Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Which smartphone is better? Compare iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry? o_O

Most people want an iPhone if they have the money to get it, it has class, it is a status symbol in some circles. It is worth the money. Unfortunately, It also carries a lot of 'Apple' bullshit.

Next comes Android for the geeks, power users, value-for-money, Google services users, Android v4.0 is cutting edge. Unfortunately, droids have short lifes, low quality apps and market fragmentation which is its Achilles heel.

Next comes Blackberry for the suits! (iMessage & gTalk threaten BBM quite well). Perfect For Thumb-Jockeys. Design is inherently counterproductive to the whole 'touch' scene.

Next comes Windows Phone, a new contender due to the upcoming Win8, sure to make it big if Microsoft plays it right. Attracts Microsoft services users(Windows, MS Office etc), cheaper then Apple phones, connected with windows OS and Office products.
  • My first phone was an Android (HTC Desire).
  • My second phone is an iPhone 4.
  • My third phone will be Windows Phone 8.


Most of those who advocate Android, I agree by the way, are actually 'power users' and are aware of the 'open source advantage' and the 'apple bullshit' I mentioned earlier. But if you go stand in a smartphone store that sells accessories for all types of phones then you will see a pattern emerge.

You have no idea how empowered a non tech user feels when there is only one button on a phone, it negates the very idea of 'what if I press the wrong button?/which button do I press?'! Try handing the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 to your grandma(any non tech person, who by they way number more then the power users) and see which one she likes. For an average user an iPhone looks like the best choice because it provides a much more managed and smooth user experience. Android 4.0 is mainly targeted at a better user experience to combat this very area.

I am an Indian and Apple is most definitely a status symbol here as it was a couple of years ago in the US/UK. And as it is worldwide when the newest model is released.

The life of a droid – It starts dying as soon as it is born

  1. Android OS dev community churns out new features that have new hardware needs.
  2. This vanilla OS is then passed on to phone manufacturers who repack it with their own UI, features and branding. They also take the OS to the butcher table to fit it in the various kind of models they make.
  3. These phones are then passed on to cellular carriers who again modify the manufacturer's OS and apply their own UI, features(more like feature restrictions) and branding.
  4. Finally the user can buy the device and is very happy. Fragmentation is awesome till here.
  5. The inevitable happens, the android dev community churns out a new version. This is where the pain starts. The vanilla OS is not usable by the average user, unless they are power users and have rooted their devices and are ready to debrand their device.
  6. The new version then has to pass thru the drawing board of the manufacturer, who tailors it to fit the specific models and then it has to pass thru the cellular carrier's drawing board. This process takes a extremely long time. The manufacturer as well as the cellular carrier are both not very good or very fast at it and they dont like to spend money on it.
  7. In the end, the user gets the update very late and doesnt like it. In addition it dawns on the user that very soon the manufacturer and the cellular carrier will stop churning out updates for their specific model. They are profit oriented corps after all.
So a droid starts dying as soon as it is born.

An example: My HTC Desire. The latest HTC gave us is v2.3 on June 2011, It took HTC 6 months to churn out the update, vanilla release was on December 2010. HTC also stops supporting the device at that time.. This update is however not recommended for most users and wipes the phone, so officially it is stuck at v2.2 (the original version only). The hardware in the phone is however capable of running Android v4.0 which is the newest. But to get that on my device, I need to be a power user, root it, loose HTC Sense, wait for the community to port the OS to this device (which is very unlikely).

How old is this phone? Born on February 16, 2010 and died June, 2011. 16 months. R.I.P.
How many major updates it received: 1 (v2.1 to v2.2).

* HTC Desire akin to HTC Sensation at the moment. i.e a top of the line phone.

Android Development is messy at best

Google is working hard on trying to remove the manufacturer and the cellular provider from the OS-to-user pipeline. Experts call it one of the reasons for Google's takeover of Motorola. But alas I don’t think it can be fixed. It is the nature of the beast.

There are many other aspects of market fragmentation. The second main one has to do with apps and their quality. An app developer is constrained by the lowest common denominator when developing an app or the app wont function on all devices. The dev also has to handle a variety of screen sizes, performances issues and individual quirks. Never mind the need for the dev to own a number of devices(most droid devs dont have that much money!) to test the app and the extra work hours needed to have the app perform 'ok' on all devices. So due to this fragmentation the life of a droid dev becomes unnecessarily harder and is only worsened by super fast OS updates, new hardware etc.

The result is a low quality app because the hands of the dev were tied behind their back!
Just for a comparison, see the iOS (Apple mobile device OS) development. Apple guarantees that an OS update will work on all but the oldest models. There is a strict standard that the devs can rely on. There are high quality development tools available. The dev does not need to buy a bunch of devices to test the apps. The dev gets support from Apple. For all that they have to give up control and a larger profit share to Apple. It hurts but seems like the lesser of two evils.

Apple phones users have their own personal nightmares

  • Dependence on iTunes.
  • The feeling of being only able to do what Apple ‘allows’ as to do.
  • No widgets, advanced apps like File System browser, Advanced settings etc
  • The so called ‘major features’ like crop in photo gallery or snapping pics using the volume button, which should have been there right from the start.
  • Restriction on hardware peripherals, Apple devices are notorious to work up to their potential only when paired with Apple products.
  • From the developer POV, you have to pay a premium to get Apple hardware to develop apps, Apple eats up a large share of the profits, the app screening process are unfair with a policy effectively of ‘we are the kings, we decide your fate’.

Developing for the Windows Phone Platform

I have high hopes for this gambit because Microsoft seems to be keeping in mind both the issues. Market fragmentation will be lower then Android as Microsoft restricts the type of devices that can run Windows Phone 8 OS and provides a much better development environment then Android. Microsoft platform will also have less restrictions on what Apps can do or not and historically Microsoft has a lesser tendency to exert control on the platform, in comparison to Apple. Also, due to the large number Microsoft of users, any lockdown will be torn apart soon.

In the end all I can say is each phone/platform has its good and bad sides.

An update: A much more eloquent and more accurate article was posted about the Android updates issue by MICHAEL DEGUSTA which shows how Android updates fair.  It paints a picture much worse then I thought..

"It appears to be a widely held viewpoint that there’s no incentive for smartphone manufacturers to update the OS: because manufacturers don’t make any money after the hardware sale, they want you to buy another phone as soon as possible. If that’s really the case, the phone manufacturers are spectacularly dumb: ignoring the 2 year contract cycle & abandoning your users isn’t going to engender much loyalty when they do buy a new phone. Further, it’s been fairly well established that Apple also really only makes money from hardware sales, and yet their long term update support is excellent (see chart)." read more
* I am a developer on the web and mobile platforms so I do believe I know slight, just slightly, more then the average Joe. But please understand that that assessment is based on a very small 'data sample' and no scientific methods whatsoever. It is just my opinion.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Say yes to mobile blogging!

Trying out the new android app from Google. It seems to have good features and is designed to do micro blogging.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

iPhone 3G/2G on BSNL 3G settings and WiFi on BSNL Dataone Speed tests



I recently got an iPhone 4 32GB after already being a droid fan for a long time. Now I am torn between the two. Some things are great in the iPhone and other in the HTC Desire running Android 2.2.

And to top the cake with a cherry, BSNL recently launched 3G in my home town, Dehradun. I went thru the whole bureaucratic red tape and got a prepaid 3G SIM for Rs 180 (120  + 60) thats gives me Rs 50 talktime and 500MB data for one month. Good enough for a test run.

1k7loAfter dealing with the minisim - microsim fiasco, which was a tough thing to sort out in itself, I got the phone running on Cellone (BSNL) carrier network.

This was my first time with 3G and it was liberating. It goes to say even wifi is not true wireless freedom as it has a very limit range. 3G helps a lot with that.

To activate 3G I have to put ‘bsnlnet’ for APN Settings under Settings>General>Network>Cellular Data Network. It took a few switching on and off of the ‘Cellular Data’ settings. Toggle ‘Enable 3G’ to switch between 3G and 2G(Edge/GPRS)

The good thing is that bsnl push notifications work great and let us know hwo much data we used up as soon as we switch off ‘Cellular Data’.

The browser and youtube work fine but it is hard to tell if the speeds are faster then wifi. (i have a 512Kbps Unlimited plan from BSNL Dataone).

In this screenshot of the “SpeedTest.Net” app you can see the speeds that I get. The first one is Wifi which is not surprising as I have a 0.5 Mbps dataone landline connection. The second is the 2G setting for cellular network. It is pathetic. But as soon as we switch to 3G the beasts are unleashed! 1Mbps+ is more that sufficient for a mobile connection.

This also opens up the possibilities of using the phone as a WIFI or USB tethered device for mobile internet access on your laptop. I switched on wifi tethering and connected my laptop to the phone’s wifi hotspot and I was browsing 720p videos on youtube! It was amazing. Take that USB Stick modem! Open-mouthed smile

PS: To take a screen shot on you iPhone, press and hold the home button while you press the power button and the screen will flash and save the image in the camera roll.