Understanding Apple fans

There's a gap between Google's version of Android and what the mobile carriers deliver.

The original Nexus One from GoogleHaving admitted a few months ago that I’ve come to terms with JavaScript, I have to admit that recent events have made me more sympathetic with iPhone fans. I’m a long-time Android user, and I don’t plan to change; Android has a better track record on innovation and on openness. You can debate Google’s commitment to open source, but openness is a joke when you can’t even get an app on the phone without Apple’s approval.

Apple’s design sense is admittedly better, but Android’s user interface is pretty good; if Apple didn’t exist to be teach us what great design was, we’d certainly be happy with Android. Way, way better than any of the feature-phones I’ve used in the past.

So what changed? I’ve been a sheltered Android user: I go to a lot of Google events, and at one point had a whole stack of Android phones sitting on my desk (most of which were tied to carriers that I don’t use). I’m also an AT&T customer, and it was a simple matter to put an AT&T SIM into an unlocked phone and get on the network. But recently, I was running across the street when my trusty Nexus fell out of my pocket and had an unfortunate rendezvous with the wheels of a passing truck. So I reluctantly bought a new Motorola Atrix from AT&T. It’s a nice piece of hardware: 1 GHz dual core processor, plenty of memory, etc. No complaints about the hardware.

But man, AT&T’s notion of Android is a lot different from Google’s. Android as Google ships is it really quite good. Not excellent, but more than good enough. AT&T has taken that basic goodness and broken it by piling on glopware, bloatware, and you-don’t-need-it-and-you-can’t-delete-it-ware. They’ve rearranged things in stupid ways, changed icons that were familiar and serviceable, and botched things up in many other ways. An AT&T logo for the browser? Why would I associate the AT&T’s death star with the web? Why list apps you’ve downloaded separately from apps that come with the phone? Why banish Google Maps from the home screen? (AT&T has its own GPS navigation app, which they charge for using.)

I could go on, but I won’t. Each change was minor, taken by itself, but they added up, and turned a good user experience into a mediocre user experience. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so strongly if I weren’t accustomed to the neater, trimmer Android that Google delivers; but suddenly, the light went on, and I said, “Oh, that’s why Apple fans hate Android so much.” I don’t know what other carriers do; does Verizon mangle Android so badly on the phones they ship? As I said at the outset, I’ve been sheltered, and the real world isn’t living up to my expectations.

The price of openness may well be letting vendors break stuff. And I suppose I’m willing to pay that price. But I don’t have to be happy about it. I hope Google can figure out how to exert some control over what vendors do with Android; that would be good for the whole community. AT&T and other carriers are not helping Android, or themselves, by turning a great product into a second-rate one. And maybe I’m becoming soft in my old age, but I now understand what Apple fans hate about Android.

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  • Thibault Halpern

    Don’t forget that one of the main things Apple tried to do, and it basically succeeded, was separate the carrier from the cellphone. That was one of Apple’s approach. By that, they meant that carrier will provide the network services and nothing else. Carriers provide the data and voice networks. Apple will provide the UI, design, hardware, software, and everything else.

    Google’s approach was not this at all and therefore you are experiencing what you are experiencing with the Android phones. It’s because the carrier is not separate from the cellphone which is why you have these assinine UI issues.

    Apple for the most part has succeeded and even more so today because now, it is able to offer unlocked current models of iPhone worldwide. Previously, Apple was unable to do that in the U.S. I don’t have actual data to say why, but my educated guess is that it’s because U.S. carriers were still having a bit of a hold-on control over cellphones. But thank goodness now unlocked iPhones of the current generation can be had!

  • http://jonathan-peterson.com Jonathan Peterson

    Once you’ve rooted your phone, you can eassily remove whatever cruft the carrier and/or manufacturer have stuffed on there while still getting over the air os and application updates.

    http://www.androidcentral.com/motorola-atrix-2-rooted-manual-one-click-methods

    I will never again buy a smartphone that I can’t root. I’m STILL happily using my t-mobile G1 – running android 2.2 (I’ve run 2.3, but it’s sluggish). Because it’s rooted, I’ve gotten 3 years out of life out of a phone that was abandoned by it’s maker and it’s carrier almost 2 years ago.

  • jn

    I can report that Sprint is moderate with their Android modifications. They add all kinds of unneeded non-uninstallable software but they don’t place it front and center.

    This is only tangentially related but worth mentioning in this context: In Germany the model of network operators selling phones as part of a two-year contract has been mostly overturned in recent years. Over there you can combine any phone with any contract. Network operators are still selling phones (including “exclusive” phones), but you either pay the full price of the phone upfront or in 24 equal installments which are a separate (and possible the only) line item on your bill. Two factors helped this customer-friendly development: One technology standard across all operators, and a healthy competition between 4 major network operators and various big white label networks. Anyways, the reason I mention this, is that it makes software customization by the network operator difficult and/or useless.

  • http://drysdale.me Jaime

    Most Apple fans have never used Android… so to make the claim that he knows why Apple fans hate about Android, is non-sensical.
    Apple fans like apple… but don’t necessarily hate the competition… it doesn’t really matter to them.

    As an iPhone user, I like the way that Apple controls what is available (in the way of apps). At least you know that the app you download isn’t going to screw up your phone.

  • JB

    The ability for carriers to differentiate the offering is the price that we pay for Android flexibility and avoiding an end-to-end locking-in.

    Now I don’t think that carrier-crafted UI has to be crap (although it does tend to be) and I’m not clear why Apple has to emphasize lock-in to the point of a pathology but we have what we have.

    I don’t imagine a market where every carrier sells only vanilla Android is viable. They must be able to distinguish their wares or suffer plummeting margins. This characteristic goes hand-in-hand with a modular offering rather than an end-to-end solution.

    Android’s flexibility is also expressed in the ability for a user to distinguish themselves into either a standard offering or a custom offering by means of gaining root access. As long as manufacturers maintain their leverage against the carrier and don’t lock their bootloader this flexibility will remain. You can either leave your phone in the configuration the carrier provided or free your phone from the cruft the carrier proposes by rooting the phone. It’s up to you.

    My hope is that Android continues to work towards perfecting a framework which minimizes the damage a carrier can do with their custom UIs.

  • Noibs

    Carriers are carriers. Period. The rest of the world seems to understand that, but not in US.

    Thanks to Apple, we’re on the road to the carriers being dumb pipes.

    What if an ISP could dictate what computer hardware you had to use (and the software) to access the Internet? That’s the situation now with cell phones other than iPhone.

    It’s total BS and the carriers should go to ***.

    I wish Apple would use some of it’s $70+ billion of cash to either buy a carrier or else start their own. That would end the data caps, paying to text messages, etc.

  • David Raw.

    “I will never again buy a smartphone that I can’t root.”

    Good for you, but I’m thinking your not the market Apple is going after.

    I myself will never buy a smartphone that I HAVE to root.

    For the same reason I don’t buy cars where I can root the engine computer.

    I got other things to do with my time that I find more fun and valuable.

    Have your fun where you can find it.

  • Rich Hopkins

    Just one more reason why Windows Phone is better. Yes, Verizon loaded it with bloatware. What did I do? Tap and hold, then tap uninstall. Bloat apps are gone. No trace of them remains. And the OS is slick enough that it doesn’t need a dual core processor to power it.

    Yes, Microsoft got this one right.

  • http://blog.purplearth.net Obbie Z

    From what I read here, it appears that carriers have done to Android what Dell, HP, et al have done to Windoze.

  • http://www.hablantia.com Peter Bennett

    Words like ‘free’ and ‘open’ are so loaded with expectations that there will always be differences between expectation and reality.

    As you move along the long chain from the coders to the end users, freedom is sucked away at each stage.

    I think there are some interesting parallels between this and the long chain between president and voters…… (_ducks_)

  • http://www.geise.com PXLated

    “I hope Google can figure out how to exert some control over what vendors do with Android”

    In other words, you want Google to be Apple.
    You can’t have “open” and “control”.

  • Mike

    I was an Apple fanboy for a decade, until Apple started behaving like a bully to it’s developers. I’ve now switched away from Apple hardware, and gone over to Linux. If I had my doubts, Apple’s refusal to come out swinging against SOPA confirmed my worst fears.

  • http://www.bijuterieonline.ro/ Bijuterii Online

    @ Noibs “Carriers are carriers. Period. The rest of the world seems to understand that, but not in US.”

    Not quite true, in Europe is the same problem, so…. there not much to be done :)

  • Shock Me

    The reason I don’t choose Android is that it is unattractive (but with some effort can be made however I like), the interface is unresponsive (by which I mean there are delays action and in the state changes of on-screen widgets), and the marketplace is un-curated.

    I very much admire some of the handsets that have been created for it. I also admire the newest Windows Phone OS. I would have one of either today if they didn’t require a voice plan and provided unlimited data.

    But for me it is the breadth of specialized apps (not the sheer amount) and the tight integration between the software, the hardware and other Apple form factors. It saves me the time needed to cobble together an alternate solution with ill-fitting parts (even when some parts are the very best in their category).

    It doesn’t always “just work” but when it does it becomes something I don’t want to live without. I don’t hate Android. I hope it stays around to goad Apple into making more fun and useful things (like a weather widget for the lock screen).

  • http://floatingbones.com Phil Earnhardt

    I was troubled with the statement you made in your opening paragraph:

    “You can debate Google’s commitment to open source, but openness is a joke when you can’t even get an app on the phone without Apple’s approval.”

    That’s not exactly true: anyone can get any app they want on their phone if they jailbreak it. Apple knows this; it’s something that keeps their policies quite liberal on what they accept.

    I liked the story over the summer of Machinarium: it’s a Flash app that was ported using Adobe’s new packaging tools to the iOS App Store (for the iPad). It had a good reputation in the Flash community; Machinarium was briefly the #1 paid iPad app in the whole store. There were problems: the app doesn’t run on an iPad 1 and it can crash on the iPad 2. Apple never pulled the app; they allowed the marketplace to sort it out. I haven’t followed; I’m sure that the developers made some improvements in the app over the summer. I have no interest in purchasing the app, but I was grateful for the laissez-faire approach that Apple had to the app.

    Some apps were pulled for capricious reasons a couple of years ago, but I haven’t heard of anything like that for quite a while.

    I know this was a tangent to the main point of your article, but I was bothered by the presumptions made in that sentence. If Apple is being capricious in excluding apps from the iOS App Store today, you should be able to identify some real examples. If you can’t, then you presumption may well be unfounded. As far as I can tell, Apple’s gatekeeping of the iOS App Store is indeed rational and of service to their customers. If you can’t cite any examples, I recommend keeping such claims out of your articles.

  • Derek

    What happened to the stack of android phones sitting on your desk? Did you ever even turn them on? How could you have just discovered this now?

  • David

    Would you accept a ‘good enough’ hip replacement? A good enough pilot on your next flight? If a loved one were kidnapped would you accept a good enough police officer?

    So why settle for a good enough phone?

  • Ted MacDonald

    So, Mike wants an open environment, and then complains when the individual manufacturers screw it up. Wake up Mike. There’s a reason why Apple has iOS locked down, and it’s for all the reasons you just detailed in your article.

    DUH

  • http://www.zylun.com/ Zylun

    Obviously, there’s a trade-off between openness and Apple’s restrictions. It seems from these comments that the benefits from each model appeal to different types of consumers; I think it’s good to have both types to balance each other. Neither Google nor Apple are going to drive the other away any time soon, so people can have their choice.

  • Daryl

    Are you kidding me? The android interface is horrible. Reminds me of windows…nothing is obvious. I have a few friends with android phones always asking me how to do something on their phone and it always takes me awhile to figure it out. I work with microsoft products all day and it’s the same song and dance. Google is a good company, but their stuff is always half-baked.

  • John B

    What about Carrier IQ?

  • http://carolune.org carolune

    I’m an Apple fan but I love the openness of Android.

    I have an Android phone – not tied to any carrier (straight from Google) but my experience has been dreadful: it’s like the corners that were chosen to be cut to be cheaper than Apple were all the wrong ones.

    A few examples: I can’t use the camera on the phone unless I buy a memory card. I can’t install most apps because they’re incompatible with that particular model of Android phone. The battery life is appalling. It died after a few weeks usage and now it won’t even charge. The phone is a Huawei Ideos.

    I’m rather sad because I’d love to play with and hack android apps, but the two things holding me back are: reliability of the product and compatibility of apps. A real shame!

  • Adam

    I won’t buy an apple device, ever. I recently doubled my battery and storage and didn’t need to go to an apple store to do it. I also have a UI that I adjusted until it makes sense to me. Try that with apple. Htc mytouch 4g, it works.

  • Svivs

    Specifying that Android’s user experience is “good enough” is what separates Apple from Google.

    Android users always talk about it’s open source as a positive, but Apple has a closed system because its ultimate concern is the user experience. Apple doesn’t want a user experience that is “good enough” it wants a user experience that is the best.

    You spoke of Google’s track record for innovation, yet Apple has been responsible for upping the ante in the smartphone market with it’s introduction of the iPhone. Apple has always been about innovating and they know that it isn’t worth rushing a product or features into a customers hands until the user experience meets their high standards.

    Apple users don’t dislike Android because we’ve experienced bloated Android devices from carriers; we just know that Apple’s UI and experience is solid and seamless and will offer us the best mobile experience that we can get.

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  • Anonymous

    Of course, the reason you like the basic Android experience is that the iPhone showed how it ought to be done.

    As to the carriers, they’re like banks. Banks don’t make most of their money from loaning out your money at higher rates than they pay you – they make it from a vast panoply of hidden and not-so-hidden fees. Similarly, carriers make money from excessive charges for incremental features – which Apple, with a totally new product partnered with a carrier willing to gamble (Cingular), did a complete end run around. They then opened up development of third party apps to leverage the platform – defining another area for Google to target.

    The phone companies are clinging to their outdated business models whenever they can, and the other smartphone makers lack either the clout or the desire to put their foot down.

    For a good summary of the issues with carriers, read What Is the Problem With the U.S. Smartphone Market? Ask the Carriers.