It’s been a little over a year now that I’ve had my iPhone and I’ve become so used to the simple way that it works, I’ve begun complaining. “There’s little to no customization,” I might rattle off one day. “I can’t stand Apple’s App Store policies,” I’ll muse the next. But there’s one thing I will admit, nonetheless – the iPhone just works.
I’m just a handful of days into trying my hand at an Android phone and, while the phone itself is impressive, I’ve already run into some problems that a year into iPhone-ownership I’ve never even come close to encountering.
When it comes to iPhone customization, it’s true – there’s not much. You can change the background, the ringtone, some alert settings and put icons into their own folders, but that’s about it. There are no customizable widgets, themes or anything of the sort. And the app store, as many a developer has complained, has a set of policies that can be restrictive and feel a bit like moving back in with your parents after getting a taste of true freedom – no rated R movies, no late nights and certainly no foul language.
I’ve bemoaned the state of iOS increasingly over the past year as closed but, if two days into the open world of Android, this is the state of things, then I might be tempted to agree that quality can quickly be sacrificed with openness.
Just days ago, I got my hands on an HTC Thunderbolt and, while I’m not here to talk about the device itself, I find myself unsure. I know, any user getting into something new has a growth period, so I’m not ready to nit pick the finer usability issues of iOS or Android. I am, however, ready to talk about two points that seem like big ones for the state of Android – finding apps and then downloading apps that don’t lock your phone and send it into epileptic-like fits.
On the first point, I’ve searched for app after app only to find that I hadn’t put in the exact correct name. It’s not “Color” it’s “Color Beta.” Really? This has been the case time and time again as I search for apps only to have someone tell me the exact name I need to enter. No partial search? For an OS put out by a company that builds, primarily, the world’s most popular search engine this just seems ridiculous.
Now, for the second point. Today, I found myself in a situation where I wanted to use my Android (because it admittedly has a better camera than my iPhone 3GS) to take pictures. I opened the Android Market, searched for Flickr and quickly clicked on the app named Flickr that had the Flickr icon. Great. Once the download completed, I tapped on the icon and suddenly a website opened up to a phishing warning. I tried to exit, but it just reopened. Again and again. No matter what combination of buttons I tried, the phone re-entered this unusable state of trying to reload this prohibited website and randomly rebooting.
Not in a year and a half has my iPhone done anything similar.
Now, I’m not saying this makes the thing unusable. I rebooted the phone, deleted the app and went on with my day, but I can only imagine a less confident mobile user going through this experience. I might have quickly returned to the store where I purchased the device to get them to fix it before the phone burst into flames or some other such thing.
Of course, Google knows that there are mal-intentioned app developers out there. It recently responded to the revelation that more than 50 applications in the Android Market contained malware that could give a remote user control over a phone with remote app removal functionality, but does that change anything for the user? After all, I was simply looking for a well known brand, found the name and icon, installed it, and suddenly my phone was unusable. It’s great that, if it were taking control of my phone, Google could stop it once it became aware, but it didn’t change anything in the moment.
I’m certainly not about to abandon my Android. I love the potential for customization and as someone heavily involved in the Google ecosystem, I’m excited to see the deeper integration afforded by Android. But is this the cost of “open”? Unfindable apps and apps that, once they are found, nearly brick your device?
If so, I might argue that Google either needs to close things down just a little bit or find a way to quickly and easily surface more reliable, trustworthy apps for its users.
Disclaimer: I was recently provided with an HTC Thunderbolt by HTC.