Sorry, Android: if the iPhone 4G comes to Verizon, I’m dropping your ass like a bad bean sandwich.

21Apr10

I’m an Android user, and my phone — the Droid Eris — is decent enough (it was my first smartphone and I didn’t want to commit hundreds of dollars my first time out). Meh performance, but great design and it has very quickly become an indispensable part of my life.

Which is why I’m panting at the possibility of getting an iPhone this summer.

Sure, I could just upgrade to a top-of-the-line Android handset like the Droid Incredible. But in my heart of hearts, that would be like buying an Acura when what I really want (and can afford) is a Lamborghini.

The only reason I’m not using an iPhone is because it’s not available on Verizon, the best cell network. Yes, on principle I am disgusted by Apple’s increasingly “fuck you”-ish attitude about interoperability and open standards. But guess what? Their product still kicks every other one’s ass six ways from Sunday, and when it comes to a smartphone, principles only get you so far. You just want the best.

And about this big open standards business: If the Android Marketplace is such an open utopia of developer love, why the f*ck are all the apps crapola compared to iPhone’s? Every other week I hear about some new iPhone-only app that I curse not being able to use. Hell, I carry an iPod Touch with me just for Instapaper. That’s ALL I do with it. Seriously: a whole separate device I willingly lug around just for one killer app.

Android has NO killer app. Not one. I’m sorry. It’s true. Anything awesome I’ve seen on Android (a rarity anyway) is available on the iPhone, and usually done better to boot.

Yes, I know: Google Voice is only available on iPhone as an HTML5 workaround. But guess what, it IS there. And I only use it for voicemail transcription anyway, not a dialer, so the webapp version is good enough for me. And Google’s amazing, literally-seems-like-magic Voice Search is already available as a bona fide iPhone app. So remind me what the f*ck I need Android for, again? So I can be in the same camp as Cory Doctorow, the tech world’s version of Walter from The Big Lebowski? (Seriously, just replace “Shomer Shabbos!!!” with “open source.”)

No thanks. For normal people who don’t take perverse joy in taking three times as many taps to do everything, or people who care about beautiful technology, Android is a wasteland. It’s telling that it took a whole separate company — HTC — to give the damn thing a UI that doesn’t suck.

You want big bad Apple not to “win”? Try actually bringing your A-game then. Make apps that are the equivalent of “beautiful machines that scream with precision fury.” Not what Android has now, which is like an app-market hybrid of Etsy and eBay: a few clever efforts and whole a lot of useless garbage.

Meanwhile, I’m crossing my fingers for a Verizon iPhone launch.



17 Responses to “Sorry, Android: if the iPhone 4G comes to Verizon, I’m dropping your ass like a bad bean sandwich.”

  1. Do you have to pay for Android apps? If so, it could simply be a question of the iPhone being the first-out-of-the-gate dominant platform. It’s like the old Mac vs. Windows debate — 90% of the apps were on Windows because that’s where the users were, and that became self-reinforcing. For Android to win, it would have to be as better than the iPhone to the same degree that macs were better than wintel boxes. Except, oops, they’re fighting against the guy who already won that battle.

    The path-dependence of software ecosystems is mind-boggling. Here’s a metaphor: a bunch of microorganisms decided to fill the atmosphere with oxygen, and now only aerobic multicellular organisms can live on the surface of the earth. Iphone literally sucked all the air out of the room.

  2. 2 Me

    Android has a mix of paid and free apps like iPhone. And I’d be happy to pay, if any of them were any fucking good.

    I agree with you about the air being sucked out of the room by the one who got there first. But the reversal in this case is interesting/frustrating: the monolithic operator actually MAKES THE BETTER SHIT. It’s weird to see techno-rati types bending over backwards to praise the Android platform when in the real world it’s mostly just a home for crapware, or cool-but-inessential experiments like Google Goggles or augmented reality whatever.

  3. However much the devs bitch and moan, El Jobso has found a way for everyone to make money — including Apple.

    I think this marks a turning point: computing is truly mainstream. The ability to modify the source code of the applications you use — which was the original goal of the hacker ethic and the open-source movement it spawned — is now completely irrelevant to 99.99% of the people using these devices.

  4. 4 The Schwazz

    John, wow, when and from where did you learn all this profanity? Also, where’s this hate for bean sandwiches coming from? They’ve been a great comfort to me for years.

    I won’t pretend to be able to sway anyone who’s weighed in on this post in any direction at all. (see: https://johnpavlus.wordpress.com/2010/03/22/why-passing-health-care-reform-in-a-post-fact-society-is-not-much-to-crow-about/) But I’ll try to lay out some reasons why I don’t personally support Applely gadgets in a reasonable way that doesn’t too closely resemble Stallmanian zealotry:

    – Apple charges a two-pronged tax for access to their developer tools. 1) A $99/year fee for the developers’ toolchain, and then 2) requiring that development be done on an OSX-based product. Compounding the issue is that licensing restrictions prevent the OS from being run in a virtualized environment, so hardware must be purchased as well. And I think you know that ain’t cheap. If you happen to live in the “developing world”? Forget about it.

    – The Iphone OS is a “walled garden”. A developer must pay the above taxes as a means of entry. Even then, there’s a review process that would make Dr. Evil’s ill-tempered sea bass blush. A developer, after sinking untold man-hours into a product, could have his/her application rejected outright, or worse, have the carpet ripped out from underneath when the application (and its depended-upon revenue stream) is vanished without the slightest justification.

    – On a personal level, it’s more difficult for me to take this stance than you may realize. I was born into the Apple II — it’s what every classroom had in my public elementary school, and thus it’s what my parents bought me when I was 7 years old. It came with animated diagrams describing how the hardware worked, and encouraged you to take your computer apart to see for yourself. The manual had instructions for how to input *machine language* directly into RAM. (That’s the barest of all, the literal 1’s and 0’s.) With the freedom to explore and create software for myself, I wound up teaching myself algebra and trigonometry through coding. (Keep in mind, I’m still in 2nd grade here.) I eventually outgrew my britches and moved on to Microsoft-y, UNIX-y, and eventually GNU/Linux-y environments, but my experiences and growth would have been vastly different — likely not for the better — had I not grown up with my Apple II. Transplant my birthday 25 years later and this story plays out very differently. Won’t someone please think of the children?!

    No one would blink if you decided to arbitrarily delete this comment, but we’re not talking about Steve Jobs’ blog, here. This platform battle is aimed squarely at the heart of all tech-savvy (which is rapidly becoming tech-whatever) society — and with it comes social responsibilities. So long as we demand it.

  5. So what you’re saying is, open source is for the poors.

    http://gawker.com/tag/thepoors/

    Seriously though, aren’t there other, more significant barriers — such as the inordinately more complex nature of modern computers when compared to an Apple II — to the kind of learning you’re talking about?

  6. 6 Me

    I agree with everything you just said. The $99 developer tax is complete bullshit, and so is the amendment to the SDK license (from what I understand of it). Them’s the principles I (glibly, granted) referenced in my post.

    The trouble is that to me and LOT of other people, the platform associated with those higher principles is inferior.

    When you say “as long as we demand it,” I agree, but disagree about the target of those demands. Apple cannot be swayed from their quasi-fascistic corporate policies, because too many people are voting with their dollars, and with good reason. They have, in every meaningful sense of the word, “demanded” to get exactly what Jobs keeps giving.

    The only way for tech-savvy social responsibility to win is to offer a better alternative. Not, better-if-you-understand-the-relevant-context. Like, no-excuses, it’s-just-better better. That’s what *I* demand, as a user who likes this stuff. Be better. Save the rhetoric. I don’t give a shit about how the sausage gets made. Just be better than the thing from which you demand change. (I’m using the general “you” here, not meaning you, personally.)

    Maybe that’s naive, but that’s a user’s perspective.

  7. 8 The Schwazz

    Zeitgeiber:
    With advances in hardware come advances in software and thus, the ability to reach and help-along budding intellectuals. Just ten years ago, computers were already mind-boggingly more complex than the Apple IIs of yore, yet MacOS still shipped with ResEdit. Similarly-better tools are out there for today’s machines, but because of the “threat” they pose, they’re kept out. System hacking is by no means for everyone, but the curious mind should be encouraged, not badgered into submission, or worse, priced out.

    Pavlus:
    At some point, the metric by which “quality” is calculated is going to have to include ethics. To me, free-n-open-source *is* “better than the thing from which [I] demand change” because it comes without the pocket-lining barriers to entry, and without signing your freedoms over in a Faustian bargain.

    To continue your titular culinary analogy, when faced with the choice, the masses overwhelmingly will choose something like KFC’s abhorrent “Double Down” over a black bean sandwich on whole-grain bread with a garlic avocado spread. The tang of the Colonel’s Secret Sauce, the aroma of its spiced oily lather, and the glitzy packaging and catchy advertisements will win out over anything quite so mundanely healthy, hands down. A little ways down the road, you’re (likewise, the general “you” and not the personal “you”) gonna wish you had a little bit of that fiber in your colon. So to bring the analogy home, being won over by a slick UI, or an indie soundtrack, or having something fit so snugly in your geek vag (again, the not the personal but the general vag) may not seem like such a great deal after all when you give birth to a rape baby 9 months later. Wait, is this thing on…?

  8. OK so, just so I’m clear on this, as long as there are all these other platforms and devices that are open, why is Apple such a threat? To continue your analogy, let the masses have their KFC, if that’s what works for them. And you can continue to use open source software and shop at Trader Joe’s. Right?

  9. Also, John, just so you know, not even the Mac was ever a closed platform. Walled gardening like what we see on the iPhone iPad hasn’t been seen since… AOL?

    And look at how that turned out. Just because Apple is dominant now doesn’t mean it will be forever. I mean, in this industry, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you only get so much time as king of the hill.

  10. 11 The Schwazz

    Well, certainly I’m happy with the groove I’ve found with the proverbial Trader Joe’s. And I wouldn’t even propose anything like a hysterical/facist ban on KFC’s trans-fats. All the while I was hacking on my Apple II in basic and assembly, almost all the other kids were using it for little more than playing the Oregon Trail. My position is that the masses need the freedom to choose and explore at a level higher than merely “Iphone or Droid”.

  11. It’s suddenly occurred to me that this entire debate might be misbegotten. It’s not as if Apple has proposed locking down all computing devices (or even all mobile devices) – just its own slice of the market!

    Eric, when you were programming machine code into your Apple II, did you feel stifled by the fact that you couldn’t do the same to your Nintendo?

    The point being: there have always been classes of devices that are closed.

    Even so, if kids really want to hack something, there’s always a way – jailbroken iphone, PSP, whatever it is. But you’re saying kids need easy access to programmable, open devices. Well… they have that, right? Unless we can make the case that Apple sets a dangerous precedent that others are likely to follow — which I don’t believe, because I think only Apple could get away with this, because a closed ecosystem on any device of lesser popularity would guarantee no one would develop for it — then I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

  12. 13 The Schwazz

    If only my mom would have let me have a Nintendo… and I would have loved the chance to program on it! Are you kidding?! You think I didn’t dream about that constantly, about what that magical code looked like, how the bits were stored on those life-giving cartridges, how everything worked from top to bottom? What harm would it have done Nintendo if I’d had access? You think other kids, or myself even, if presented the option of exploring the platform wouldn’t have kept pouring their allowances into new games like so many Castlevanian zombies?

    But I think a difference here is that the Nintendo didn’t seek to be the single source of end-user entertainment and productivity like Apple does. (if the AppleTV had caught on, you can bet there would have been an xbox-like device to follow. given that the ipod screen has mutated and swollen up to become an ipad, the wallmounted iportal probably isn’t too far behind.)

    And even if third-party hardware hackers can provide “jailbreaking” utilities, it still poses a formidable barrier to entry. (Have you ever had the ‘pleasure’ of jailbreaking an iphone?) And what inroads the jailbreakers make, Apple seeks to block it with each subsequent hardware generation. That it gets stuck with a label like “jailbreaking” with all its connotations…

    If your point is that there have always been devices that have been closed, my point is, “does that make it okay?”

    And Apple is hardly setting the precedent here.

  13. 14 Me

    John Gruber can bend himself into ridiculous pretzels defending Apple, but in this case I have come to agree with him: The Kids Are All Right.

    http://daringfireball.net/2010/04/kids_are_all_right

    The next generation’s “sense of wonder” or “creative impulse” or “tinkering urge” doesn’t have anything to do with what did it for us, back in the day. So I think it’s kind of silly to try to apply those experiences as some sort of lost golden age to the present… although it is tempting. I did so myself right when the iPad came out:

    https://johnpavlus.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/if-tablets-are-the-future-whats-the-future-of-geeks/

    I couldn’t care less who makes the best shit as long that’s what it is. Safari annoys me because it wasn’t “power user” enough for my taste, so I used Firefox. Then Firefox got sludgy and so I switched to Chrome. It’s all about what the product does for me and how well, not about who makes it.

    That’s how I feel about Android vs iPhone. The politics of the platform don’t really interest me as a user, I’m just disappointed that Android (to me) is not The Best when there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be, since there are No Rules And Everyone is Kumbaya or Whatever. To me it’s not Apple’s fault that Android offers an inferior experience, it’s the Android community’s fault.

    But then again not really, since the Android community might just not be developing for users like me. That could be just a plain fact. But if so, I’d hazard to say that they are ceding the mainstream. They are choosing to be fringe. They are making a choice: “Most users will not want to use my work, and I’m OK with that because I’m not doing this for them.” That’s cool — just don’t act like “you’re” better because you enjoy complexity, extra effort, and getting under the hood (or not even having a hood to begin with!). Simple UIs and clean, easy computing experiences (closed or open) are not empty calories for brainwashed sheep-people. They’re simply The Mainstream. And the mainstream, at least if we’re judging the success of iPhone/iApps/etc as a key indicator, in this newish emerging world of mobile computing appliances, doesn’t care that much about being able to tinker. They don’t consider it a human right that is being infringed.

    Me, I like being able to configure things exactly to my preferences, so Android is attractive on those grounds. But the ground truth is that Android mostly offers configurability but NOT to my preferences! I guess that’s my frustration. Apple offers less configurability, but for the most part actually matches my preferences, so I don’t much care about what I’m “missing.” Because I’m not actually missing anything.

  14. So maybe it’s just an accident that at one point open and accessible platforms were what was available. Probably because the shit was so new, there was no other way to do it. I feel the tides of history sweeping us along here.

    Maybe a larger theme here is that open, modifiable systems are in fact relatively rare, because the commercial interest always pushes them toward being closed. In that case, it’s only the newest, weirest, most experimental technologies that are fertile ground for tinkering. And I’d argue there will always be something like that around. I don’t know what it will be, and it might not always appeal to the mindset of a mid-80’s hacker.

  15. 16 Me

    It’s funny – the internet, with its wild west weirdness that can never be stopped, has inspired lately me to want to learn to do simple programming; and so has the iPad, on the total other end of the pole.

  16. 17 Me

    I just reread the post / thread and think I should make it clear that behind all my crabbiness I do think developers of any kind are the magicians of our era, and I certainly couldn’t do what they do. (So my blanket description of Android apps as “crapware” is really not that charitable or accurate.) The annoying things about my Android-platformed phone are, when I’m honest about it, of the “Everthing’s amazing, nobody’s happy”-esque variety (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, this clip will explain):

    And of course, the usual maxim “De gustibus non est disputandum” applies here too… with tools, people have preferences that at some point have get past functionality and land in the realm of just plain personal taste, and there’s no meaningful moral/political aspect to that.

    In the end I wish Android apps were more like iPhone apps in their variety, powerful-ness, creativity, AND — important to me — UI slickness/ease/beauty. There’s clearly a demand for that, so I just don’t know why they aren’t there to same extent on a different-but-better-situated (because it’s open) platform. Hell, the fact that the inventor of Instapaper–a blockbuster app if there ever was one–hasn’t bothered to make an Android version when he went so far as to make it KINDLE-friendly for chrissakes really boggles my mind — it’s like making a conscious choice NOT to make more money by selling to an eager untapped market. Also mindboggling: that no other developer has just up and cloned his app for Android, given it a different name, charged a dollar for it and made a mint.



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