droid

Apple’s iOS Development Manifesto: Are They Afraid of Android?

This caught my eye- Apple has released a new video featuring the full gamut of iPhone and iPad application developers, from tiny shops to tech startups to media giants. While I think it’s overall not too remarkable – merely an ad presenting the strengths of Apple’s development platform for mobile devices – I do think it very clearly presents Apple’s approach to the mobile market.

Seeing this video makes me wonder about Apple’s competitive strategy in the quickly evolving mobile device markets. In 2007, they forced the lazy rulers of the cellphone market to start innovating again – and now they’ve finally caught up and started producing high-quality phones, some of whose features apply to many niches better than the “one-size-fits-all” iPhone. Though not #1 in smartphone share, iOS (previously called iPhone OS) certainly dominates among those using their phones for more than SMS and e-mail. But has domination ever been Apple’s strategy? Since Jobs’ return to Apple, the company has shown no ambition to kill the competition; I think they in fact benefit from having competing products around to make the case of Apple products’ superiority. And while the iPhone and iPod certainly lead in their markets, OS X certainly doesn’t – and the three use Apple’s same approach to producing highly-polished combinations of hardware and software.

I’ve maintained that 2010 would be the year of the Android phone, and I think that so far things are turning out that way. Not in terms of an “iPhone killer,” but in terms of a serious competitor. The growth of Android devices, market share, and applications have all exploded, and the Android Marketplace is quickly evolving from a ragtag group of ugly tech utilities to genuinely amazing ones that contend with some of the best iPhone apps. I wonder how Apple views Android now, especially in the light of this video, which takes several shots at perceived downsides to the Android platform. It’s certainly true that today, iOS delivers the biggest return on investment for development work. But where will things go in the future? There are some critical differences in the platforms which affect their potential:

  • Apple’s AT&T exclusivity in the US
  • Approach to usability: Apple picks form & ease of use; Android says, “why not have an annoying menu button if it gives you access to a bunch more features?”
  • Android’s double-edged differentiation sword: can better target various niches, but also introduces fragmentation and compatibility concerns for developers
  • OEM and Developer innovation: On Android, new features can be created just about anywhere, anytime; iOS waits for others to innovate and then introduces a way to “do it right”

I don’t think most of these things are “X is better than Y” values but inherent differences in the appeal of different platforms. As an owner of both kinds of devices, I think we’re going to see Android push smartphone penetration to all kinds of new market segments, and be the new platform for innovation. I see iOS as a major player for the long term, though probably not hanging on to its current dominance of high-end smartphones. There’s plenty of room for both moving ahead, and the only thing that’s certain is that everyone gets more options in their search for the device that best meets their needs.

HTC Droid Incredible thoughts, 3 weeks in

I’ve had my HTC Incredible for 3 weeks now. I don’t have the time to write a whole review, but here are the things that stand out to me after having gotten to know the device:

  • HTC Sense UI is nothing short of amazing. It’s elegant and easy to use, yet quite powerful and well integrated into the OS. I feel like I wanted an Android phone despite its more complex UI, but totally lucked out with Sense. It really is an experience of its own. It can work well uncustomized out of the box, be extended with tons of useful widgets, or even have entire “scenes” of saved layouts to switch functional contexts as the user does. (Weekend scene with no work stuff? Travel scene with useful widgets for being on the go? Yes, please!) Really, this phone is so much more than a generic OEM device running Android. A great overview of Sense UI on the older HTC Hero is here, if you can tolerate the marketing-speak.
    • (I do wish Sense were integrated a little better with Gmail and Google Voice; I only get Sense UI for non-Google SMS and email.)
  • The battery life, in a word, is atrocious. A second/extended battery is pretty much mandatory for long periods away from the charging cable.
  • There are still some rough edges: the soft menu buttons’ LEDs seem to flash randomly, and I’ve had some hard crash reboots as I did with the Motorola Droid.
  • The integrated camera is good, and has a *ton* of good settings onboard, and good autofocus, tap-to-focus, and the optical trackball makes a good shutter button. I find myself using this camera a lot more than my old phones because it’s enjoyable to use. (The color balance is too blue, though, and its 2 LED flashes aren’t adjustable and make me look like some kind of pale ghost.)
  • While the device feels solid in construction, it is still plastic. I feel like since 2008, consumers’ increased cost sensitivity kind of killed the kind of uncompromising design ethic that yielded the 2007 aluminum iPhone. I’m eagerly awaiting a good case for the Incredible from OtterBox as a compromise for the plastic housing.

So there’s the stuff that still matters to me after 3 weeks. Overall, I am extremely happy with the Incredible, even though it keeps me tethered to a charging cable for much of the day.

HTC Droid Incredible first impressions

My HTC Incredible came in the mail today from Verizon. After ripping the package open like a kid on Christmas, I ran into the good and bad of the device very quickly. I don’t have time to do a full writeup on the Incredible right now, but here are my impressions from the first few hours:

(for some perspective, I have been on an original iPhone for two and a half years, and I tested the Motorola Droid for a month after its release before deciding it wasn’t for me.)

Pro

  • HTC’s Sense UI is nothing short of amazing. I wasn’t surprised to see Android have a clunky default UI, seeing as Google is such an engineering-centric company, but HTC really put a lot of thought into streamlining the whole user experience. Sense has a much better keyboard and autocorrection system, which has me typing at almost the speed I type on my iPhone, on which I’ve had two and a half years’ practice. Also, the UI is fully multi-touch, and does so very well.
  • Performance wise, this phone screams. Nothing seems to choke it up.
  • I’m still getting used to the “optical trackball” at the bottom of the phone. I want to use it like an inertial scroll, similar to a finger swipe on the screen. It’s a pain to try and scroll with just the nub of my thumb, but once I swipe the whole length of my finger across the trackpad, it becomes a lot more useful.
  • Speaker quality is very good for both the earpiece and the speakerphone.
  • So far I am impressed with the quality of the camera and its dual-LED flash. The autofocus works very well. I’m disturbed that my phone captures images at 8 megapixels while my high-end point-and-shoot has six.
  • Complaints about the Incredible’s quality of materials are highly exaggerated. I prefer metal phones myself, but this hardware is very solid and have no doubts that it’ll last me through a 2-year contract. (I couldn’t say the same about the Motorola Droid, which had a loosely seated headphone jack and battery cover that was constantly falling off.) The soft touch plastic back feels great, and its unique angular design on the back is a lot more subdued than it looks in pictures- once you feel how thin the device is, it’s a lot less of a problem.
  • Likewise with the display- people say AMOLED displays like those on the Incredible and Nexus One are terrible in sunlight. Yes, it is not very good, but it only becomes a serious problem with the sun beating straight down on it from overhead. (Want a display that deserves a bad rap? Try a Palm IIIc.)
  • Verizon sent a free 2GB microSD card in the box that wasn’t advertised in the pre-order contents. My guess is that this is Verizon’s quick fix for existing compatibility issues for apps that don’t recognize the device’s 8GB of internal flash memory, which is a first for an Android device. Yes, it’s small, but it’s free and unexpected. My bet is that these phones will start coming with microSD cards preinstalled.

Con

  • The display is quite good, but doesn’t blow me away quite like the Motorola Droid did.
  • Cell reception is noticeably worse than that of the Motorola Droid. I haven’t tested this enough to know if it’s a serious issue or not.
  • The Incredible comes loaded with HTC’s version of Flash Light, which works with some stuff and doesn’t work with other stuff. It’s an imperfect solution, and becoming irrelevant as Apple forces the web towards HTML5, but Android 2.2 will have full-powered Flash anyways.
  • The USB port on the device plugs in on the bottom left side in portrait orientation- right where you want your left palm to rest while typing with both thumbs in portrait orientation. You can mangle your fingers around it in an effort to avoid it, but basically you’re going to want to use this puppy in landscape mode all the time while charging.
  • There are without a doubt some growing pains for a brand new device launching just today on Verizon. My data connection didn’t work at first, and Verizon’s technical rep told me it was likely a problem with HTC and Verizon’s initial network setup for this phone. They got it working for me eventually. (The problem was server-end.) Also, some things that could be fixed in a firmware update include an oversensitive ambient light sensor – it seems to make tiny adjustments when lighting conditions barely change – and navigation button LEDs that occasionally turn off when they shouldn’t.
  • Motorola preloaded a lot more interesting ringtones on the Droid than HTC did on this phone. That’s a matter of taste, but I found myself rushing to make my own ringtone ASAP on this thing.

So basically, this phone addresses almost all of the concerns that kept me from keeping the Motorola Droid. Sense UI is a joy to use, performance is increased, and the build quality seems much more solid to me (albeit not metal). I feel like I’m much more likely to choose to keep this and move my contract over to Verizon. The only holdout I have in my mind as of now is the quality of cell reception, which I’ll have to test some more outside of my signal-killing brick house.

Nexus One thoughts

Google announced the HTC Nexus One today. On paper, it’s just about everything I want: a touchscreen-only HTC device with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. It’s headed to Verizon sometime in the first half of this year.

I returned my Droid last week and put my unlocked iPhone onto T-Mobile, which has a great lower-price plan for contract-free customers. I told myself I’d wait until better devices come along, and the Nexus One almost grabs my attention. Engadget posted a very thorough review of the device, and I’d say it meets 90% of what I’m looking for. There are but a couple of issues that give me pause:

  • The AMOLED display is supposedly better than the Droid’s, but it has some color balance issues – specifically, over-saturation in the reds and oranges. More importantly, its screen resolution is 58 pixels shorter than the Droid, at 800×480.
  • The speaker is described as “tinny.” One of the best parts about the Droid was its absolutely amazing speaker.

These issues are hardly dealbreakers for almost anyone. For myself, though, it’s enough to make me feel OK waiting to see what future phones offer, especially the next iPhone, which will likely have a boosted screen resolution, and possibly carrier support for Verizon.

After testing the Droid for a month and then reactivating my 2007 iPhone, I’m struck by just how well the original iPhone has held up to the competition of devices that are a full two and a half years newer. Other phones are just now catching up, and three major OS revisions are more than most could hope for. (Year-old Android phones are already missing out on new OS updates.) I could happily switch to an Android phone like the Nexus One now, but my financial situation as a student and the status of American GSM and CDMA networks just before the 4G LTE transition make me feel like having some patience will really pay off for me. Hopefully my geeky, impulsive side will be OK waiting until I’m on a real income later this year before jumping onto the new device train again.

Follow-up: This isn’t the DROID I’m looking for.

Last week I posted an article about my thoughts on Verizon’s Motorola DROID after using it for a week. Here’s where I stand after over two weeks now:

I’m not going to keep it. I love its superior functionality. I can overlook the young OS’s shortcomings. The hardware just isn’t resilient enough. There’s no way that it will hold up under my usage patterns for two years.  I have already exchanged one Droid for another unit due to shorts in the loosely-seated headphone jack. The battery cover loves to fall off without user modification. And the keyboard seems to be made of one contiguous sheet of plastic, so I can’t imagine that holding up well over time. For comparison, my original iPhone is still in excellent condition, and no parts have worn out at all.

The OS itself is pretty good overall, but it has some bugs that kill me. Were it on better hardware, I wouldn’t switch devices solely because of them. Most annoying is how I can’t ever stream a long podcast without it dying halfway through – and this happens with any app, it must be an OS problem. Today, the whole screen refused to turn on and I had to remove the battery to force reboot it.

Today, when I came to the point of telling myself, “I couldn’t keep using this for two years, I have to send it back,” it really pained me. Despite the crappy build quality and occasional software problem, I am loving the crap out of Verizon’s network and 3G speed. I love having constant background applications so I have persistent and bug-free connections to Gmail, IM and Twitter. Integration with Google Talk is great, and I’d love to work on actually developing software for this phone. So naturally, I didn’t like the idea of having to return to AT&T and my nice, but albeit feature-limited iPhone.

I may not have to go back to AT&T after all. I’ve been trying to figure out all of the rumors going around about the HTC Bravo / Passion / Dragon. It may prove to be the Google Nexus One, which so far only is known to exist in a GSM variety. But it looks like the Passion is also slated for a Verizon release in January. I think HTC does a much better job at making great hardware, so I would jump at the opportunity to use a 1GHz, keyboard-free Android phone on Verizon.

So I have until January 13 before my “worry-free guarantee” on my contract expires. If the Passion comes out on Verizon, I’ll exchange my Droid for that. If it doesn’t, I’ll be back to AT&T or T-Mobile and my reliable old iPhone until something better comes along on Verizon.