What’s the difference between iPhone and Android?

I work with iPhone users and Android users. I see no end of technology demos from both. It’s clear both phones are wonderful devices capable of doing amazing things.

So why do iPhone reviews make it sound like the device can walk on water, while a lot of Android reviews sound like this?

Unfortunately, these groundbreaking features come with enough fine print to give the White Pages an inferiority complex.

First, the screen… you can’t have a big screen on a small phone. The Evo is nice and thin, but it’s also tall and wide. It is not for the small of hand. People might mistake it for an iPad Nano.

The Wi-Fi hot spot business is slick…. this feature eats through a full battery charge in as little as one hour. (More on the Evo’s amazing disappearing battery in a moment.) And beware: the hot spot feature costs an extra $30 a month.

O.K., so what about Flash? … The Evo runs something called Flash Lite, which is marketing-ese for, “Sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.” It plays videos on some sites that the iPhone can’t — on Engadget, for example, plus all the blinking ads (a mixed blessing). But it still can’t play the Flash videos on CNN.com or, sadly, TV shows on Hulu.com.

All right, what about video calling? Surely this is the killer app. Imagine: your friends and family can not just hear you, as with normal phones, but see you as well (assuming they also bought Sprint Evos, of course).

Well, let’s hope they’re NASA engineers, because this feature is head-bangingly unstable….

And this?

There’s a sense, not just from reviewers, but from fans of the device, that what Android really needs is just killer hardware.Which is just absolute horse shit.

Android is an asshole of an operating system.

… I discovered software I could find no way to uninstall; programs which hung around after I was done with them with no way to quit I could find; interfaces which featured tiny poorly placed buttons near impossible to click without concentration; inconsistent search functionality where the “it’s right there on the phone” search button worked or didn’t work or did work but not as you’d think it’d work. I nearly started a tumblr called “Jesus Christ I Hate This Fucking Phone” just to document all the utterly asinine behaviors my iPhone-killer-anyday-now exhibited.

There’s an argument to be made (so of course, I’ll make it) that the Android experience failures described above are not technology failures. Android’s technology and operating system are impressive. But the whole package doesn’t seem to add up very well. Compare to iPhone, where (App Store policies to the contrary, and it’s a big contrary) the whole experience is consistent and wonderful and hangs together.

The whole experience part, I think, is the key. One suspects that on most Android phones that there’s no one–not Google, not the handset maker, not the carrier–who is taking responsibility for the whole end user experience. And it shows. David Pogue’s review describes a phone whose makers, if they made tradeoffs between features and constraints at all, traded off things that most people consider essential (size, battery, stability and consistency of experience) in favor of flashy features. The result is a phone that demos well but handles poorly. And Jack Shedd’s experience with the phone describes something that’s inconsistent and hard to use when you consider it as a whole device.

Does any of this — feature prioritization, product packaging design, user experience — sound familiar?

What’s the difference between iPhone and Android? Product management is the difference.

I’m willing to bet that the product managers on the Android phones had organizational limitations on how much of the user experience that they controlled, or edicts about must-have features in which the end user experience carried little weight, and that they could do nothing about those limitations. But show me a product manager who allows organizational pressure to impair user experience, and I’ll show you a product manager who has prioritized organizational harmony against sales success.

4 comments...What do you think?

  1. Posted by Dave J 17th June, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Full disclosure: I work for Google, but have nothing to do with Android whatsoever.

    I think you’re right about Android: there is nobody in charge of the end-to-end user experience. If that really bothers you, and there are clearly lots of people who are sensitive to that, then Android is not the platform for you.

    However, the notion that Android is hard to use, or that the phones just suck is ridiculous. I can find a couple of glowing reviews of Android phones just as easily as you found bad ones. I can also find plenty of people saying negative things about iPhone, not the least of which is the ATT lock-in.

    Android is a scrappier platform than iPhone. It’s more rough and tumble. There will be high and low points. It is a much more open platform, and that comes with pluses and minuses. It’s also a new platform and will take some time to stabilize. There are more players, so that means more variation but also more competition, and in the end that’ll probably be good.

    But Android is already a successful platform, already outselling the iPhone, and I’d bet that trend will continue.

    Or put another way, there are a lot of people who value the Apple end-to-end design experience. Like with desktop and laptop computers, there are many more who don’t, at least for the premium it costs.

    Apple will continue to sell a lot of iPhones, and make a lot of money for them, that is certain.

  2. Posted by Tim Jarrett 18th June, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Dave–I think you’re right that there’s diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks. (Gary Coleman RIP: recognize.) Do you agree with John Gruber’s summation of the difference this morning?

  3. Posted by Dave J 18th June, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    I think there is an essential truthiness to that summation. I still think that this harshing on the supposed brokenness of Android is something of a strawman.

    For example his point about the “press ‘no’ to cancel” stupidity. He doesn’t honestly think the /typical/ user gives a hoot about such brain damage, does he?

    I’ve been living with my N1 since December, and aside from some crashes early on (and I *know* the iPhones crash, too), it’s basically worked as advertised. The battery life under heavy use is a solid day, and I can swap out another battery or install a higher capacity one from a 3rd party if I want to. (I know, I know, the horror! Jobs has saved us from dealing with batteries!)

    I’ve only tried Wifi tethering a bit, but would not be surprised to see it uses a lot of battery. I have tried wired USB tethering, and it works fine, and the battery charges while I’m doing it. That’s not too bad.

  4. Posted by Wayne 17th November, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    No one answering? If there was someone to answer user experience for android then it wouldn’t be android. Theyre made that way to make them customizable to the user. I have both an iphone and android as I am an app developer. when not using for testing purposes, I user my android. There is just so much more you can do with android, and don’t forget alot more free.

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