These *are* the Droids you’re looking for…

Hat tip to @VodaphoneNZ for re-igniting my interest in having another crack at the following post which I originally wrote for an internal publication for my employer. I’ve changed some of the phraseology,but the basic content – apart from the opening paragraph – remains pretty similar. Once again, these are my personal opinions and are presented as such.

Vodafone NZ Tweets about it's new Android lineup [24th June 2010]

If you are in any way connected to the mobile phone world, you would have heard of the Android phones, an increasing number of which are now starting to make their way into the New Zealand market. Vodafone have been quietly selling android phones since the middle of last year, and third party importers have been importing them in increasing numbers since around the same time. With the release today of ‘FroYo’ (Android 2.2), Vodafone NZ have come out with an impressive looking list of devices sporting the Android stack.

The disappointment for me being that, like other Telcos in the space, a number of the devices announced are running some fairly old versions of the stack, and there is no clear message for the as to how to update their devices, or indeed if this is even possible. I’d certainly like to see the Telcos, or the community, or a collaboration of the two – to come out with some simple HOWTO guides (or simple “Sorry – but you can’t” messages) around updating the device to more recent software. Let me know in the comments if you have come across anything which may help the average Joe (or Jane) with this…

What is ‘Android’

‘Android’ is a software stack including an operating system, middleware and core applications – kind of like Windows on your PC. It was first unveiled in 2007 by a firm who was subsequently bought by Google, who’ve since released most of the code under the Apache (software and open source) license. And that decision is what has captured the attention of the community.

What is it like to use?

While the current versions of Android (up to v2.1) that I’ve encountered don’t yet have the same degree of seemless polish as the iPhone platform, the hardware and software mix has certainly taken some huge leaps recently.

As a lot of the ‘feel’ comes down to the hardware that Android runs on top of, the gap between ‘droid and the gold standard of touch-based mobile devices – that of the iPhone, this gap is closing, and it’s closing very quickly. Big name manufacturers such as Samsung, Motorola, Sony, LG and HTC are all spending a lot of time and effort on creating devices which will make to most of the android OS, the results of which can be seen in the market with more devices, at lower price points becoming available almost on a monthly basis.

When comparing Android to the iPhone – they are functionally very similar, you can shake, swipe, pinch and pull items and applications around, the most common applications are available on both platforms – the biggest difference between the two platforms is the difference in quality between applications.

Currently, stability on the android platform is what lets the devices down. While the core software stack is strong, much of the apparent instability of the platform is symptomatic [or stems from?] of the devices open stance – and this would be my main criticism of the platform. While early adopters tend to be happy to accept the occasional random weirdness, the ‘average’ users expects something a lot more robust – and rightly so.

Why are people turning to ‘Android’?

The decision to ‘go Android’ is gaining momentum in light of apples increasingly restrictive and random approval process in terms of applications, coupled with a market perception of deliberately holding back [sandbagging]  the development of the iPhone hardware.

While it is argued that open applications lead to faster and more agile development, so too [does it] open the door for applications to be released before they have been fully tested and made stable. The ‘community’ can however, post bug reports and improve each application released – but for the general user, this may be a little off putting – thank goodness then that over 60% of the applications available for the Android platform are provided at no cost and thus the barrier to trying out new apps.

The iPhone platform then, is the diametric opposite of this open approach. Applications are written under a very restrictive developer agreement, submitted for review, acceptance is can appear random and submitted applications cannot compete with ‘core’ functions of the iPhone OS – and of course, the platform does not, and will not support Flash. Applications which do make it past this at times rigorous approval process are released to the AppStore [is this the name of the iPhone store??], resulting in an arguably more robust set of functionality ‘which just works’.


So – should you go out and get an Android today? Absolutely! Don’t expect a pain-free experience, but rest comfortably in the knowledge that there is a massive community of developers and early adopters out there who are working hard to improve the Android platform and the applications available to it, while the device manufacturers are spending a lot of development time on bringing the hardware up to the high standard which touch device users have come to expect. Of course, if you want someone else to make all your hardware and available software decisions for you, then there’s always the iPhone.