I've spent some time visiting family in Brazil back in December. As always, I unlock (so I can run a local carrier SIM card) and jailbreak (so I can use my phone as a hotspot on the beach) my iPhone. I had a hiccup jailbreaking my iPhone 4S and I couldn't make it work. So I borrowed a test Samsung Nexus Android we use on EveryMove for Android development that is already unlocked and I spent two weeks using it as my primary phone.
My conclusion is that while iPhone and Windows Phone are revolutionary smart phones, Android is the closest thing I ever seen to an evolution of Windows CE. Android is the next generation Windows CE.
It has a freakin' Desktop!
Do you have any doubt that Android *is* Windows CE? It has a desktop! A place you drag icons and create shortcuts to apps. Really. It makes the entire experience one order of magnitude more complex than iOS/WP, where the apps are just there (side note: Windows Phone has tiles that can be thought of as shortcuts to apps, but they actually have additional value, contrary to Android plain shortcuts).
The most obvious aspect of people will feel when using an Android is the poor design. I'm not talking about the UX or interaction design -- which I'll comment later -- I'm talking about icons that could have been designed by me! And I suck at it. The "Browser" icon on Android looks like it was found on a free icon collection from 1997. On the other hand, you might say that Android designers were explicitly going after a vintage look, but that isn't true either. There are at least 3 or 4 different styles from the get go for the icons. Some are flat, some are 3D, some are B&W, some have shadows, etc. Both iPhone and Windows Phone are very consistent on their apps and button icons.
"I'm Google, I'm Google, I'm Google"
I tend to think that companies which over-emphasize their own brand or features with no value to users as a low self-esteem issue. Android suffers the problem of over-emphasizing Google's technology but I don't think they have low self-esteem. I think they have the opposite: too much confidence and they've been drinking too much of their Kool-aid.
Android comes with Google Earth in addition to Google Maps and a "Navigation" app. Why? It comes with a "Gmail" app in addition to an Email app -- I don't know how many people are like me, but the first thing I did was setup my email (which is GMail), but I clicked on the email app. When it asked for POP/IMAP and SMTP Server I knew I've done something wrong. Wait, I knew that Google had screwed up the UX somewhere.
It has a "Google" app. Now, if you are not an Android user and you never clicked on it, can you guess what it does? It takes you Google.com. Why?! There is a huge bar taking 10% of the screen on top that does exactly the same thing. It has a "Messaging" app and a "Messenger" app. And then, there is the "app store"…
Where are the apps?
Not only I have low attention span, I'm very busy and pragmatic. I don't like to spend one hour exploring things. I'm totally task oriented. I want to install the Facebook App. I have 3 minutes to get it done. Go! Well, where the heck is the app store on this thing? It took me a while to find out that "Play Store" is the app store. The reason I didn't click on it was because it was next to "Play Books", "Play Magazines", "Play Movies", "Play Music", "Play Store". If you read it like this, you think of "Play Store" as "Game Store" not "App Store". The Android UX team are thinking as engineers, not as users. I know that very well because I worked at Microsoft and we suffered the same problem. Naming and branding features is what we did day-in day-out and once a feature is elevated to a product status (by having a name), you have to treat it like a product. Turns out the line between software and content has been blurred a long time ago and there is no reason to distinguish them. Is Yelp software or content? Is the NYT App software or content? Yes, the iOS App Store suffers a similar issue.
First of all, I really like the concept of swipe to "archive" / "dismiss" items that is used in many places and many apps. It's very fast and intuitive. On the iPhone you have to swipe and then press "archive" to archive an email. On Android that's a single motion, with an option to undo. Same thing for notifications on Android. I loved the Tethering feature. That alone might be worth using the phone if you care to not pay the Carrier tax for tethering. I also liked some of the geekier features, like network usage per day and per app, and ability to set alerts if you are getting close to your monthly data transfer limit.
- PIN number of variable length -- which means I have to click "enter". Since I have an yet to be named psychological condition that requires me to check email every 3 minutes while I'm awake, every time I pulled the phone out of my pocket I have to press 5 buttons, instead of 4. Yeah, nitpicky, but it bothered me enough to write here.
- There is a "downloads" app. It's noise. No value.
- Photo Album is called "Gallery" -- that's not how people name their personal pictures.
- The GMail app crashed several times.
- The GMail app also had poor indication of when it last synced or if during sync things were working or not. It felt like sometimes it failed to sync, but gave no indication of it. Also, when I forced sync the animation stopped and it seemed there was no email, and 10 seconds later (after I left the app) the email notification icon would pop. It was liked the app fetched the email but spent 10 seconds rendering it -- or preparing to tell me they were there.
- "News & Weather" should have been two apps and the weather part is bad because I'm always checking the weather of multiple cities, particularly when I'm days or weeks from a trip, and it only supported one city.
- Search for "Yelp" on the "Play Store" and the first result is "Yelp Lookup for Thrutu by David Drysdale" (doesn't feel like the official Yelp app). Second result is "Maps by Google, Inc" with a special "Editors' Choice". I thought there was no Yelp app for Android until I went to yelp.com and it prompted me to install the Yelp App. Strange. Very strange. NOTE: Turns out that because I've got a SIM Card from Brazil, Google automatically assumed I wanted the "Play Store" from Brazil. That's probably a fringe issue since not many people will face it.
- Why the web browsing app is called "Browser" and not "Chrome"?
- Google's own Google Reader suck on their Browser app. Every time you click "Next Item" on Google Reader the Browser navigation bar would appear for 3-5 seconds covering the next "Next Item" button making quickly scanning blog posts very annoying.
Android is successful and it will continue to grow
There is a big difference between great products and great businesses. We all want to believe that great products inevitably lead to great business but that's not true. Great value generation is what create great businesses and Android does it. It delivers incredible value to carriers, which allows them to customize and sell smart phones for much cheaper price than iOS or Windows Phone devices, which means value to a huge segment of consumers. It has the technology horse power to be configured in many interesting ways (just like Windows CE had) and, above all, it has not competitor for what it's doing. People who want incredible control and power have no choice of smart phone but Android.
For me, Android doesn't work because I'm way too much focused on getting things done fast. I don't want to have 100% of features I need at the cost of making 90% of my most used features slower or harder to use.