Life is Hard; Android is Harder

angry androidIt continues to amaze me what a mess the Android platform is. Take two articles from last month: Android, too complex for its own good and Is Android too hard for the average user to figure out? Both articles highlight points I’ve been making all along about the failings of the Android platform from a user experience perspective.

Take the Nexus 7, arguably the best tablet currently available for the price. When first introduced just a short while ago, Google made a big deal about how the Jelly Bean version of Android finally ran as smoothly as the competition.

What’s interesting about this statement is the fact that Google made a big deal of how this latest version of Android finally runs as smoothly as the competition, which almost certainly means as smoothly as Apple’s iOS. It would seem to me that “running smoothly” is a pretty big deal and should have been something that was done right in version 1.0, not version 4.1. But hey, “running smoothly” is just a little user interface detail. It’s just “polish”. What users really care about is gigahertz, how many ports a device has, and other arcane technical details, right? Wrong.

Regardless of what Android fans say about how technically superior their new favorite Android phone-of-the-month is, the bottom line is that user experience is *everything*. If it had taken Apple 4 versions to get the iPhone “running smoothly”, do we think we would still be talking about an iPhone today? There is a reason that the iPhone spread like wildfire. It was because the average, everyday person finally had a technical device that they could use without the help of a geek. The iPhone just worked and it empowered the user as no device ever had before. It wasn’t because of technical specifications or heavy advertising. It was entirely because of user experience, of which the user interface is the largest part of.

The other large part of user experience is reliability. Unfortunately, the Android platform is no where near as reliable as Apple’s iOS platform. The following is just one example:

That only lasted a few months as Google pushed an update to the Nexus 7 that broke the smooth operation affecting all aspects of the tablet’s performance. Scrolling is herky-jerky in all apps and for general system operation. The biggest improvement in Android since its inception has been broken by Google.

If Google can’t even keep Android reliable on their own Google-branded device, what chance do any of their OEM partners have? Evidence shows they aren’t doing so hot. Again, if Apple had issues with reliability on the scale that Android has had, do we really think there would still be an iPhone to be talking about?

If Android is dominant with respect to market share, why did Apple’s iOS-powered devices wipe the floor with Android when it came to Thanksgiving and Black Friday online shopping?

For all the boasting by Google and Android fans that Android has a larger smartphone marketshare than the iOS, they can’t answer the question as to why the iOS beats Android when it comes to usage metrics, such as web browsing share, app developer profitability, and most recently, holiday shopping figures. Why the discrepancies? For all the claimed marketshare numbers, why does it seem that iOS is the only platform that people actually use? There really is no great mystery to me why Android is a lame-duck platform, and it now finally seems others are catching on.

I think it comes down to one rather simple but key difference between the two platforms. iOS is easier to use than Android. Or, flipping that around, Android is too hard for the average user to figure out.

Can it really be that simple? Does it really boil down to the fact that iPhones and iPads are just so much easier to use than the plethora of Android devices out there? Of course, most technology “experts” would never believe that user experience could play such a factor, but then most of those experts still think they are in the Old World of Technology. In the New World of Technology, ease-of-use absolutely plays a critical factor in technology usage. Now that average people are heavy technology users, it is not shocking they gravitate to easy-to-use technologies, while still ignoring difficult ones. The trouble with most technology pundits (and technology companies) is that they don’t realize just how fine a line technology walks between being easy or being difficult for the average user. The fact that Android is a lame-duck platform should open their eyes to this fact, but don’t hold your breath.

Apple has spent a lot of time and money creating commercials that show its products being used to solve real-world problems. As short and as simple as these ads may be, they give owners — and potential owners — an idea of what the iPhone or iPad can do. That might seem extremely basic, but it gets people to explore the potential of their iDevice.

Compare this to ads I’ve seen for Android hardware, which seem to focus on the device itself rather that what it can do for the owner.

Well, duh. The Android market is dominated by hardware manufacturers trying to differentiate their products from the multitude of other Android copycats. What else can they differentiate on if not hardware specs? Of course, as I’ve said many times, most people don’t care about hardware specs. They care about user experience. As long as Apple is the only company that is truly committed to complete user experience – in hardware, software, and ecosystem – Android will continue to be too hard for the average user.

  • dawg

    Dumb

  • dawg

    Go to YouTube and watch “the truth about android and iOS”

    I’ll wait.

    • http://marcelbrown.com/ Marcel Brown

      I don’t have time to watch the entire series of videos, but I did watch the initial several minutes of the first. It’s a common story I hear from Android fans: customization. Sure, if one has the time and inclination to customize an Android phone, it is entirely possible that they can make that phone easier to use – for that one person.

      But here is where Android fans miss the boat – most people do not have the time or inclination to customize their phone. They want it easier out of the box. Most non-techy people will look at a device like an Android and are bewildered at the number of options they have. The customization features are not helpful to them at all. In fact it makes the phone more confusing to them and only stifles their full use of it.

      And the second, more subtle point that is not talked about a lot: consistency. When you can highly customize a phone, people often customize it to the point where standard user interface paradigms get skewed. This has two effects going forward. First, if a user gets a new phone, will their customizations carry forward? With Android, that’s not guaranteed as the fragmentation among vendors makes it possible that some customizations are not available on other phones. With the iPhone, any settings do carry forward very simply. Second, and here is the real kicker, people are social with their phones. This is the secret to the iPhone’s success. People showed off their phone and let other people play with them. Guess what? The consistency in interface allowed people to become familiar with the phone and want one themselves. Then when they got one, they already knew how to use it for the most part (also speaking towards ease of use as well). With Android phones, besides the vendor fragmentation issue, all those customized phones create another fragmentation issue. One person’s Android phone is not the same as another’s. The way one person does something with their Android phone is not necessarily the way another people would or could do it on their phone. When one friend says, “hey look what I can do”, and it’s a struggle for the other friend to try to do the same thing, it’s not a good user experience. Which again causes them to not want to do much with their phone because they are stymied.

      Then there’s the whole reliability issue, which I’ll only state that all the customizations in the world won’t help perceived ease of use if the phone is unreliable. There’s no faster way to turn a person off of a phone than to have it crash or act buggy. And if customizations exacerbate that problem, well, no more needs to be said.

      I’ll write more about this in a future article, but the bottom line is that customization does not equal “easy” for most people out there.

      • dawg

        About consistency… It’s well know in the tech world that iOS apps crash more often the android apps. (Google it. The links come up right away.)

        The videos talk almost nothing about customization. It’s about the myth of iOS being easier to use than android. He shows lots of real world examples. He compares the iOS and android side by side. I don’t think you watched any of the video. I know the youtube experience isn’t quite as nice on your iPhone/iPad but you can still find time to watch the videos if your actually in to tech.

        Why is customization a bad thing. I like to customize everything the way I like it. My car, computer, my wallet, my clothes, and of course my smartphone.

        Also, fragmentation is a feature not a problem. It’s brilliant that the android is and its applications work on hundreds of devices and still statistically crashes less than iOS.

        Another point, open source is why we have the web, power point, excel, cloud services, facebook , twitter, GPS on phones, webcams, search engines, Skype, etc…we worked for 30 years for all this stuff and fought to keep it open, so why do we want to close it now? Why limit it and slow innovation down? (Which is currently happening.)

        • http://marcelbrown.com/ Marcel Brown

          As I stated, I only watched the first several minutes of the first video. It was all about customization and how that makes Android easier than iOS. If he made other points later, great, but I don’t have time currently to spend on those videos. It’s not because I’m not into tech. It’s that I’m actually spending my time working in technology helping my clients. I’ll continue using the experience I’ve gained helping those clients over nearly 20 years as a technology professional guide my opinions, if you don’t mind.

          As I write in another article, I could care less what each individual person chooses for their own smartphone. I completely understand that techie users put more priority on customization and technical features of a device. But please realize that non-technical users do not value the same things. So please think about that before you influence someone who values your technical opinion towards a phone that isn’t right for them. Ultimately, the quality of your recommendations will determine if they continue to value your opinion.

          • dawg

            The problem here is you keep saying that he talks about customization in the first few minutes of the video… Yet he doesn’t mention it at all. So you watched none of the video and are just assuming. This video creator is very respected in the tech world. Much more than you so don’t get all high and mighty. I can also tell you didn’t read any of what I posted because your replys s are just regurgitation of apple kool aid drinking fanboyism and have no logic thought or rebuttals to anything I said. Your wrong. Get over yourself and do your clients a favor and send them elsewhere because your tech knowledge is laughable.

          • http://marcelbrown.com/ Marcel Brown

            Maybe we’re not watching the same video? This is the one I picked up when searching “the truth about android and iOS”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMiY1kSTHZw

            It’s by Armando Ferreira and he says the word “customization” 3 times and the word “customized” 1 time in the first 2 minutes and 6 seconds of the video.

            He also says that “you choose what works best for you”. Which is exactly my point. I know that for the average, non-technical user, Android proves itself too hard. Those who are technical enough to like Android are generally not looking for my advice on a smartphone. If they need my professional opinion on what smartphone to get, the odds are strong they will be best served by an iPhone. So before you accuse someone of getting all high and mighty (someone who, by the way, is taking the time to engage in polite conversation with a stranger who posted a comment on their blog), be sure you have the whole story.

  • dawg

    Oh wait there’s more. Let’s compare.

    Chrome > Safari
    Music/file syncing/transfering… Android is waaaay easier
    Sharing… android
    Cloud syncing… Android by miles. Icloud is a notorious mess. Android/Google syncs bookmarks/ contacts/calendar/web history/media/apps/files/pictures all effortlessly and flawlessly.
    App stores… Androids app store is way easier to navigate. Apps do more. (Another apple myth busted).

    Voice commands Google now > Siri (siri is also a well know mess)

    Maps and nav (speaking of messes)… Duh android.

    App integration…android (apple doesn’t even offer this… Its and open source feature).

  • wilhelmreuch

    I spend most of my time writing software. As a paid job and for pleasure. Android, iOS, Windows, web …

    My view on Android is that it is o.k. as browser replacement. A thin front-end to services in the cloud/server. Android works just as well as the others. The XML-based layout languagein Android is messy to work with (interface builder is really easier to work with) – but you seldom do anything that advaned so it doesnt matter.

    It is when you want to develop something more advanced the deep riches of iOS is so wonderful. This may be user experience, layout och a more advanced model needed by your application.

    Another Android-problem is getting good performance when you try more advanced stuff. The garbage collection used by both Google and Microsoft is getting old (it was invented in the 50s) and has poor performance. The automatic reference counting used by Apple (and the new C++11 standard) has low overhead and is fully predictable.

    It is when you stop reading on the internet and start to actually use the stuff the differences and the cracks start to show up.

    • http://marcelbrown.com/ Marcel Brown

      Not being a programmer, I can’t vouch for what you say directly, but knowing what I know about the iOS programming environment (having studied the history of it from when it was created as the NeXT development environment) I don’t doubt you. iOS is the result of 20+ years of refinement of an development environment plus 35+ years of user interface design experience that Apple brings to the table. You can tell that Android was designed by engineers. You can tell iOS was designed for users.