Thanks to gracious Google Mobile team, I was able to play with Android for the last couple of weeks. Specifically with Motorola Droid. Here are some observations and comparisons in usability of iPhone OS vs Android OS.
I’ve been an iPhone user for the last 2 1/2 years, so I will not go into detail on what is good or bad about the iPhone. Let’s just assume it is a platform that I am very familiar with.
Android ended up being a very interesting experience. Immediate observation is that it was less intuitive to get going, definitely for an iPhone user. Gestures which I accustomed to, sometimes work and sometimes not. General feel of the screen, is a bit strange as well. It feels a little slicker than iPhone, but also more sensitive, which results in unintended clicks. Even my 10 year old, played with it for 2 minutes, and then started asking – how do I do this, how do I do that. Eventually I’ve let him figure it out on his own, but he was much quicker with an iPhone couple of years ago, when he was 8. That shows me – certain barrier on ease of use for a regular consumer.
I was generally impressed with configurability of Android. User is in control of many aspects of the OS, which is a breath of fresh air coming from an iPhone. Settings menu is much more organized than the iPhone, I have access to all kinds of Call and Network settings, Applications Settings etc. For example I found very useful to be able to see which services are running in the background on the phone, how much memory they consume and being able to control deep settings of those apps. That’s nice.
Typing was also an interesting experience. Droid has a physical keyboard, which I actually found to be quite annoying. I was constantly misspelling words, and since I was an avid Blackberry user, I can’t blame it solely on me being too used to an iPhone virtual keys. For some reason physical buttons on Droid don’t have a good feel to them, which makes typing a challenge. Virtual keyboard was actually even better than iPhone’s. I found “word suggestions” feature to be extremely useful – and my typing was actually faster.
Droid has 4 buttons on the bottom of the phone. I found it to be confusing. “Home” has the same functionality as iPhone’s one button, but then there is “contextual settings” button, and “search button” (which you can access through contextual one as well) and “back” button. I would much rather have Home button play the back function, by clicking it once, and serving the Home function by holding it for 2 sec. I would also remove the Search button and move contextual menu to the side of the phone.
Downloaded apps are less organized on the Android. There is basically one space where all your apps are organized alphabetically. You need to work really hard to reorganize them. I find iPhone’s multiple app screens to be much better strategy in organization. Technically you can accomplish similar thing on the Android but its harder.
Integration with Google Voice is fantastic. Very easy – and it completely takes over the phone, if you choose to do so. I configured it to make all international calls using Google Voice and domestic using Verizon account – and it performs flawlessly and seamlessly, without me even thinking about it. Very nicely done.
Integration with Gmail is also very nice. It feel like you are using native Gmail browser based app. All same features, labels etc. Technically you can use browser based HTML5 Gmail on the iPhone, but it’s slower and clunkier than the native email app on Android.
Top bar on Android has all the notifications (new email, new update etc). You need to drag it down to see those. I find it actually to be not very intuitive and somewhat hard to do since it too thin. You can also get to notifications through contextual menu. I think iPhone implementation of little red dots showing updates for every app is much nicer UI.
Maps has built in navigation which works pretty well. In general Maps app looks sharper and clearer than the iPhone one.
Android’s Market (equivalent of iTunes app store) does not have near the variety of apps that iPhone has. I expect it to change rapidly, as developers will follow the platform which has growing number of users. With that I expect an app usage on the Android to be smaller than on iPhone. It just seems more intuitive to use an app on an iPhone and it seems just a bit harder and clunkier on the Android – which I believe will affect consumer behaviour.
Verizon service was definitely better than AT&T. It was more reliable, calls were not dropping, and it worked better in harder to reach places (like NYC subway).
All in all – Android is very impressive as a standalone platform. It feels less impressive, oh though solid as a competitor to an iPhone. The argument that its open – is fantastic to developers, but in my opinion, its somewhat mute to a regular consumer.
If you have an iPhone – my recommendation would be to stick with it. If you have an old phone, you should absolutely consider an Android based phone (but please, not on AT&T network, which is terrible).
If you are developing mobile apps – you should absolutely drive your team to develop for both platforms, as I believe Android will be very successful.