Today I purchased a Sony Ericsson Experia X8. It appears to be running Android 2.1.1 and is therefore officially out of date. I’ve been curious about Android for a long time. As a user I care little (got my iPad2). As a developer I feel that it may be a bit early to jump onboard. Overall I find the user experience off-putting, sugar substitute and less of the real thing.
Despite endless choices and attractive price tags, app gourmets will be disappointed. Incidentally none of what follows refers to hardware specs, so getting the latest model isn’t a fix.
I’d love to see more innovation from the iPhonoid team. Is iOS doing a lot more than scrapping overlapping windows (possibly one of the worst design ideas borrowed from Xerox), keeping icons lined up and beautifully taking advantage of haptics and UI design metaphors? Surely there is more to mobile UIs than merely copying the core user experience and the form factor? Sadly enough lawyers may be cheaper and safer than innovation, at least in our galaxy.
My new phone came installed with a load of krapps but…
…let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I talked with my girlfriend (who started with an iPod touch, lost a 3GS and sold an iPad2) and suggested that she might use my iPhone4 until 5 comes out, and I would get myself something ‘middle range’. I could buy an Experia Play with a 30% discount over list price, or a low range HTC for 40% less – but I’d rather save my money to buy the next PSP while anything under 200 bucks felt somewhat flimsy.
So I got an X8 and it runs average 3D content around 20-30 FPS – pretty much what a 2nd gen. iOS device did a couple of years ago.
After installing an SD card (I somehow put into my head that this might be needed to play games, and apparently it is), I fired the thing up and hurriedly glossed over the setup wizard (nice touch tho’). I then connected to our WIFI and felt growing frustration as I could browse the web but couldn’t log into my google account (needed for gmail and the android store). Then I realized I forgot to set the date. Well yea, but it would be nice to pop up ‘certificate not valid yet’ instead of the ambiguously quizzical ‘no reliable connection to the server’.
The krapps I need, the hand that feeds
Learning how to remove things is always good. Understanding how to do it on iPhone had been somewhat of an accidental discovery. After removing a dozen of these (one reported ‘failed to uninstall correctly’) and removing the icons (somehow resurrected as ‘shortcuts’ after deleting the apps), I noticed with some frustration that way too many apps remained, and these apps cannot be removed (without jailbreak or so called ‘rooting’). I don’t need Crazy Penguins (by no means a shiny demonstration of state of the art technology). I don’t need Facebook (who does?). No more than I needed the sticky Nike app on my iPhone (or YouTube, which I can’t access anyway).
If I can’t even clean my desktop, ‘Open System’ is off to a bad start. And by the way throwing in a couple of demos, like videos and a bit of realtime 3D, might have encouraged me to get something higher-spec-ed. Oh well.
A hopeful reset to factory settings resurrected krapps that weren’t there before along with utterly definitely, irretrievably sticky apps. Sony Ericsson’s very own game store, ‘PlayNow’, can be deleted. I actually was somewhat curious about it (Sigh).
Essentials (less is more)
Even without a whole page of annoying stuff that can’t even be dumped in a group, my phonetop would look cluttered. Amusingly there are 3 separate apps for timer, alarm and clock.
There are also two mail apps including mobile gmail and foobar mail. I’d like to believe they use a completely different protocol unfortunately that’s not the case. foobar mail can receive gmail, and although it looks rudimentary at first sight, it works.
I can’t get mobile gmail to work on my Android phone. My guess – a little glitch that only affects ‘unlucky users’.
After pushing all the krapps on page 3 (at least until I get my hands on the Sun’s famed Page 3 Widget For Android) I headed for the marketplace and the PlayNow store.
The marketplace gracefully skips all paid apps. This has given rise to a Chinese Legend according to which ‘everything Android is free’. The bleak truth is that the best stuff isn’t free stuff, and the paid stuff isn’t available worldwide until you root (a.k.a jailbreak) your Android phone (may also require a foreign credit card). Paid apps aren’t available in all countries.
PlayNow vaguely hints at a server or connection issue. It would be so much easier to just say it: PlayNow is only available in 13 countries (apparently doesn’t include the US or Australia. WTF ). A-ha! Here is why SE gracefully allows the frustrated, bewildered user to uninstall PlayNow. How ingenious, how considerate! Millions of frustrated game-jocks can now get rid of the neutered game widget after only minutes of intense frustration.
Back to the Android marketplace, it’s a boring list of… …apps. No editorial. Nothing like decent, well organized features, enticing layouts or attractive banners. Nothing like a shop. Even the (defunct?) Ovi store looks better in some ways (except for making downloading apps a major pain). While it might take the average iPhone gamer at least a year to touch the bottom of the top 200s (with all the minimally well organized sections and subsections), it took me just under 2 minutes to give up and head off to Android Games on Appo.
The problem is, assuming our average user haven’t drowned under the 5 pages of krapps bundled with their phone, the Android marketplace does precious nothing to advertise apps as shiny, fashionable little gems.
So I’m not really surprised given the lack of polish that user comments are badly spelled and the sparse categories are filled with irrelevant apps that belong nowhere. The window is already broken. iPhone users like the app store enough that they (seldom) deface it with ugly, idiotic comments (I love receiving abuse in my support email instead of reading it in the comments section and ‘being the last one to know’).
Before submitting apps, iPhone developers need to consider the possibility that their apps might actually get rejected. As a result iPhone categories are something short of a joyful mess since developers (reluctantly) self-discipline themselves.
The best way to advertise your shiny Android app is to make an iPhone version and submit it to Apple. If you make a good app, it will appear in one of the many top 200s. But that’s not the point. The point is App Store bling bling casts an aura on every little app. After looting the main chambers dedicated app geeks go on questing, looking for the famed hidden gems, passing on the knowledge and keeping your sales alive with neatly written, educated reviews.
I know there are local stores – just uninstalled one because I don’t read Chinese – whereas there won’t ever be anything but a localized app store on the iPhone. Call it many more opportunities, what I see is a fragmented market and sub-critical business models (freemium without alternative, advertisement a must and quality content an accessory).
- My Android phone needs a jailbreak. Ironically I never had much of a need to jailbreak an iOS device (so I didn’t). With an open OS, every manufacturer and operator along the chain can push whatever content they please until this gets delivered to the end user, all neat and frozen. Clearly Google took precious little steps into making sure that these guys wouldn’t spoil the fun (but hey, it’s not GNU. Ain’t you tired of all the angel company buzz anyways?). I need a jailbreak just so I can buy apps(!). I need a jailbreak to get rid of the krapps. Heck I might even install an iOS emulator.
- Google aren’t interested in selling apps. The (Apple) App Store, the submission process, the presumption of censorship and partiality, that’s all work put into creating a store that’s inviting and engaging – for the worse, and definitely for the better.
The Android marketplace owes it’s momentum to the App Store. Without the latter, it might take substantial advertisement budgets and a complex network of publishers and distributors to sell apps on Android. In other words apps will get more expensive, 90% of app users will use a cracked version and indies will go back to the day job (Bye bye to the buzzing and vibrant community of happy-go-lucky developers that brought you Angry birds, Doodle Jump and Tiny Wings).
- If you want an affordable, modern handset and don’t wanna be appy, an Android phone is no worse than an iPhone, and a lot cheaper if you shrug off the latest offerings.
For high quality adult content, get a subscription with an established provider and watch it on your iPad. For anything more interactive the real world may occasionally offer a more tangible (tactile, even) experience. Anyway who needs to jerk off on the go? In parks? On the underground? In the middle of a sodding meeting?
Even in the 22nd century, you’ll be shamed when your android gets all over you in the street, purring in a moist, digital voice.