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?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

421 thoughts on “The Droid fails AS A PRODUCT when compared to Palm Pre and iPhone

  1. “go and hunt for updates”???

    Either ignorance or an outright lie.

    Android puts App Updates in the Notification bar. I rely on this with my app, and use it often to update those that i've downloaded

  2. “go and hunt for updates”???

    Either ignorance or an outright lie.

    Android puts App Updates in the Notification bar. I rely on this with my app, and use it often to update those that i've downloaded

  3. Keep on dreaming as long as it lasts,
    there are few developers that cut down their investments in Android development, not leaving, as they find it difficult to get visibility in the Android market, however the Apple Store sees more developers leaving the platform.
    An interesting read for you “Respected developers begin fleeing from App Store platform” (http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2009/11/respe… )
    Guess what will happen if Apple ever rejects an game from Gameloft that costed ten of thousands man hours to develop, do you thing they will stay developing not knowing if their investment is even allowed?
    In any case Apple itself is proof that you don't need large (game) developer support to survive.

    “each service provider will have to stay on top of it on their own.”; it's called competition and that's a good thing, it drives inovation and as ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL will broaden market appeal.
    “Android is open so they are free to alter their own code as they wish to fit their needs”, Beats being dependent on one company (and having to wait 2 years or more for copy-paste, mms or multitasking)
    “… And actually, they care more about profits than they do market share, how do you think they are one of the most profitable computer makers in the industry yet only control 9% of the market” Correct, and that's why the iPhone will loose market share just like it did in the PC business.
    Here in Spain it's already started the only iPhone provider stopped promoting the iPhone, it's promoting the Pre and Android instead
    btw Apple has less than 7.5% of the (global) market

  4. I am a droid fan and have no intentions of thinking it is an IPHONE killer…what killed the Iphone for ME was the fact tht we were scared of ATT network……this phone is perfect…for US.

  5. well after 4 years lets see how many apps are available! Give it a little more than 2 weeks my snobby friend

  6. Its already happening. Quality developers are leaving in droves. If you want me to provide more links to what developers are saying, I can. In the end, and I agree with them, Android will be left with simple apps that don't take allot of resources (time, manpower) to make. The high end developers do not want to build 10 versions of their apps. Google has no intention of pushing pushing app development, they get their money from the free apps they provide you. Its sad but true. Just look how the recent update was made, Verizon had to push it out, not Google. So now each service provider will have to stay on top of it on their own. Remember, Android is open so they are free to alter their own code as they wish to fit their needs. Its simple to see, each handset maker must differentiate their phone from the others to make any money. Apple does not care about Android, they are competing with handset makers, period. And actually, they care more about profits than they do market share, how do you think they are one of the most profitable computer makers in the industry yet only control 9% of the market. You Android guys are fighting the wrong battle and thats why it will fail.

  7. Would we be having as much of a discussion about this is the iphone would work with ANY carrier? Unlock the friggin phones and let us choose the best network. Wanted an Iphone forever and was afraid of the ATT network, so we went with Droid and are very satisfied. Guess you don't miss what you never had!

  8. Well it actually ultimately IS a personal decision. For me the iphone would be a big fail as it does not suit MY needs.

  9. I agree with much you say…. if any indication, here in Spain at my work there are already more Androids (9) then iPhones (3) (but still more symbians 25) The exclusive iphone provider (telefonica) does not promote the iPhone anymore (except on some in store displays) and give more media attention to the Pre and some Androids.
    Symbian will be dominant for quite a while though, many the s60 phones are not sold as smart phone but are just (nearly) free phones with the providers and there are plenty of people that just want a phone to make phone calls and nothing more

  10. The wired article was just another FUD. Forcing developers now in having to deal with multiple configurations (different screen sizes, capabilities, os versions) will make them write better apps. Guess what will happen with many of the 100000 apps in the apple app store when Apple (finally) upgrades the screen to a higher standard? Apple has a huge problem on their hands; one size DOES NOT FIT ALL, people has has different tastes some like a smaller form factor, others a huge display, some want a physical kb ect. Android with the many brands and different devices will be able to satisfy a much broader range of buyers.
    Only the battery cover is a hardware problem, the rest (loosing sound problem and camera focus) are purely sw.
    The iPhone is nice phone but it does not suit my needs and wishes the Droid (milestone in my case) on the other hand have all I'm looking for….
    The only person with his head buried deep is you.

  11. I used to be on AT&T network, I got no reception in my house or at work. AT&T network sucks. And good luck using an iphone in a rural state or area lol.

  12. I used to be on AT&T network, I got no reception in my house or at work. AT&T network sucks. And good luck using an iphone in a rural state or area lol.

  13. Agree with lhl. Task kill should be as simple as 1 click for the user. Otherwise it will be a geek's device – because they'll spend the extra time to figure it out. Most don't want to spend time to figure it out. They want drop-dead simple usability.

  14. He's looking at this device through the eyes of a non-techie user. And Scoble has valid points when it comes to that. The device is very complex. Not intuitive at all. Google needs to work on usability for mass market adoption.

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