My last word on Android

Well, probably not my last word ever, but at least the last on this chapter.

I now have an iPhone 4S and my Infuse is being used by a family member who will better appreciate it. It’s a long story, but I managed to do some switcheroo’ing with the phones on my family plan in such a way that I was able to upgrade. Lesson learned. Won’t let it happen again.

I miss the larger screen on the Infuse. I miss having my Google accounts baked in so logging in with my Google account to certain apps/pages was as easy as selecting my Gmail account from a list (I have 2-step authentication turned on so logging in with my Google account is often a series of hoop jumps). Feature for feature, Android may even be a better operating system. Right now, it’s such a fragmented mess I can’t tell. iOS is mostly stable. And when it’s not, it gets fixed. That’s good enough for me for the foreseeable future. I’m done being Google’s forgotten beta tester.

Yes, it sucks that Apple has such a closed system in iOS. But the Android model replaces an undesirable system with a broken one. Agile software development (release what you got and fix it as you go) and 2 year phone contracts don’t mix when the software developers have absolutely no control over the carrier and manufacturer.

This wasn’t something I learned recently. I knew this. What I didn’t anticipate before I owned a phone running an outdated version of Android was just how much the little things would matter. Stuff that’s hard to put in to words. ZDNet’s James Kendrick probably comes as close as anyone to summing it up and he’s talking about the latest release, no less:

Ice Cream Sandwich is the best version of Android yet in my experience, but it still annoys in a lot of little ways that add up to a frustrating user experience. Google has made Android an open platform, a good thing, but there’s such a thing as being too open. Android is too open for the user’s own good. It’s as if Google set out to make sure Android app developers could have a good time by doing things however they wish. In all that touchy-feely openness, me the user is not having a good time. And the user is the only one in the ecosystem that ultimately matters.

And he’s talking about Ice Cream Sandwich…can he imagine how I felt running a brand new phone with Froyo?!?

For a model that is so open, I never felt so trapped and closed in by technology as when I owned an Android phone.

It’s not Google’s fault that the carriers and manufacturers are screwed up, but I certainly hold Google accountable. This is the world they created. If Google & Friends want to break Apple’s control and dominance over the smartphone space, then they need to come up with something that’s better, not just different.

Yesterday, something glitched on my iPhone and I couldn’t use the Messages app. It would either lock up or crash. Restarts didn’t help. So I restored the phone. 30 minutes or so, start to finish. When done, my phone was working perfectly and everything was exactly where it should be. If I still had problems, I knew I could visit a Genius. I thought about what restoring my Infuse would have been like. Since I was a good girl and didn’t root the phone, my backup program only kept data, no apps or settings. I would have had to reinstall every app. It would have taken hours and hours, with no guarantee that it would fix the problem or that I’d get everything back. Then hours of frustrating runaround as I looked for someone at AT&T or Samsung who could help. No thanks.

Why is this okay with Google? Why isn’t a fantastic user experience a priority? Enough with the features and bells and whistles. Fix. It. And then do whatever it takes to show that you care about the community you already have by making those fixes available to them.

But that’s not the way it works. When I bought an iPhone, I became Apple’s customer. When I bought a Samsung Infuse, I wasn’t Google’s customer. Any more than I’m Google’s customer when I use Gmail. On the web, the advertiser is Google’s customer but at least when Gmail innovates, I’m not left out in the cold. My experience using a phone running a version of the operating system that Google no longer cares about was of no consequence to them, even though it was on a brand new phone. And that’s kinda sad.


5 responses to “My last word on Android”

  1. Judi – you’ve always been more comfortable with the UX-over-openness-and-flexibility choice of Apple products. I think that 30 years of personal computing have shown that it’s difficult-to-impossible to provide both openness and UX-consistency in the same package – Apple does what it does by controlling the hardware & software end-to-end, and has used that same business model since the II. If what they provide does what you need to do, then yes – it’s a great experience. But if you want their device to work with a competitor’s service or software, then they may go out of their way to make that experience as difficult as possible, as you have found with Google accounts and Google Voice (they’re not immune to outside pressure – eg, the ban which was then cancelled on a GVoice app). Others of us are willing to sacrifice UI fluidity for more flexibility in what a phone can do. Yes, the matrix of OS developer, component manufacturers, phone manufacturers, and carriers means that OS updates are slow, and sometimes deemed not worth it. But it only seems slower than Apple, because in that case, there’s no looking at other devices that have the new OS until the new OS is available to all. I wonder what will happen to iOS updates now that there are 3 carriers that have to test updates before they roll out. You made a decision to choose hardware features over the then-current Google phone, the Nexus S, that most rivals the iPhones in terms of OS consistency and availability of updates. If you’d picked a Nexus S, you’d have ICS now, and have had Gingerbread in the meantime. And rooting is not “bad girl” behavior in Android-land. I don’t know specifically if it voids your warranty, but it’s reversible in many cases if you do need warranty service – you could have had Gingerbread if you wanted it. And there are also apps that allow you to b/u apps in some measure without rooting. Is it the same experience as the one where you’re required to hook your phone up to your PC with phone-manufacturer-required software installed on it, from which you can only purchase and install manufacturer-approved apps? No, it’s not.

    • I get what you’re saying, Thomas. And yes, it comes down to a matter of personal preferences and what one is willing to prioritize. And yes, I know I should have to stuck to the Nexus phone, but I didn’t have that option at the time on AT&T, where I was locked for a variety of other reasons. I appreciate Google’s model. I really do. I built a database for a few years out of a collection of spare parts before we moved to Common Ground. 😉 I have no problem with with choice & flexibility and open models. But I feel as if I broke the control Apple had over me and handed it to AT&T and Samsung instead. Different, not any better.

      Rooting would have voided my warranty. I was going to do it anyway. But it would have required my hooking my phone to a PC to run the rooting software, which I never quite figured out how to do through the virtual machine. I tried a few times, no success. No patience at that point to dig in to it further.

  2. Judi,
    Reading you for a while..hope you have a Happy Chunnakah

    Even the goyims like this song!

  3. It is interesting that you bring up openness and whose customer you are. A lot of folks liken this iOS/Android battle to PC/Mac battle’s early days. But you point out the one thing that makes it different – the fact that you are not Google’s customer. At least with a PC running Windows you CAN call Microsoft for support.


  4. Interesting post Judi. I agree with many points you made. I have a unique perspective – I’ve got an iPhone 3GS for work and an Android phone for personal use. It’s a MyTouch from T-mobile… .and I HATE it. I took it back after a week and wanted to return it but they wouldn’t allow me to. It’s actually more about the phone than the OS. The keyboard is sluggish when typing texts (so much so that I have switched pretty much entirely to Google Voice for texting) and it takes 5 seconds+ to get the menu/wallpaper to refresh after closing an application. argh. Anyway, the point is, if someone asked me to choose between my phones right now, I’d choose my iPhone without a second thought. I’m fine with it as-is. I haven’t jailbroken it. I’m pretty content.

    I’ve had similar frustrations with Gmail. I have suggestions for improvement as a fairly heavy duty user. But, there’s no IdeaExchange like Salesforce has… and no effective format for sharing my ideas. It’s kind of frustrating. But, I also felt that way when using Microsoft products… like I was shouting into the void. At least with Salesforce, I feel like I have some sort of a voice.

    Okay, uh, that ends my random ranting. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience.