Full disclosure: that title is an utter fabrication of the truth. I could no more create a smart phone operating system than invent and subsequently pilot a solar-powered space shuttle from the dark side of the moon to the biggest crater on Mars. I just don’t have it in me.
But, after owning what any halfway rational human would rightly consider waaaay too many android-powered phones, I am pleased as punch to report that my latest acquisition has released a torrent of android-powered endorphins so extreme as to have me swimming in delusions of grandure.
Act 1: I finally figure out why most Android phones suck.
The answer lies in the capitalistic hubris of Verizon and Motorola. I’m sure there’s plenty more blame to go around, but my personal experience has led me to believe that somewhere between the time Google engineers delivered their latest version of Android, and the moment I sauntered into a Verizon store to pick out my next little bundle of digital joy, someone besides Google made a decision to “make it better”.
What they did was satisfy someone’s inane craving to futz with a perfectly good product in order to, I don’t know, make more money I guess. Someone decided to build an overlay for the pure Android experience that would make you want to buy ringtones, use specific wallpaper, find yourself unable to install certain apps and give the phone – wait for it – personality!
In other words, in a terribly misguided effort by Verizon and Motorola to make things better for Verizon and Motorola, Verizon and Motorola made things worse for us. They, in the grand tradition of the world’s undisputed bloat-wear king, Dell, added in a bunch of useless crap designed so badly that it literally brought even the strongest mobile processor to its very knees with every swipe, poke and launch.
What they ended up accomplishing—besides alienating customers—was to simply deepen the Grand Canyon-sized chasm of usability between every Android device and what is arguably the bar by which all smart phones will be judged from here to eternity: the iPhone.
Act 2: Why doesn’t Kevin just shut up and buy an iPhone?
Glad you asked. The fact is, I thought pretty long and hard about it. The interface is fantastic: it’s light, responsive and thoughtful. It’s priced similar to other devices in its class and, let’s face it, everyone is doing it.
So why, you might wonder, did I climb into bed with the robot instead of the fruit? The answer has nothing to do with the phone and everything to do with the carrier. When iPhone was released, it was available only on AT&T, provider of the world’s crappiest network ever. Call me old fashioned, but one of my primary desires when it comes to phones is the ability to make phone calls. AT&T kinda left that part out. And so I kinda left out the part where I give them my money.
I made a choice to stick with Verizon despite their lack of iPhone and took a leap of faith into the loving arms of Google. And, while I must admit that my earliest impressions of Android left me desirous of a much more mature operating system (and selection of apps), I do finally feel vindicated having stumbled into the world’s most delicious Ice Cream Sandwich.
Act 3: Just desserts.
Google names each iteration of their mobile OS after a dessert. I jumped on the bandwagon somewhere around Éclair. By the time Froyo came out I was fairly convinced I would like Android better and better. When my phone received its Gingerbread update, I found myself nearly ecstatic, the amazing improvements it brought bested only by Honeycomb which is about the time I knew that Android had arrived.
But it was not until this latest iteration, the one that those of us in the know refer to succinctly as “ICS”, that I experienced the official end of even the most minuscule, latent or unreasonable desire to own an iPhone instead.
It was the purchasing experience of this new phone, in fact, that finally provided the epiphany I’m writing about now.
Glutton for punishment that I am, I walked into the Verizon shop expecting to walk out again with the new Motorola Razr. It turns out, I was lucky enough to chat with a particularly informed Verizon employee who was busy coveting the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus (ironically he couldn’t have one because Verizon wouldn’t let him out of his contract).
He explained to me in true Android fan-boy fervor that, not only was this the only handset on the planet running the new Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, it was the only phone on the planet with an absolutely pure installation of the OS. No bloat-wear, no half-hearted GPS, no special ringtone purchasing application. Just pure Android as the gods of Google intended it.
It is only now that I understand how enjoyable a non-Apple mobile OS can be. It is only now that I get why you don’t need the biggest processor in the world if you have a wisely-coded piece of software. And it is only now that I finally feel on the level with, if not superior to, the teaming masses of iPhone junkies who have heretofore enjoyed a smooth, refined and happy cell phone experience.
Intermission: A thought about hardware.
Yes, you can install an operating system on just about any amalgamation of speeds and feeds. You can get it to sit on a device powered by a hamster wheel and a hard drive better suited to a calculator than a personal computer. But that doesn’t mean the OS is going to run well. In fact, if it runs at all, it will likely limp and groan at your every command like an octogenarian on the Army Ranger obstacle course. And you’ll end up believing your smart phone operating system sucks. But it doesn’t. It’s just starved for power.
We ask so much of these little devices. And companies like Google and Apple aren’t going to deny you all those wonderful but power hungry features you crave. So they include all those bells and whistles which ask the hardware to do all sorts of crazy backflips.
In the case of the iPhone, that’s not necessarily a bad thing since it’s one company designing both pieces (software and hardware). Not so with Google’s Android. The fact is, the folks at Google have no idea which handset their OS is going to end up running. And they also have no choice but to keep up with the Joneses.
To solve this little conundrum, they were nice enough to give us the gPhone (my word) in partnership with Samsung. And how well this device runs must be the best kept secret in the Android community because everyone and their mother is raving about HTC and Motorola. Nothing against those guys but, wow, what a difference it makes when you get your eggs from the chicken coup instead of an Egg McMuffin.
Act 4: What have we learned here?
Well, let’s review shall we? What we know so far is that, no matter how much market share Google has in the mobile phone category, a certain percentage of Android users are going to come away with a bad taste in their mouth. The reason, of course, is not necessarily Android, but the pairing of Android with inferior hardware and the afterthought of a software overlay.
This is the same reason there are certain people who just hate Windows. Despite it being a very well constructed operating system, you load it onto a terrible computer and it will make your life miserable. Is that Microsoft’s fault? Well, sorta. They did agree to let every Tom, Dick and Harry put their OS on any toaster with a processor. But ask a Microsoft engineer what kind of computer he’d like to see that OS running on, and you can bet it’s not going to be one of those netbooks you find at Walmart.
I don’t think that strategy is bad. Google and Microsoft enjoy incredible market share because of their open architecture.
As I said, the Galaxy Nexus is actually the Google phone. It’s Google’s baby and, like iPhone, is the perfect balance of software and hardware. Therefore, the user experience is wonderful. This isn’t rocket science, it’s just good design. We do the same thing at Rain, tuning the software and hardware in perfect harmony to ensure a really great user experience.
The bottom line is, don’t let anyone mess with your experience. Be a discerning and informed customer, demand good design in exchange for your money and expect more. I smile every time I turn on my phone. The screen is beautiful, it’s fast as hell and it even makes phone calls. What is it they say about having your cake and eating it to?