Daily Archives: November 8, 2009

The Droid fails AS A PRODUCT when compared to Palm Pre and iPhone

So, the hype got to me. Yesterday I headed to Verizon and bought a Motorola Droid, which runs Google’s Android operating system.

Last night my friend Luke Kilpatrick came over and we compared the Droid to the Palm Pre and iPhone. He’s a bit biased toward the Palm, and ran the first Palm Pre Dev Camp but he’s also a mobile freak and has an iPhone and an HTC Hero, which runs an older version of the Android OS. Plus we get together with other people at the Ritz and compare phones regularly and I know he is fair and knows his stuff.

Why did I buy the Droid when I’m a happy iPhone? Because for the past two days Dave Winer has been praising the Droid and because I want to stay up to date on what’s going on on the Android OS. It’s one thing to try a phone for a couple of minutes, it’s a whole nother thing to force yourself to use it.

For instance, if you see it in the store you might not see that the battery door keeps popping off. If it does that after only a few hours of use it’ll really bug the crap out of you after a year.

And that gives you some insight into why the Motorola Droid fails AS A PRODUCT when compared to the Palm Pre and iPhone.

Now, thousands of words have been written about the Droid here’s Chris Brogan who praises the Droid. CrunchGear did TWO in depth iPhone vs. Droid phone comparisons. Here’s the first. Here’s the second. I HIGHLY recommend reading these.

They are right that Android is an interesting phone because it has interesting technology that goes further than the iPhone. What is better about the Droid?

1. It has a FAR better screen. The screen is amazing on the Droid. The Palm Pre is similarly sharp but is very small.
2. Verizon is amazing. It didn’t drop on the usual dead zone on my route home. I have 3G in my house. AT&T? Major fail.
3. The call quality is noticeably better. Dave Winer and I did a comparison last night (we both kept our iPhones) and the phone quality is noticeably better.
4. There are some apps that are dramatically better. Google’s Voice (which Mike Arrington loves) and Google’s Sky Map are two that have already stood out. Other apps are noticeably not even close to as good. Facebook and all the Twitter apps, for instance, are a LOT better on the iPhone.
5. There are some features that are better on Android. The text completion, for instance, is better on Android. It shows you a selection of words it thinks you are trying to type. Dave tells me it learns, too, from your usage. Something iPhone doesn’t do nearly as well.
6. It has a physical keyboard. More on that later.
7. Developers say they like the Android platform better and find that they are able to push apps to customers faster than on iPhone. (Palm Pre has the same advantages and Kilpatrick points out that its developer platform is based on web technologies (Javascript and CSS) rather than on harder-to-learn Java.
8. Integration with Google’s apps (calendar, mail, etc) is better and deeper into the phone than on iPhone (new Gmails pop up on top with an icon, for instance).

Anyway, if you read all of these you might be already headed out the door to buy the Droid.

Here is why you might not want to head out the door yet and why the Droid just isn’t a great product (and, why, on the other hand, if you are a developer you should run now):

First, the out-of-box experience. My first reaction was “boy is the screen beautiful but boy am I overwhelmed by the complexity.” What do I mean by that? the iPhone has a far simpler UI. You can only drag it one direction, left and right. On the Droid you can drag the UI left and right and up and down. This introduces a LOT more complexity. I can see how geeks love it, though, because it’s like getting another monitor. More places to stick icons! Dave Winer told me I would get over this complexity. He’s probably right, because I’m a power user and can see the power in such an approach. It just doesn’t give you a nice out-of-box experience the way the iPhone does. Normal people will try this phone at a Verizon store and not even understand why it feels more complicated.

Second, the hardware. I totally disagree with CrunchGear on this point. Greg Kumparak said that the Droid is “a shining example of great industrial design.”

Oh, please.

It’s a phone an engineer could love. Compared to the iPhone or the Palm Pre it isn’t even in the same league. The battery door on the back proves my point. The iPhone? They just got rid of the idea of replaceable batteries and the Palm Pre spent a LOT of time making sure that having a replaceable battery did NOT make the phone have a noticeable door. The back of both the iPhone and the Palm Pre is smooth. The back of the Droid is not. That is NOT a shining example of great industrial design.

So, where else does the phone not measure up AS A PRODUCT?

The Web browser. Here, go to http://www.techmeme.com. The iPhone displays it properly. The Droid does not (the right hand menu is underneath the content area). This is one reason I’ve turned away from Nokia phones. If your web browser doesn’t work right on the first few websites I visit, what’s the chances it’ll work right on your banking site, or when you go to ESPN or something?

Where else does the Droid fall flat?

Well, last night we went to YouTube on all of the phones. Every phone displayed the high res videos except one: the Droid. Come on now, this is a Google OS running a Google service. It should work far better than the iPhone or the Palm Pre. But it doesn’t and there isn’t an obvious way to force the HD version to come down. Major fail.

What else does it fall flat on?

Most people, when I look at their iPhones, have a common set of apps. Facebook is #1 amongst them. When I visited Apple’s headquarters recently they had a huge screen with the top 3,000 apps displayed on it. Each app blinked when the app was downloaded. Which app was blinking the fastest? Facebook’s.

But Facebook’s UI sucks on Droid compared to iPhone.

Most people will see this and say Droid sucks. Just this one app will affect millions of people’s decisions as to whether or not the phone is a real product. If I were Google I’d make sure that Facebook had BY FAR the best app on Android and if they weren’t willing to play ball with you I’d build my own and put my best engineers on it.

And that comes to Twitter. The best Twitter app on the Droid sucks (everyone told me that Twidroid was the best app on the Droid for Twitter and, indeed, it has the highest ratings in the app store on the Droid). It does not even come close to ANY of the top five apps on the iPhone, not to mention my favorite, Tweetie. It is clear that the bleeding edge app developers are not yet putting their best work into the Android platform. That is quickly changing, Pandora’s founder, Tim Westergren, told me he is seeing the most growth in Android of all the platforms Pandora is available on and they are putting a lot of work into making sure Pandora rocks on Android, but it hasn’t shown up in the apps most people will try. At least not yet.

Some other reasons why the Droid isn’t a great product?

The keyboard and cursor control just don’t come up to the standards set by the Blackberry I had 10 years ago. It’s a low-cost glued on keyboard that just doesn’t offer that many benefits over an optical keyboard. I said on the podcast that I need a week to really give you feedback about why it’s unsatisfying, but here’s an example from my friend Steve Repetti: if you buy the optional case it peels the keyboard off! I talked with Steve last night and he said he almost didn’t write the blog post because he really wants Android to succeed (he’s a developer, are you noticing a trend?) but that he wanted to warn people not to use the rubber “bra.” This is an example of how the industrial design just wasn’t thought out. More and more I’m liking Apple’s decision to just get rid of the physical keyboard. Yes, people gripe about not having a physical keyboard, but no keyboard makes the device a simpler and better-thought-out product.

Another reason?

No multitouch. I just talked with Dave Winer about this and he says it’s the number one thing most people mention to him after he shows them his Droid. It doesn’t make sense, either, because other Android phones support multitouch (pinching to make things zoom in and out). If you really can’t use multitouch you MUST provide a better UI to zoom in. Last night I was at the Ritz with my Droid and tried to show some people some photos of Mavericks. I could not figure out how to zoom in. Later I found that the zoom control was hidden in the corner. Nice way to make me feel stupid. iPhone never had this problem.

Another reason?

In Verizon you could barely even tell that this was a huge product launch weekend. One dinky little sign. Now compare how Apple does the full-court press on its new products. Everyone is wearing T-shirts. There’s tons of signage. There’s tons of excitement. Our salesguy was excited but he was still carrying his old Blackberry. That spoke volumes to me that Verizon really isn’t behind the Droid. It’s just another phone in a long list of phones to them.

Another reason?

The camera sucks. First of all, it’s crashed on me several times. The iPhone and Palm Pre cameras have never crashed on me. Second, the iPhone camera seems magical. You can touch the screen to tell it where to focus. Don’t care about that? Yeah, the Droid has a flash but the flash in the Palm Pre works a LOT better (we took pictures last night in near darkness to compare). The iPhone also has a much better selection of photo apps to use and manipulate your images. Since the camera is an integral part of the experience, this one will leave most people unsatisfied. I do love that the phone says “5 megapixel” right under the camera. The iPhone doesn’t (it’s only a 3, but I found the camera quality to be about the same so far, so even the extra megapixels amount to little more than talk without action).

Anyway, I could keep going. I’ll keep it at least a week and push myself to use it. The voice quality is so much better that I might just use it as my phone and keep the iPhone for other things. I’m fortunate that I can afford to do that, but if I were forced into picking one, today, I’d pick the iPhone without hesitating and I’d recommend the same to everyone.

I told Dave Winer that it looks a lot like Windows 3.1. The Mac back then was way better, but we all know that Apple ended up in 1995 with a small market share compared to Windows 95. The thing is, the Droid is Windows 3.1. It is showing the momentum is shifting but now Google has to ship their metaphorical equivalent of Windows 95. It isn’t this phone.

That said, what do you think? Am I missing something?