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December 21, 2011

My (Brief) Android Sojourn

Android_logoA few months ago, with my iPhone 3GS spiraling into obsolescence, I waited anxiously for the announcement of the iPhone 5. Android would also release its newest software, named "Ice Cream Sandwich," the same month, but with my existing music library so dependent on Apple's iTunes network, I initially considered the idea of going to Android to be a far-fetched dream. However, with the prodding of some Android-centric friends, positive reviews of Ice Cream Sandwich, and an overpowering curiosity that might exceed the boundaries of helpfulness, I decided to ditch my old iPhone for the Samsung Galaxy S II "Skyrocket." 

After a week, though -- and to the disappointment of my very good, helpful, generous and patient Android friends -- I had to switch back to the sweet familiar taste of the iPhone.

What I learned

First, some background. I have never had any use for those "Mac vs. PC" debates of yesteryear, and less so for the "Android vs. iPhone" debates of today. 

I mean, I used to build my own computers and was pleased enough that I could customize to my heart's desire. If one piece failed it was no big deal, because I could replace the piece, not the entire computer. At work, I worked on both PCs and Macs. I think I was hired into my early design jobs mostly because I could use both platforms equally well, and they couldn't find anyone (except clients) who would venture to design on a PC. 

Eventually, I discovered that it's a lot of work (and money) to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology, and I opted to go with easy, instead, which leads us to my brief sojourn into Android-land.

Size Matters, and Bigger Isn't Always Better

Samsung's advertising campaign focuses on the device's size and screen quality.

 

It is nice; there's no doubt. Its Super AMOLED+ (whatever that means) screen is a beauty that delivers rich colors and deep blacks. I could watch a movie on it. Except that I don't use my phone that way. The increased size just makes it difficult for me to use with one hand -- especially when typing.

A Little Tactile Feedback Goes a Long Way (or not)

One of the early gripes of the iPhone is that it had no tactile feedback. Steve Ballmer famously laughed off the iPhone for business use because of the lack of tactile keyboard.

 

However, the iPhone DOES have four well-designed points that give tactile feedback. The home button allows you to orient and activate your phone easily. The three switches that control volume, the vibration setting, and the power are firm and discourage accidental interaction. 

By contrast, every time I pulled the Samsung out of my pocket, I had to reorient it, and I often pressed buttons I didn't intend to press, which forced me to spend more time than I should have to recover from those accidental interactions.

Also, the lack of tactile feedback on the Android is more of a liability for me than it is on the iPhone. Autocorrect humor notwithstanding, the iPhone's screen keyboard just predicts my intent better, even when I make errors.

Here's an example of one of my very typical Android typing attempts:

"Just? Ade SwiftKey? You default keyboard. I auto irreconcilable not imprrssive"

What I was TRYING to say was this:

"Just made SwiftKey my default keyboard. Its autocorrect is not impressive."

Just for grins, I typed the same message on the iPhone just now. Here's what it gave me: "

Just made swift key my default keyboard. It's autocorrect is not impressive."

Not perfect spelling or grammar, but at least sensible to someone who knows what SwiftKey is.

Android allows you to pick your own keyboard, I tried several and was never able to find any that matched the iPhone's sensitivity and effective error mapping.

More Options Can Slow You Down

One of the things I was most anxious to try was the advanced customization options that the Android device allows. I was able to put a weather app on my lock screen, so I don't even have to unlock the device (let alone launch an app) to see what the weather is going to be like for the next few days. 

There was an app that transcribed my voicemails (though I never got it to work, I don't doubt that it could). Another app could back up all my texts into an email. 

It took awhile (and patience) to figure these features out, but with persistence (and patience of one of my Android friends), I was able to do a lot of cool stuff. Google Maps on Android devices is also clearly superior.

But once I had amy device all tricked out, I realized that I just don't use my phone that way, and that I still had to deal with the device's drawbacks for my day-to-day use.

Galaxy S II Not Fully Compatible with my Car's Entertainment System

I like listening to my music and my audiobooks while I drive. When I use the iPhone, I can see what's playing and who is singing it on my navigation/entertainment display. On the Android, the best I could get is affirmation that something is streaming from my phone.

My Android friends expressed dismay over the industry's fascination with ensuring compatability with the iPhone over the platform that has more market share (though part of the compatability that is important to me deals with the music player aspect, which leverages Apple's dominance there).

In the end, whatever their reasons (probably fragmentation), the Android device just doesn't work for how I want to use it. And I'm more likely to switch the phone to work with my car than I am to switch my car to work with my phone.

Android Will Continue to Do Well

Patent Wars aside, it's good for there to be competition in OSes, as long as it forces the players to innovate. I hope Android devices continue to do well, but at least for now, I'm not going to be one of their customers. But I don't have to be. They don't need me to be. As one iPhone Lover at Techcrunch put it, "they probably don’t (or shouldn’t) care too much about converting iOS users over to Android. All the non-smartphone users out there remain the much bigger prize to go after (for both Google and Apple)."

- Cam Beck

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