My First Two Weeks with Android
Recently, I bought a Droid 2 from a friend for development purposes. Initially for AIR on Android, but maybe letter native development too. I’m an iPhone user and to be honest, I really don’t have any reason to move over, but I wanted to get used to Android because I think there is work out there for it, and there is some curiosity as well about all the ‘droid hype. I have used the Droid 2 as a device, not for general phone services, for about two weeks now.
To re-purpose a line from Steve Jobs, the Android UI is a “bag of hurt”. Where Apple iOS is very controlled (I agree, too much at times), the Android OS seems to be all over the place. You can hand an iOS device to a 3 yr old and they’ll be moving around and finding things very quickly. I probably spent two minutes with my niece over the holiday and she proved that point. There are still times when I’m using the Droid 2 where I’m asking myself “WTF?” and I can’t find something.
Case in point, open the Android camera app. You have some settings controlled via on-screen slide out (scenes, effects, flash, switch to …), but then other settings are only accessed by hitting the hardware settings button (picture mode, tags, settings – yes settings within settings). And you can actually open both at the same time so they overlap. Pure UI Craptasic Awesomeness. This isn’t some 3rd party app either. Its the built-in experience on the Droid 2. Then on top of that, just the basic UI feedback mechanisms like screen animations like slides feel clunky. Maybe its better on other Android phones.. not sure.. But this isn’t the only examples. iOS is far from perfect, and Android is definitely far from perfect. Android is free, open source, easy to develop for, and I’m sure will lead to more work, particularly for the Flash developers using AIR, but from a consumer perspective, its not a long way to go. I hope 2011 brings big improvements.
[ edit on Jan 18th - a friend questioned my judgment on why I came to my conclusion on Android. Figured I'd post it here]
Here is a list of things I found clunky in Android: Btw — iOS isn’t perfect, but it’s the little things that it really excels at.
Unlocking the phone: The combination of haptic feedback and the sliding animation was jittery when sliding in a normal fashion. The haptic feedback actually amplified this feedback experience.
Mute icon on locked screen: This is a sliding metaphor, yet the response to set audio on or off.
Overall: the combination of hard and soft UI is confusing. Many times, there are onscreen controls and controls accessed via the settings button. A great example of this is the camera app on the Droid 2. You have a slide out menu for some settings onscreen on the right to access some camera features, including switching to camcorder, and yet, you have other important camera features, like camera modes, hidden away in the settings button. (fyi I tried to find out if this is the stock camera app, and I really dont’ know but I did check that Omar has the same on his phone).
Settings button: When does any app/screen use this or not. I found myself routinely pressing this to see what is hidden away. It surprised me how often things were hidden away w/o any feedback to the user that things existed there.
Back button: I like the back button, but its not consistent. Some popups will use OK, Cancel, and some won’t, expecting you to use the back button.
Portrait to Landscape (& vice-versa) transitions. This is probably more of a personal preference, but the immediate snap in orientation is jarring. This phone is far faster than my 2-1/2 year old iPhone, so there isnt’ a technical reason that it can’t change orientations with visual feedback to the user. Transitions serve a very important function of user context.
Overall: The phone doesn’t come with any music or video organization tool. Some people hate iTunes, but it serves as a great tool for organizing your music, videos, and apps. These aren’t always going to exist only on the phone. This is why I pointed out iTunes+iOS. It’s a package deal. And the home user wants a way to manage these items. Instead, at least from what I see, Google & the carriers leave that up to the customer to figure out.
Notifications: I like the idea of having one place to get to your notifications. I think Apple should adopt something like this. However, getting to your notifications on Android is horrible. That tiny top bar is about 1/2 size of the normal height needed. Numerous times, I have fat-fingered it, and missed and had to try again.
List items that go somewhere, List items that just display: Go to the About Phone screen. This screen is a big list. Some of the list items only display info, and some are triggers to new screens w/o any visual feedback that clicking on them will go somewhere. iOS is very consistent with using “>” on list items that will go to more detail. In the sound settings list, they actually use the “dropdown caret” icon. Although, when in Contacts, there is a similar caret icon for linked profiles, that doesn’t go anywhere, but instead drops down more information.
Android Market online: why is this only usable when I’m on the phone? Go to the market, find an app you are interested in and there’s no price, no Google desktop installer, no QR code even. AppBrain does this better than Google.
Input Textfields: This may be something that Verizon or Motorola did, but why the red highlight around the active text field when I’m inputting text. Red means bad. Either pick another color to draw visual interest or only use the red when its meant to be used.
And I could probably go on. I doubt most of these are only Droid 2 issues. Your response seems to be that because it has better features, that it makes up for a lesser experience. Maybe thats the case with some people, but I would seriously doubt that most people feel that way. Here’s a good quote from Alan Coopers “The Inmates are running the Asylum” –> “Power User is a code name for an apologist. Regardless of how hard an interaction is, or how uselessly obscure a feature is, the apologist will unerringly point to the power and functionality of the gadget, blithely ignoring the difficulty of actually using it” Apple “gets” this concept. Google does not get it yet. I think voice commands is one step in the right direction, but that’s a good solution to a narrow circumstance (driving while using your phone).