I, Android

The T-Mobile G1 is an interesting introduction to Android. On first glance, the phone doesn't ooze any sort of charm, except maybe to the tech enthusiast. Deeper than this there is a whole layer of interest, and overall the experience is something more than a phone. There are a lot of features that would appeal to a non-tech user, and tonnes that would appeal to the geek. There are also several large stumbling blocks, which damage the user experience for everyone.

Hardware feels a little chunky, but the keyboard is definitely usable ( especially if you've used a EEE ). The shape, albeit very practical, lacks the sleekness of the to-be-released HTC Magic. The track ball feels good at first glance, although i find myself not using it often and it sometimes becomes a hindrance. Being someone who doesn't use the phone much for music, the lack of 3.5mm audio jack really isn't an issue. But you aren't reading a tech blog review of the G1 to hear about hardware...

Android firmly comes across as a Google product. The basics are simple enough for anyone to use, but if you want more, it is there. The basic Home Screen is simple enough, and adding icons to it is logical. The applications bar ( which you can pull up from the bottom of the screen ) very quickly gets filled with everything you download, easily becoming the mess that the average PC user's desktop is. It would be nice to have a built in filter to narrow down the applications, or possibly even a way to organize them, maybe a folder or sub-menu construct. The more applications you have, the slower the home screen becomes, and the scrolling down through the app list becomes jerky. The interface never feels as smooth as the iPhone interface ( i'd suggest that it's due to running on a GC'd VM language in combination with background services ), however it doesn't feel bad. The touch experience requires more accuracy than the iPhone, which possibly shows how late in development an actual device came in, given that developing in a simulator doesn't really give the right feel for finger touches. Integration with Google services is brilliant, and the background services really make the OS a great end user experience. But of course, a modern smartphone isn't the same without the application market.

The Android Market is an interesting place. There are a lot of applications which is both a blessing and a curse. As an open source enthusiast, i love seeing a lot of available applications, and many choices in application for a given task. Currently i'm using Twidroid for Twitter, aHome Lite as a Home Replacement and Hi MSN as an MSN chat client. Currently paid applications are not available in the Netherlands, so i'm settling for aHome Lite until they are. This said, the vast array of choice might scare the new users. Which brings me to a point which can be said as a commercial developer.

iPhone as a platform is currently a difficult entry point, due to the amount of applications on the App Store. To produce a game for it, you really need exposure in terms of the "Highlighted Apps" and the "What's new" or "What we're playing" sections. If you don't get these, you aren't going to hit target sales, due to the tonnes of random rubbish on the store ( unless you are using a well known IP, in which case you're pretty much guaranteed to get one of the "Highlighted Apps" slots ). When it comes to putting an app in the store, Apple have a certification process. I won't speculate as to why they do it but the point is that they do. All apps on the store have passed this process. This guarantees at least 1 thing, the app runs. Google have no process for the Android market. Once registered, you just have to sign and upload your app, and it is instantly there. Which is where the problem comes in.

There are so many apps on the Android Market that are utter crap. Some of them explicitly state in the app description that the app does not work yet. This is complete rubbish. I'm very shocked that Google are happy to let this happen. The app store is not meant to be an online storage space, it is meant to store apps for end users. As a developer, i can't even wrap my head around wanting to do this! Firstly it gives instantly bad exposure, and because it is not a new app, it doesn't get noticed as easily. When commenting on this and rating the app down, other users defend it saying that the description warns you. If you thought fart apps and soundboards were bad, these are much worse. The situation is just ridiculous. Having a Android developer account means that you have a Google account, which means that you have a Google site, which means that you have free online storage space. The Android Market should not be used to host pre-alpha junk! As a developer, this angers me, since valid apps are losing exposure due to the amount of junk flooding the market. Google need to step in and confirm that the apps at least run and do more than a "Hello World" sort of message.

This all said, Android is firmly a Google product. It is, like GMail, a usable Beta, which feels more like a Beta some days, and more like "by far the best" thing on others. As usual, Google's approach to release early and integrate well seems to be working. There is a lot of potential, and i can see it eventually consume the market and become a true competitor in terms of sales to the likes of the iPhone and Symbian, in the same way that GMail took away much of Hotmail and Yahoo! mail's userbase.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice review :) I ended up getting an iPhone3G just before the T-Mobile Android was announced. I'm quite happy with the iPhone, but every app requiring Apple's (and AT&T's) approval is pretty limiting (assuming one doesn't want to jailbreak).

    I'm well looking forward to future Android phones. The current hardware for user interface seems a bit dated.