The Trouble with Android

Our friend, Ajit Jaokar has just written linked to an interesting post about Android over at Forum Oxford (free registration required, but I’ve appended it below). UPDATE:The original post was by Tom Insam at Jerakeen.Org. Ajit Tom came up with a bunch of reasons why Android doesn’t quite make it. None of these would be enough to condemn Android by itself, but together they add up to a pretty damning conclusion.

“Good Enough” often wins in tech, as opposed to “Perfect” – this was the theme of Clay Shirky’s brilliant 2003 essay Permanet, Nearlynet, and Wireless Data – still definitely worth a read if you haven’t before and a re-read if you have. But there comes a point when the law of “Not Quite Good Enough” clicks in too. And that seems to be where Android is currently.

I also think it sums up the dilemma for many of us geeks, who desperately want “open” to be the answer, even if “closed” (like Apple) actually has the edge.

Obviously, Android is barely out of its first iteration and it may well change in the future. But they’ve certainly got some catching up to do.

Ajit’s Tom’s Post:

I don’t have a personal beef against Apple or the iPhone – I’ve never wanted to tether my computer to my phone, I can’t get a Google Voice account (Google maintain an air of smug US-centricity sometimes that Apple can’t match), and I’ve never tried to ship an app with an open webkit in it. But the reflected rage about the whole thing has me all annoyed/uncomfortable/fearful in advance.

So I’m casting around for replacements. And basically, this means Android, as it seems to suck less than everything else. Indeed, if the iPhone didn’t exist, Android phones would be easily the best phones out there for me. Maybe the Pre/WebOS would be better. But it’s not available in the UK yet, so it’s pretty much moot.

I’m trying to like Android.

I have to write down why Android annoys me. I’d really like a go at using a Hero (I’m using a G1 dev phone running cupcake here) before committing, so this is a random set of half-formed thoughts.

* It’s slow. Again, probably the hardware. But the G1 is slow compared to the iPhone (original and 3G, let alone the 3GS).

* I can’t listen to music on it. It won’t sync with iTunes (solvable), it doesn’t have a headphone socket (solvable), the music app is lousy (probably solvable), and I only have a 2 gig micro-SD card, so it doesn’t all fit (solvable). All solvable, all annoying.

* Many fewer apps. The store is smaller, and the apps that are on it tend to be worse than the ones on the Apple store. It’s hard to find reviews of them. They don’t come with screen shots. There are already some apps that require cupcake, some that don’t work on cupcake, some that just crash on startup, etc.

* The browser just isn’t up to the standard of the iPhone’s. The Mail app is awful. The web browser seems to sometimes open new windows, and sometimes reuse existing windows when following links.

* The on-screen keyboard is sluggish. This is the same speed problem as above, but whereas elsewhere it’s mostly just cosmetic annoyance, here it’s causing me serious difficulty – lots of typing errors unless I slow right down.

* I’m trying to port Flame to it – Flame is my normal ‘just real enough that you have to learn the platform’ app that I port to new things I’m playing with. But the emulator behaves differently from the real device, I’m not confident that any other real device running Android would behave the same, so I’d have to test everywhere. And anyway, the device seems to have a major bug around multicast that makes Flame impossible.

Any one of these I could deal with no problem. Probably more. It’s just the combination of all of them that wears you down. And then there’s all the standard little things that come with being a citizen of a second-class platform.

A tiny example – diveintomark.org has an iphone-optimized mobile view – I believe it’s a wordpress standard, I might have seen it in a few places. But he serves the normal page to the android web browser. It’s not a big deal, but a thousand things like that is like using linux in a world of windows people again. No-one bothers with the little stuff. Stuff works on the iPhone because everyone tests on the iPhone. It would work on Android if anyone bothered.

Linux vs Windows/MacOS, all over again. You gain Freedom by using an open platform, making life worse for yourself in a thousand tiny ways, any one of which can easily be dismissed, so they are. But it’s still worse.

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