Mobile Fanboy! Good or bad?

Welcome to the Future


David Bisset said it: “Fanboys out in force today.”

It’s interesting, whenever I write about mobile, no matter what side of the fence I come down on, people try to use “fanboy” as a pejorative.

It always makes me question whether I’m doing my best to serve my audience.

Here’s my thinking.

First, people who claim to not be fans can be written off completely as non-participants. It’s like going to a Giants vs. Dodgers game and finding someone who says “I don’t care who wins.” People like that bug me. Why are you even at the ballpark then?

In this case, why are you commenting on Louis Gray’s blog? (The first comment was from someone like this “I try to not be someone who roots for either one.”) Bah humbug.

Even Louis’ headline “the iPhone Fanboys can’t handle the truth on Android” makes this go down further. Unlike Louis, who has totally bought into the Google ecosystem, I can be seen carrying both devices. Of course, Louis’ fanboyisms gets him invited into Google events and even gets him free gear from Google. Translation: more free gear than I get. (Louis got a Google CR-48 laptop that I didn’t get) :-)

I’m certain Louis is right. But I’ve learned with Louis to have a certain skepticism of what he’s telling me. After all, he’s the guy who got me to invest so much in FriendFeed. Yeah, now I have a friend with Facebook’s CTO (Facebook bought FriendFeed and then promptly took all the engineers off of that and put them on other projects), but it also got me kept off of Twitter’s suggested user list. There are consequences to your fanboyisms.

Me? The only consequences to me personally will be my $300 investment in apps. I already have a Verizon account I’m paying for and already have an Android device I pay for. Along with the iPhone and iPad I paid for and continue to pay for.

I’ve spent thousands of hours on my various mobile devices. So excuse me if I’m a bit passionate about where I see things going. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of mobile developers to understand where they are going and what bets they are making or even which are their favorites. Including Starbucks CIO (iOS), Sephora’s mobile developer (iOS) OpenTable’s mobile guy (iOS), eBay’s mobile guy (iOS), FoodSpotting’s founder (iOS) and on and on and on.

Is that fanboyism or journalism? Louis seems to say it’s all about being a fanboy and tries to justify his own singular choices. That’s cool. When the water on that side of the pool gets warmer I’ll swim on over.

For now, though, I’m sticking with the developers. The coolest apps are — overwhelmingly — on iOS today (and in my experience, when the same app is on both platforms the iPhone version is usually better designed and crashes less). Not many people argued with that. Not even the Google fanboys.

By the way, gotta correct Louis Gray on something. He says: “Android led the way in true multitasking on the phone, offers a superior GPS experience with top-notch places and maps, and is years ahead of Apple on voice search, it seems.”

OK, the old “my platform has more features than yours does.”

If features mattered Apple wouldn’t exist. After all, Nokia had better screens, better cameras, and better battery life long before the iPhone came along.

Heck, imagine for one moment that I had marched into Steve Ballmer’s office and said “Steve, our tablet PC sucks, we need to get rid of the camera, get rid of multitasking, get rid of printing, get rid of all those extra buttons on the front except for one, get rid of the ability to run Microsoft Office, oh, and make sure all those .NET apps don’t run either. Only then should we ship it.” Well, I would have gotten thrown out of his door so fast I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to his assistant. Google fans consistently don’t understand that fact.

But, look at my iPad. I used it all the way from SFO to CDG (Paris) and listened to music the ENTIRE time. It only used 9% of my battery life. Why? BECAUSE it didn’t have multitasking (actually, not quite true, it has some multitasking features now).

Funny enough, when Louis and I had dinner last week he showed me a way to kill tasks that were running in the background. I tried the same trick on my Nexus S and it didn’t work. Damn consistency let’s just ship! Grrr. Funny that every Android user has a Task Killer that they loaded as one of their apps. Try explaining THAT to a normal user “oh, you gotta kill tasks otherwise your phone sometimes won’t run right.”

Grrr. Yeah, I’m a fanboy.

But, these problems are gradually going away. It was far worse a year ago. Today at least the Nexus S is fast, has decent battery life, and feels well designed, if not a bit plasticky (if I didn’t have an iPhone I wouldn’t have noticed that, since most other phones are going that route to keep down costs).

Louis also writes “The truth is that Android can go feature by feature against iPhone now.”

Really? We compared panoramic photo apps. His sucked compared to the one from Occipital. His photos sucked too, and so did the display of same, when put side-by-side at dinner. I guess he forgot that. Not to mention that there’s nothing like the magical Word Lens app. Not to mention all the iPad apps that are out there like Flipboard, Aweditorium, NPR’s app, etc etc etc.

Oh, and GPS? That’s laughable. The GPS isn’t nearly as accurate in most Android devices as in the iPhone. Compare the two phones when checking in on Foursquare.

Louis, regarding voice navigation, just open the Google app on iPhone and you can do the same thing, plus, look at Voice DJ which is more accurate than anything on Google’s system (the developer of that told me he’ll bring it to Android next year too). Not to mention Siri, which I’m sure we’ll hear more about next year (Apple didn’t buy it for $200+ million to let it die).

Anyway, Louis ends with “But don’t get blinded by the Apple fans trying to define Android as a cheaper, inferior solution. It’s not.”

Really? Give me a break. I’ll go step-by-step how the ecosystem on Google is behind Apple today. Again, if you want. But I’m tired and my kids need some love.

Keep in mind, those are the words of a fanboy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The facts in the mirror might be different than they appear on your favorite tech blog, though.

The truth is probably inbetween the fanboy positions. But that’s why I think Fanboys are good, just like Dodgers fans are good for the game of baseball, even though they are on the wrong side of the force. :-)

If I’m serving my audience well, no one will be able to say “he didn’t do his homework.” That’s what I aim for, but some fanboy attitude is definitely good for the industry. Why? We’re spending our entire waking lives carrying these damn things around and betting our careers on the outcome. If you bet against Microsoft in the 1990s you know how bad that decision is.

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.

32 thoughts on “Mobile Fanboy! Good or bad?

  1. Robert great article!! When i tried to share it using your share button, trying to share it with a chrome extension and copying the url to post, it doesnt work properly. You see and so forth on the post. Can you please check it?

  2. Trying to be purely mercenary and looking to the Android dev SDK this past week (after having a few apps in the iOS App Store + a few updates) and I’m back firmly in iOS’ camp. XCode and the iOS SDK are worlds better than the (presumably still beta) dev tools Google has lobbed out there. Confusing as hell.

    I’m thinking Apple had it right the first time… webapps! If it weren’t for the reach and walled garden (and relative exclusivity of being 3 of the 300,000 apps) I might hop the fence and optimize for pure web apps.

    Yes, I’m an iOS fanboy. But, not for lack of giving the other side more than a passing glance.

  3. I’m a gadget fanboy, not loyal to any particular company. I only like gadgets that I USE, and I only use them when they make my life better or easier. I hate when people talk about features without talking about how they actually impact their life. There are currently several things my android phone does, especially things that make my life easier, that cannot be done with iphone (unjailbroken anyway):

    1. Automatically download podcasts on a schedule without syncing to a computer.
    2. Change any setting on the phone based on time or location.
    3. Pin-lock only specific apps with sensitive work information, instead of using a pin every damn time I look at my phone.
    4. Automatic background scheduled backup and remote security.
    5. Contact-specific handling of text messages (popup for girlfriend, no sound for ikea mobile, etc)

    I’m always watching closely, waiting patiently for devices that make things even better, and I’m ready for anyone to do it.

  4. This whole post is like a lecture I heard in shop class my ninth grade year.

    “There are many nuts and bolts that do basically the same job, but each one has their own perks and downfalls. Choose the right one for your project, and you should do just fine in this class.”

    I picked the wrong bolt for a section of my project. My teacher didn’t notice.

  5. Gotta believe it was Apple’s poor business practices that gave Google a foot in the door. If you intentionally brick people’s phones for rooting them and run your app store like the Soup Nazi, sooner or later it comes back to bite you. So Steve has only himself to thank for the success that Android is enjoying. And the apps will come as Google’s market share explodes.

  6. I have no idea why “liking” something is wrong. I like the iPhone. Is Android “better”? The only possible way that I’d know that is if someone brings out a google phone that is so amazing that I’ll buy a stupid contract with another despotic cell network so I can use it, AND SEE IF I AGREE. After a month or so of use, I’ll have some idea whether I will regret the switch or not. Talking about features — like ‘true multitasking’ — is an empty brag. Why would I want “true multitasking”? Do I want a tiny phone screen as godawful as the multiwindowed junkheap I make of my computer? Do I want the battery to give out in 5 hours, rather than plugging it into iTunes at about 11:00 at night when it’s over 30%? Would that be true if Apple’s multitasking was more robust? I have nothing but questions, to which there are no answers.

    It’s a lot like God. There is no intellectual proof of His existence, and no enthusiasm can be truly justified beyond the specific motives you have for being enthusiastic. Computer-tech fanboys are the prime exhibit of this.

  7. I have no idea why “liking” something is wrong. I like the iPhone. Is Android “better”? The only possible way that I’d know that is if someone brings out a google phone that is so amazing that I’ll buy a stupid contract with another despotic cell network so I can use it, AND SEE IF I AGREE. After a month or so of use, I’ll have some idea whether I will regret the switch or not. Talking about features — like ‘true multitasking’ — is an empty brag. Why would I want “true multitasking”? Do I want a tiny phone screen as godawful as the multiwindowed junkheap I make of my computer? Do I want the battery to give out in 5 hours, rather than plugging it into iTunes at about 11:00 at night when it’s over 30%? Would that be true if Apple’s multitasking was more robust? I have nothing but questions, to which there are no answers.

    It’s a lot like God. There is no intellectual proof of His existence, and no enthusiasm can be truly justified beyond the specific motives you have for being enthusiastic. Computer-tech fanboys are the prime exhibit of this.

  8. Bah humbug because I don’t pick a platform based on the name on it? I say bah humbug to anyone who does. Consumer technology isn’t about rooting for someone, it’s about which product do I like. Which do I want to spend money on.

    So no I don’t pick one to root for. I root for all platforms to compete and improve. I have an iPad, an iPod Touch, and an Evo. I like both platforms and I’m not rooting for one because of Google or Apple. When you do that you start excusing the negatives of your favorite because you’re rooting, or missing the positives on the other side.

    This isn’t sports, we shouldn’t be forced to choose one and root for it. That’s crazy. I should choose the product that works best for me. If those needs change, I should be free to change without “changing sides”. If it’s better for me to use both, then great!

    I’m not a fanboy of any company, I’m a fanboy of products and services I like. And if that’s what you are too, then great. I’m fine with iPhone and Android fanboys, but Apple and Google ones just don’t make sense to me

  9. In the end, the choice of phone, just like the choice of computer, boils down to a simple question – what do your friends use? When you need support, you’re going to go to your friends to get it.

    This was driven home to me in the mid 1980s, when I worked at a small software company. I didn’t have a video player at the time, but all of my co-workers had Sony Betamax, so I was advised that if I *did* get a video player, I should get the Betamax. In the end I didn’t get a video player, but I wouldn’t have made the “wrong” choice if I had gone along with their advice. If nothing else, all of us would have been in the same boat.

    Regarding baseball, I happen to be one of those people who doesn’t root for any major league baseball team (though I’ll gladly root for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes). I soured on the Dodgers when Fox jettisoned manager Bill Russell AND Hideo Nomo AND Mike Piazza within a few months (not that this would cause me to root for that other team up north). And yes, I’ll admit that I’m not that engaged in baseball games, as opposed to my level of engagement in a Los Angeles Lakers game or a Washington Redskins game (though the latter engages me in tears, not joy). Yet it’s still possible to appreciate baseball as an observer from the sidelines.

    Case in point – in this particular religious war, I happen to have used neither iOS nor Android. My current phone is an LG env3, and my former phone was a company-provided Motorola Q running an old version of Windows Mobile. (Disclosure: I am a former employee of Motorola, and one of my former co-workers is now in Motorola’s Android applications group.) Yet I can see the benefits of both platforms, and (as Louis noted in his post) the differing strategies of Android and Google. While there is certainly a place for fanbois, there is also a place for the more casual observers.

    Now let’s hope the Lakers can win some games…

  10. Totally agree with your points, especially that you’re using both types of devices and are transparent about it.
    Android phones don’t have the same out-of-the-box experience as the iPhone, and as good as as the S is, it’s on the high end of the scale on Androids, and it goes downhill from there. That said, both platforms have a great future,- the ones to worry about are RIM’s and Windows 7.
    Fanboys aren’t rational. You are.

  11. I have become quite the Apple fanboy myself, however, there are times when I enjoy using my girlfriends Galaxy S for certain things. They both have their strong points. I will, at least for the time being, keep with my Apple products, but there are most definitely many many many good things to come from both sides, it’s going to be about who executes them better.

  12. Just for the record, i used the term “fanboys” because nothing else fit within the twitter’s 160-character limit. :)

        1. I agree. I used Swype for awhile but never completely liked it. SwiftKey is THE killer keyboard for Android phones – much more intuitive than any other keyboard I’ve used.

  13. There’s a gap between having preferences and being blinded due to that preference. We could have some real fun with this.

    For the record, siding with Android hasn’t gotten me any special favors from Google, so that’s not true. I didn’t get invited to the unveiling of the Nexus S and had no prebriefing. I didn’t get a CR-48 shipped to me early, and it took my wife writing a post on how I got jilted to put things in motion.

    The Panorama photo app you show from Occipital is a developer app from a 3rd party. The one I showed you on the Epic is the native app that comes with the phone. The iPhone doesn’t do that.

    If FriendFeed fanboyism got you off Twitter’s suggested user list, that’s Twitter’s mistake. You’ve done a great deal to promote their platform – for better or for worse. The suggested user list was a mistake to begin with, as you know. Meanwhile, the features of FriendFeed you liked have made it to Facebook for the most part.

    I’ve seen VoiceDJ. Good stuff. They even sent me an iPod Touch to test it – even though I’m allegedly in Google’s camp.

    When I switched to Android this summer, the suggestion was that the great developers are on their way. They are coming. There are lots of great apps on Android. No doubt more money is on iOS now, but Idon’t think that’s a permanent deal.

    I am an Apple fan. I am a Google fan. I prefer Android. I prefer Mac. It’s simple. But I am trying to also be pragmatic. This is harder than it looks. :)

    1. Hi Lois,

      I just wanted to mention something. You ARE getting special favors. The fact that you even see a CR-48 (when I cannot) is due to in no-small-terms to the name you have made for yourself as a blogger and person with notoriety. You may have gotten it later than everyone else – but not the rest of the world. I’ve heard this “no special favors” line so many times. Is it really that bad? Perhaps special favors are actually a good thing? Isn’t that why you do what you do (on some level)? Gosh, enjoy it. And, as they say, flaunt it if you got it. But, don’t act like it’s not happening.

      The rest, I think, is just having a voice. It’s important to have a voice that involves what you prefer.

      You can take two similar types of tech and compare them – one will be superior on some level. Often with technology though, one has features that the other doesn’t have – so feature for feature comparisons are not always exactly possible. Even worse, those in the technology world are not quite capable of looking at products on equal footing.

      Case in point:
      I spoke to someone who was looking at a $150 Koby Tablet (http://bit.ly/ijFkdm) and called it an utter failure because it can’t stand up to an iPad. That we can compare each feature on a equal footing, doesn’t mean that we should. Because we can be blinded by a preference, just means we should be aware of ourselves and work hard to counteract it’s effects.

      With all those special favors (like hardware, conference invites, interviews with important people, etc), you get to practice.

    1. I’m definitely in that category. I’ll never be a “fan” of baseball, but I have had a good time at games with friends and co-workers on many occasions.

      And I have a suspicion that people who fit such a description may actually be more numerous than fans. We’re certainly important to markets.

      Fans, experts, and evangelists certainly may make more noise and gather more notice, and they may bring proportionately more other people into a market, but if those people were already fans … nobody would have to even bother. I don’t think they could ever make a market successful without those “rank and file” participants.

  14. Man, I don’t know. I’m a baseball fan, and I go to local games (Orioles) without caring who wins. I can just appreciate a beautiful baseball game and that’s what I hope to see.

    The same goes for apps/phones/hardware/whatever. I just want something beautiful, and don’t care who makes it.

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