They Think I Hate Android.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, and have been postponing it. But today, one of my friends bought a Samsung phone worth 20,000, going against my advice of buying a better phone from Micromax (similar looking), that was available for around 15,000. And that, was my tipping point. I couldn’t wait any longer to write this post.

Before I start, some things you should know about me. I’m a tech enthusiast, not a journalist. Those who know me, would know that I don’t side with anyone, or any company. Yes, I love Apple but I appreciate only those products that deserve appreciation (I never, for once, felt that the iPhone 4S was a worthy phone to buy, and I did recommend those who came to me, not to buy it). And so, I request you to read this post without keeping any sort of inhibitions in your minds about what side I’m on. Just because I’m not.

Again, before I start, some things you should know about Android. Android is an open-source (in layman terms, free) mobile and tablet operating system (hereon: OS). An operating system is like the skeleton of a human body. Just as the skeleton provides the basic guidelines and structure to the rest of the body, the OS provides the base for software to interact with and make use of the hardware. So, every phone, tablet or computer needs an OS. Most computers surrounding us in India, run different variants of Microsoft’s Windows Operating System. Some may run Windows XP, some others Windows 7, and some others even Windows 8, with 8 being the latest one that has come out. With time, there are new features, faster operations, and the ability to run newer hardware, added to the OS which gets us newer OSes.

Android is developed and maintained by Google (not by Samsung, as most people have been assuming). Samsung, Sony, HTC and others, use this Android, supplied by Google, customize it, and add it to their phones, as the OS. It’s like Lenovo or Dell or HP adding a few of their custom software (battery software, customer care software, etc.)  over your laptop. Similarly, manufacturers of mobiles, have different flavors of skins they add on the stock (pure, as supplied by Google) Android. Sony’s skin is called Timescape, Samsung’s is called TouchWiz, HTC’s Sense, and so forth.

Google itself does make phones and tablets too. They are a part of its Nexus program where manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Asus make devices for Google, and supply it with stock (the purest form) of Android.

I will be comparing Android with iOS (the OS that powers Apple iDevices like the iPhone, iPad, etc.) wherever necessary because it’s the only another mature and mass-adopted OS in the consumer market today.

Now that I’ve gotten the task of explaining the tech terms out of the way, I can go ahead with the real post.

In the recent years, the trend of touch-screen phones started with the crazy and innovative introduction of the iPhone, back in 2007, at the hands of Steve Jobs. That, was where it all started. Google started building and testing Android in 2005. Although, Android didn’t come to consumers until September, 2008. After that, it has seen any real sale till late-2009 when Android 1.6, Donut, came out. And it was only after the release of Froyo (Android 2.2) in mid-2010 that the major spurt in consumer adoption started.

Since then, there has been no looking back for Android and it’s commendable.

But, like there’s good about it, there’s enough bad to keep me from spending my money on one. At least as yet.

1) Lack of consistency

As Android started gaining popularity, manufacturers started picking up Android, and they started putting Android in phones of all shapes and sizes and screen resolutions [screen resolution is the maximum pixels a given screen can display clearly (the more the better)]. Why? Because Google never really placed a requirement on what kind of hardware would be ‘optimal’ to run Android (except that there should be 4 buttons). As a result, we have different CPUs, RAMs, screen sizes, and practically everything else you can imagine as a mobile spec, available in the market.

And that leaves the developers (people who make the applications you run) nuts. What should they develop for? Just as there can’t be the same medicine for every illness, the same app can’t work for every screen size and resolution. And thus, more often than you’d like (especially if you picked up a sub-10k Android phone), most apps won’t download, run, or run correctly as the developer intended, for you phone.

Comparing that to other OSes, Microsoft clearly stated the basic CPU, RAM and screen resolution needs for the WP8; BlackBerry has specified its resolutions; Apple has changed the resolution of iOS devices only twice since 2007, quadrupling it the first time (with the iPhone 4), and elongating it the other (in 2012, for the iPhone 5), neither of which affected any of the already developed apps and still runs them perfectly.

Don’t you think this pisses the developers who make apps for you? Having to customize each app they make, for a million (I know I’m exaggerating) different screen sizes? Doesn’t that change the experience of the app they can provide? I think it does, big time.

2) Apps are all about the quality

It’s proven, by surveys and users, that the quality and simplicity of use, of iOS apps is just so much better than their Android counterparts, made by the same developer. Why? Consistency. In 95% of the apps for the iOS, the upper right corner has a ‘Back’ icon, that takes you back to the previous screen. With Android, that’s absent. The back button does a million different things, in different apps.

3) Lack of upgrades

Android has to be customized for your phone so that it can run on the specifications of your phone. And while the newer versions of Android keep coming, manufacturers are more busy in customizing the newer versions to suit their swanky, new phones, than to care about a customer who has already made a purchase. Thus, before they customize the upgrade for you and forward it to you, Google releases the next version of Android, and the next.

As I write this today, Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) has been out for 4 months. And yet, more than 56% of Android users are using Android 2.3 and below [current stats from Google (they may have changed by slight margins by the time you read it)]. Leave alone that, I know of people who’ve just spent a heavy sum anywhere between 15,000-25,000 on their phones, only to be served with an out-dated Android 2.3 OS. To me, it’s like buying an expired food item. Shouldn’t that customer feel cheated?

That’s not the case with Nexus phones and tablets, though. They have the standard configuration that Google has specified for itself, and thus they are upgraded on the day the OS releases, just as iOS devices. (As far as I know, the Android 4.2 usage you see, is all because of these Nexus devices. I don’t know of any phone or tablet being given a 4.2 upgrade yet.)

4) Security

Android, the way it is today, is much less secure than iOS. There have been consistent talks about malware, spyware and virus attacks, apps leaking information, memory leaks, etc. It is just not secure. The fact that you need to be protected from viruses, with an anti-virus software, on an OS is disturbing enough for me. More so, when I can’t trust a phone with my data and contact details, unless I’m guaranteed that it’s safe. I really, really can’t. (There are too many links that I’d be directing you to if I were to point out some of these, and so I won’t point to any.)

With every version, Google does address security issues, but as aforementioned, when you get the update matters, not when Google addresses it.

5) It’s really not about being able to share stuff over Bluetooth

Everytime, everytime someone tells me Android is a better OS than iOS because the prior lets you share stuff over Bluetooth, it boils my blood.

Every company has a policy, and Apple’s (like Microsoft’s) is to curb piracy. As all of you will agree, the only reason we’ve been known to use Bluetooth, out here in India, is to share music files. And Apple simply doesn’t want you to do that. You want a song? Buy it on the Apple store.

Thinking about it beyond what we want, it makes sense. I write as a hobby, and I will most probably have a book published some day in the future. When it comes out, it’d kill me that pirated copies of my book are being circulated around. It’d kill my livelihood, it’d kill my desire to write further because I don’t get the monetary appreciation I deserve, for my work. How would a worker feel if he isn’t paid for the work he has done, or how would a student feel if he gets less marks than what he really deserves? That’s how people feel when you pirate their work. Enough said.

6) It doesn’t ‘Just work’

In my experience with phones (and from first-hand accounts), an Android phone user always takes more time to get used to and get acquainted to a new phone than an iOS user.

‘It just works’ is a phrase that Steve Jobs said during the first iPhone keynote speeches. Since then, it has been used widely by various people for their products, to show how simple they are to use. But, with Android, I find a new user, more confused about where to and how to start, than with iOS.

7) Usage

There appears to be a common consensus that a phone that has a touchscreen and lets you play Fruit Ninja or Temple Run or Angry Birds (whichever you prefer), chat with everyone on WhatsApp for free, listen to music, and watch videos on a big screen is a smartphone.

To burst the bubble, it’s not. A phone that connects to the internet and lets you be connected to the world, is. But, how many of the Android users actually utilize their phones for the reasons it’s a smartphone? A really tiny fraction. And that’s exactly what saddens me.

On the contrary, iOS users do more with their iPhones than what Android phones do. What does smartphone and Android sales depict in numbers? Considering that Android today has almost 65% of the market share and iOS 30%, what do Android users use their phones for, if 67% of mobile web traffic comes from iOS users, and 33% from Android users? What happens to all those ‘smart’phones that are sold?

8) Quality of the device

This pointer has more to do with the quality of phones made by Samsung than any other manufacturer. (Sony has made some really amazing phones and they have felt nothing less than pearls; similar for HTC.)

I saw this video a while ago, from an Android website, that clearly stated the 42k Samsung Galaxy SIII back as ‘It’s just cheap plastic anyway.‘ That guy hated the iPhone 5. And in a drop-test comparison, he referred to the SIII as cheap plastic. It is pretty amusing to me that someone would spend 42k on a phone, that’s cheap plastic. I am left speechless. Whatever happened to expecting a quality finish?

Similar is the case with lower-end phones from other indie and Chinese manufacturers. The lack of perfection observed with devices from Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry just seems to be absent when it comes to Android, for some reason.

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Don’t get me wrong. I think Android is a great project. It’s a great OS. And it has amazing features. But, I just don’t think it’s for the end-user. It feels more hack-y to me. In my opinion, it’s a nerd’s OS. It doesn’t simplify the life of the user. I hate what companies (even Sony, which I admire immensely otherwise) does to Android. They spoil stock Android. I also hate that better phones from Sony, HTC and others, get overlooked for not-so-good alternatives from Samsung, just because it’s Samsung.

Honestly, I don’t have an answer for anyone who asks me why a 50k iPhone is better than any random 10k Android phone. Because the fact that someone is asking me such a question talks about the lack of awareness. It’s the difference in 2 different platforms, 2 OSes, 2 companies, and 2 users. And that’s what I hope to have explained over the course of this blogpost.

The scenario in the smartphone market today is not about what a phone does, or what it doesn’t. Lets face it, every phone does everything. It’s about how it does it, and I think that’s all that should matter.

Until the next post…

Update (08.02.2013 : 13:37): While going through my RSS feed today, I just came across this article in the Washington Post about the lack of security in Android, and its widespread-ness. In case you thought I didn’t have enough proof for it, here’s one.

Also, a dear friend and reader, just made the above analogy of the OS and hardware better. He says, assume the hardware as the skeleton, the OS as the muscles and tissues that hold it together, and the skin (the default supplied by Google, or that added by manufacturers) as the well, the skin!