Two weeks ago, I started this post concerning my thoughts on the Motorola/Verizon Droid™. I discussed the network, the device itself and the Google Android software. Now onto the apps and overall experience…
The Software Part Duex – Apps
There is a difference between the 10,000 apps available for Android today and the 100,000 apps available for iPhone. Your major bases are covered, but Apple has a clear lead that will take the Droid developer community a long time to make up, if they ever do.
Google has taken a far more open approach to apps and the Android Market. Apple has many areas of the iPhone that are off limits to developers, whereas Android has few such limitations. As an example, Apple restricts apps from turning your iPhone’s ringer on and off. Android has several apps that use location awareness to make changes – turning the ringer off at the office, for example, then back on when you leave, then off again when you go to the movies.
This openness is a big draw for the developer community and gives me some confidence that we’ll see a lot of development for this platform in the future. This is further reinforced by the apparent willingness of Google to make almost any app available. Apple, in contrast, has occasionally frustrated the developer community with its app approval process.
The Android Market, as the platform for delivering apps, is a little odd and betrays the biggest challenge that Google has moving forward. The Market exists as an app on the Droid and supports browsing, searching and commenting. You are also automatically notified when an app that you’ve installed has been updated, so you can quickly and easily install the new version.
When searching for apps, I’d hoped to be able to use my PC, but it doesn’t work very well. The browser-based version of the Market lacks any search functionality and is only marginally functional. After some investigation, I believe the issue comes from some compatibility issues. I’ve found apps in the online Android Market that aren’t actually available through the Market on my Droid. There could be several reasons for this. Different vendors have different implementations of Android and some apps may not be compatible. There may also be prohibitions on certain apps with particular carriers. Although Google is quite open, sometimes the carriers with which it works are not. For example, Verizon charges a significant premium to allow a phone to tether to a PC (to act as a cellular modem). This is actually controlled by the software on the phone and could be changed with an app, but those apps are barred by Verizon. So the market is going to fancy filtering which, on the whole, is a good thing.
What this means for Google is that, as the number of phones grows, the number of unique implementations of Android will grow as well. If compatibility issues between platforms and carriers become too significant, it could become a deterrent to new app development. Apple, with consistency of platform and carrier, has created a large homogeneous install base for developers to sell their apps into and build external devices for.
The Overall Experience
This phone is fantastic. It has a great feel and the components all fit together naturally. There are still rough edges in a few spots, but they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the experience. One example of that is the use of haptic feedback – the phone vibrates slightly then touchscreen buttons are “clicked” (rather like with your Wiimote). The result is that phone feels snappy and responsive as you work with an interface that could have otherwise felt “squishy”.
Would I replace an iPhone with a Droid today? Not unless you’re really unhappy with the service that you have from AT&T. If you’ve been waiting for a better option while remaining on Verizon, it’s the option you’ve been waiting for.
If you’re looking at rolling apps to the mobile market, you’ll want to keep Android in mind as a growing piece of the market. iPhone is no longer the only game in town.