Was Bill Thomson right, has the Android phone surpassed the iPhone?  I think he may be right, but not because of the superiority of the Android operating system.  Rather, for me the improvements in the phone are due to the speed of the CPU, the increased size of the phone’s memory and the size of the screen.  The availability of the Android operating systems on multiple devices will have driven the competition, as can be seen by the comparisons between the HTC Sensation and the Galaxy S2.  In addition to the improvements in the hardware I also like the phone since it was free, unlike the hundreds of pounds I would have to pay if I wanted an iPhone on a similar contract.

In many respects it seems that Android’s battles with the iPhone have parallels with Microsoft’s battles with Apple in the desktop market  over the past 20 years or so: while Apple have continued with a policy of lock-in to their hardware, the Android operating system can be used on multiple platforms – subject, sadly, to ongoing patent disputes).

But will I look in envy when colleagues get the iPhone 5 later this year, I wonder?


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4 Responses to “Was I Wrong About Android?”

  1. Thanks for this Brian. My contract was up recently for my iphone and I had planned to move to Samsung Galaxy . MY son has one and it is really lovely but I am now put off by reports of unreliability. So I have got a very well-priced iphone contract while I make up my mind when the new iphone comes out.

  2. James Burke said

    The D7 Google Reader is quite a good RSS app (free and paid versions) https://market.android.com/details?id=com.droidlab7.reader

  3. So I’d summarise your choice to be the following (NB intentionally contentious):
    1.) the cost: every little helps ;-)
    2.) the choice: having the kit that fits your form factor, i.e. larger screen and fast processor <– and note having a contract that locks you in for two years so you can regularly change.
    3.) the altriusm: because you know deep down (the long tail) that 'open' will result in cheaper cost and more choice (and being 'open' will make you feel good about being cheap and picky)

    What does not really matter in your choice:
    X.) design – being shiny only matters until the first time you drop your phone or realise how truly ugly cases are.
    Y.) the apps – having millions of app choice is B/S as we only really use about 10 apps on average in our day to day lives.
    Z.) tight integration – having all Apple products does not result in a "better overall experience" between computing devices.

    #flamewar ;-)

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