BLOG STARTUPS, VENTURE AND THE TECH BUSINESS

March 29 2011
by Todd Hixon

Android Will Hold Its Own

The Verizon iPhone and recent strong success of Apple’s iOS on multiple fronts raises the question: can Android really compete with iOS?  (E.g., WSJ: “Verizon iPhone: A Threat to Android?”)  Although sales and installed base of Android devices have passed the iPhone, some argue that happened because carriers representing 70% of the U.S. market had no access to the iPhone (and similar abroad).  With the Verizon iPhone and AT&T acquiring T-Mobile, that math inverts in the U.S.

Android v2.3 ("Gingerbread") Home Screen

When I became interested in Android a year ago, I had an iPhone, and I bought a NexusOne:  the “Google experience” Android phone.  For a month I kept both phones going and switched every week.  Then I gave my iPhone away.  Here’s why.

I put the smart phone value proposition in five buckets, ranked by importance:

1.         Performance as a phone.  Apple does not make a great phone:  recall the iPhone 4 antenna debacle.  My NexusOne beats my wife’s 3GS hands-down in side-by-side attempts to connect to a distant cell site.   Both phones are weak on battery life, but the NexusOne has a replaceable battery (remember those?).

2.         Core apps:  contacts, mail, calendar, browser. If you’re a Gmail user, Android is a bit better.  For Exchange, iPhone is better, because Android refuses to search email messages.  I doubt that Google forgot about search; I miss the days when they stayed strictly on the high road.  But, winning buckets 1 & 2 is not enough, or else the Blackberry would still be riding high, as it has the best mail/contacts/calendar by far.

3.         User interface.  I give Apple a small edge in pleasing design and responsiveness. Android is more capable — a bit more effort to learn but well worth it.  Key advantages are:  better handling of notifications, widgets (applets that run in little windows), controls on the home screen like WiFi on/off, and better access to system information, eg, the true signal strength (versus the Apple’s BS bars). Gingerbread (v2.3) refreshed the design pleasantly.

4.         Apps. iOS has >300,000 apps and Android has >120,000.  That’s a lot on both platforms, with almost any important app quickly on both.  The important “Google Mobile Services” apps (Maps/Nav, Voice, Search) have enhanced features on Android.  The Android Market has been weak, but with the launch of the Amazon AppStore for Android, plus emergence of third party app search engines like AppTap(1), Android is competitive.  And, Android apps and system updates are managed 100% wirelessly: no need to plug in.  Here Apple needs to catch up.

5.         Content. Apple has a big advantage:  more services with more content, and better content management via iTunes.  Android is catching up (DoubleTwist, Amazon MP3 store, good Kindle app) but has a way to go.

Android comes on some nice hardware, too:  powerful, well-designed phones, such as the NexusOne.

So I distinctly prefer Android: no plans here to buy an iPhone 4 (or 5).

This analysis is quite different for tablets:  there is no phone function, and content and apps rise in importance.  It’s no surprise that Android tablets are lagging in the early going.  But that is a subject for a future post.

  1. AppTap is a NAV portfolio company offering federated app search services to major web content sites.

 

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