In yesterday's Mobile review, I went on a little (or not so little) rant about Gizmodo and TechCrunch articles decrying Android for cheapness. The articles can be found here: Android is Popular Because it's Cheap, Not Because it's Good by Sam Biddle (Gizmodo) and The Truth Is That Android Is Cheap, Not Good by John Biggs (TechCrunch). Both of these writers are die-hard Apple fanatics, you can read their trolling yourself, but even worse, when they "review" Android devices, it's as a secondary device, they do not force themselves to actually use them exclusively. I am sick of the FUD that many mainstream bloggers see fit to spew forth, and wish to rectify it.
When I undertook the iPad Mini experiment, I forced myself to use the device exclusively. I still used my Android smartphone, but I only picked up the Nexus 7 to keep it updated, not to browse or anything more. I read books on the iPad Mini, I surfed the web, I used it for Evernote (and cooking) as well as watching YouTube videos. And I did not like it. My reasons are myriad, but I do not have the arrogance to claim my reasons are right (or the "truth"). Sam's article regarding the rise of the Android platform includes gems like this one: "People without money happened." The original pricing scheme for the iPhone was 4GB/8GB $499/599 with two-year contract. That makes the cost of the first iPhone over $700, for 4GB of storage. Buying that doesn't make you smart or cool or discerning, it makes you a sucker. The first iPhone was a HUGE jump from non-touch optimized interfaces, but the rest of the applications, etc, were nothing great. Capability-wise it was not far in front of other devices, it was just touch-optimized. Anything else is pure revisionist history.
I have often decried when people will buy $1 phones on contract (devices such as the iPhone 4 or Samsung Galaxy S3 from Amazon Wireless) that they are doing themselves a disservice, I don't like it when people will even buy $99 phones on contract (devices such as the iPhone 4S or the Motorola Droid RAZR HD MAXX). Because if you are buying on contract, you should get the most out of your commitment to the network, because they will take you for everything that they can. Sam denigrates that Samsung is marketing to African Americans by using LeBron James and the Galaxy Note 2 (if there's a person for whom a phone as large as the Note makes sense, it's the best basketball player in the world, but I digress). He references that the "Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project shows that Android is the chosen smartphone of people without money." Not only is this a remarkably entitled and pompous statement, but it ignores other stats from that study, such as 50% of Americans use the mobile web for the majority of their browsing. In Sam's words, Apple is both "too stubborn" and "too smart" to go after poorer Americans (I've noted in the past that Apple will struggle in the developing world until they create a pricing strategy that makes sense in those nations). Poor people need smartphones too, and they need other technology as well. Apple does not have to charge $329 for the 16GB/WiFi iPad Mini, or $500 for the 16GB/WiFi iPad, they choose to do so, to create a (false) sense of prestige and quality. Apple makes barriers to entry so high, that in my mind the best valued device is the 16 GB iPhone 5 ($199 on contract - the same as top quality Android devices). For every other mobile device, there is an equivalent Android device for less.
Here are some undeniable ways that Android is better than iPhone:
- Google Now - the Search and Personal Assistant capability scrapes your e-mail and web searches to return you information that you desire. This can be the traffic on your daily commute, the status of packages you've ordered, and the scores of your favorite teams. It can offer information on your flight status, and Google keeps adding more. Popular Science called Google Now the Innovation of the Year, no small feat. It is innovative, and nothing Apple has touches it.
- True Multitasking - the multitasking in iOS is bunk, and garbage. It barely works and only for a handful of programs. People throw around that "Android is open...thus better," without realizing what the "openness" means. It means that any program can be running in the background, present in your notifications, enabling interaction with many tasks at once.
- Sharing - the Android operating system allows programs to talk to each other. It allows them to share data to any source. I can take something and instantly add it to any other installed app. I can share data to my Pocket application, enabling offline reading and consumption. This is simply not possible with iOS. iOS only allows you to share data with the applications of Apple's choice, and then not as cleanly.
- Customization - Android allows you to download the browser, mapping, texting, email, launcher, keyboard and anything else you desire and make it the default app of choice. iOS does not. Plain and simple, you can create the Android experience that suits you, how it suits you. This includes things like widgets (available on both your homescreen and your lockscreen) and which apps even show up on your homescreen. I could go on for days, but the device that you use the most (smartphone) should be customized to fit your style, Android allows this, iOS does not.
- Google Integration - Google's integration into Android is (no way!) extraordinary. You can access any of their top notch services from your Android phone, including Google Voice, Drive, Maps and Mail. My Google TV app is amazing, and annoying for others who want to control my TV. Google's app development is so good, their apps are also recognized as top iOS apps as well. Google integration is a deal maker for me, and really hamstrung iOS's compatibility with my life.
- App Scaling - I wrote about this extensively in my review of my time with the iPad Mini, but it is important. Yes iOS has more "iPad" apps, but only because it has to. If the app is non-optimized, it is a miserable experience. Pixelation, not even fitting the edges of the screen and more.
- Android lets you choose - There is no one-size fits all Android solution. If you like a skin, you can buy that OEM's devices. If you want water resistant, there are the Droid RAZR series of phones, if you want removeable batteries, there are the Samsung Galaxy lines of phones. If you want a bigger phone (Galaxy Note) or smaller (Motorola RAZR M). Android gives you choices, in device, options, and capabilities. Everything about the Android ecosystem is designed to give the consumer options instead of having one company making all the choices for you.
To further this argument (and derail the "cheapness" argument), when I purchased my HTC Evo 4G it was the exact same price as an iPhone, except Sprint did not carry the iPhone. The same was true for smartphones on T-Mobile and Verizon. The iPhone is not as popular because it is not as universal, not because it is cheap. Cheap iPhones are always available off contract. The iPhone was not even available for any carrier besides AT&T until 2011 - which drove Android marketshare more than any other factor. Users wanted a similar experience to iOS, and it could only be found via Android. iPhones may be a symbol of the rich and success, but they are not only for the rich. Many users rely on MVNOs (pre-paid carriers) for their service, only Straight Talk is offering an unlocked iPhone on their network. Not making the iPhone available may have been a marketing ploy (and a result of Steve Jobs' insane controlling tendencies) but it crippled iOS more than anything else.
Lastly, if Apple allowed Samsung or HTC or even Motorola to design an iOS product, they'd jump at the chance, but Apple won't. The more you look at it, the reason that Android is trouncing iOS in adoption and use is Apple. In every way, they have made their devices harder to get and less universal. They are not bad devices, not in the slightest, but they are meant for a target consumer, and it shows. This consumer is invested in the iOS world, has a personal computer (Mac or Windows), and purchases content online. For those of us who do not fit that bill, iOS is not for us. I think despite Apple's inroad into emerging markets, their target consumers mostly reside in the US, Canada and Northern Europe. The steep barriers to entry designed at countries with heavy middle classes do not translate to poorer nations. Apple is the reason Android is winning, not the other way around.
Despite my list, I do not think that Android is for everyone. I think for many users (especially those already invested in the iOS ecosystem) the opportunity cost is too high to switch. But, for others, Android is the perfect place for them to reside. When you start with a blank slate, both mobile operating systems are equally easy to learn and master. Making technology choices is an intensely personal decision, one that should be chosen on each individual's needs and not because some tech blogger says so. If you are not informed when making technology choices, you are doomed to regret them. I often pull out my Nexus 4 and amaze iPhone users with what I can do, but I'm extra dorky that way. My problem is not that iOS is bad or anything, it's that too many bloggers fill the net with FUD, in cheap attempts to garner pageviews and attention. Instead of providing true analysis, they spit rhetoric and opinion, and pass them as "truths." Please keep your minds open when reading, and take anything guys like Biddle and Biggs write with a grain of salt.
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