Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Thoughts on the Nexus One

In case you've been in a cave, you will have noticed that Google have released their own branded Android phone, the Nexus One (in the States, at least).

I can't help smiling at the responses saying it's some kind of 'iPhone killer' - it falls a long way short in so many important areas - seamless syncing with iTunes, a high quality app store and the user experience to name but three (emphasis mine; I know it's possible to sync with iTunes and there is an Android app store, but there's a gulf in quality at the moment).

A designer friend of mine maintains that Google are making a mistake targetting developers, rather than users. Obviously the user experience is one of the key reasons for the iPhone's success, but I think other factors (functions and features) will come into play as well. You can help users through helping developers, so long as you pay very close attention to the user experience as well.

So, what can Android / Nexus One offer that the iPhone can't? Freedom. You can install whatever you like on the Nexus One, whether it's on the (currently unappealing) official Android App Store, one of the other Android app repositories, or handed to you directly by the developer (I haven't seen the Android App Store as seen on the phone itself, but Tim O'Reilly claims its pretty good).

My prediction is that, over time, we'll start to see more and more benefits available on Android phones that are unavailable on the iPhone. I think we can expect the UI to improve somewhat - Google have money to spend on design. While it's unlikely it'll ever catch up with Apple in this department (a very subjective debate), perhaps it doesn't have to. The additional functionality will, for many, outweigh the less effective user interface.

What can we expect in terms of additional features? Some obvious ones spring to mind. Tethering the phone to a laptop so you can access the web over 3G (without a costly bolt-on) is very worthwhile. Making calls using your favorite VOIP client is another. Pornography apps is a third category - snigger all you like, it's popular! Have a look at all these apps that get rejected, thanks mainly to Apple's restrictive app store policy. Tasty.

The presence of another big name smartphone on the market will increase the size of the market overall, and the competition will do the iPhone no harm at all. And there will always be enough differences between the two offerings to appeal to different customer types. Bring on the competition!

Incidently, articles such as this one in Ars Technica claiming that the option to buy the phone free of a carrier is a game changer are off the mark. You can buy unlocked iPhones in France for an extra cost, but only 5% of early iPhone customers chose to do so. The vast majority of phones would need to be sold unlocked before quality of service would become the key differentiator between carriers - at least to the point needed to justify the huge expense of bolstering their networks (recommended: Fake Steve takes AT&T to task, hilarity ensues).

7 comments:

Jim Lundblad said...

Latest statistics, is Android OS is outselling iPhone, ok, that is not just the nexus one, but the OpenSource OS that Google released, so the whole "iPhone Killer" is not right for the phone in it self, but very much so for the OS. As for UX, i find the experience on the Android to be much better than that on the iPhone. Firstly Multitasking, secondly why use iTunes, it's evil. My android syncs with Spotify and Songbird (probably the best mp3 playing software out there) very effortless.

Phil Whitehouse said...

I think this is an overly-simplistic view of the landscape:

- the iPhone has been around for 2 years, and therefore to compare like with like we should look at Android sales after 2 years. The vast majority of potential iPhone customers now have one, so the flattening of sales is inevitable.

- the iPhone and Android aren't in precisely the same market. Android is after the largest possible customer base, whereas Apple is focused on the largest possible profit margin. They sell 1/10th the number of phones which Nokia sell, but nearly double the profit. Hence the iPhone being positioned as a luxury device, whereas Android is more everyman. Google wants "most", Apple wants "best".

- Comparing the UX for both devices is by it's nature a very subjective experience, but I must admit you're the first I've heard say that the overall UX for Android is better. Most people - in my subjective experience - seem to disagree with you.

- Apple haven't introduced widespread multitasking to protect the experience. See previous point about "best". The devices have similar resources e.g. RAM, processor, and it stands to reason that multitasking will have a direct bearing on the experience. Possible does not always mean desirable.

- iTunes can't be considered in isolation. You have to consider the iPod / iPhone / iPad / Apple TV integration, the iTunes store, particularly the quality of apps - the whole end to end experience. Apple wins hands down. On a personal level, I really don't get Spotify - I want to choose my music, thanks very much!

FND said...

> Apple haven't introduced to protect the experience.

sigh

Phil Whitehouse said...

*Shrug*

No seriously, it would be good to know your thoughts on why Apple are introducing multitasking gradually as the hardware specs improve gradually, as opposed to full multitasking from the outset. Performance is the only reason I can think of.

FND said...

> it would be good to know your thoughts on why Apple are introducing
> multitasking gradually as the hardware specs improve gradually

Perhaps they're realizing the demand, as alternatives like Android
demonstrate (to users) that multitasking is not only feasible, but
perfectly sensible?

I don't really know, or care, too much about what Apple thinks - but it
does bug me that smart people like yourself seem to just buy into their
less-than-genuine assertions.

Also, your argument kinda falls down in the face of the iPad, no?

Phil Whitehouse said...

If you look back at my original blog post I thought I was pretty balanced. Last month I've also written a pretty scathing blog post about Snow Leopard, Mail.app and iCal. I don't pretend Apple are perfect. But I do understand, and respect, their decision to restrict multitasking.

I can't remember a single time where I've wished the iPhone had multi-tasking. I only ever use the screen for one thing at once, and things like iPod and phone functionality remains available. That's just me.

As for the iPad, my understanding is that it's blisteringly fast, and this is often the first reaction of those who play with it. The average joe doesn't appreciate how resource allocation works in a device like this, and Apple has decided to control this. No one is being forced to buy the product.

Phil Whitehouse said...

Google admitting publicly that badly designed third party apps running in the background have a bad effect on performance: link