If you are unfamiliar with the term, read my friend Harry’s article for a great piece on “the fanboy“. Now, onto the piece – which I anticipate bringing me tons of annoyed Android folks (much like my tablet rant did last year).
I started using Android last December with the HTC Droid Eris. My decision came after watching a friend really enjoy the use, a small amount of personal hands-on time, and the excitement about the platform itself. Eight months later, and other than the vision of an open platform for smartphones, I have nothing but disdain for the current Android phone landscape. I find the devices crude and clunky, the product experience weak, and the overall state of the platform in “advanced beta” at best (if enough people clamor in the comments, I’ll write another post on just that topic). Granted, I am a product purist and I have one of the weaker Android devices on the market, but I’ve had a chance to use every one of the current “state of the art” phones other than the Droid 2, and my opinions remain the same.
Yet they are selling them by the bucketful. So I can’t possibly be right on this, as 20+ million other people are defying my belief that the phones themselves are lousy and barely usable. Or can I? After lots of discussions with Android users, I’ve divided up the Android world into the following buckets:
- Android Newbies: This group is new to the Android experience, and are probably very happy with their experience, despite lots of frustrating glitches at times. Why? Most of them are upgrading from feature phones (the industry term for a non-smartphone), and this is likely their very first experience to having the magic of Interwebbing on their phones. What’s not to love? That part comes soon.
- Android Haters: Having used their Android device for weeks-to-months, they have come to notice all its shortcomings, ranging from inconsistent back button use to awkward keyboards to erratic input sensitivity, all things they failed to really notice during the 30 day window to return the phone with no commitment. Furthermore, they are likely annoyed that their phone became outdated in less than 90 days since purchase – a phenomenon not well appreciated by tens of millions of people, despite what the tech community thinks. They/we are trapped, waiting, hoping, watching…
- Android Fanboys: The folks who think Android just freakin’ rocks, man.
What’s wrong with a Fanboy? Nothing at all. I have nothing but good feelings for anyone who loves any product, platform, service, etc – it’s fun to love stuff. However, I’m more than a little concerned about (1) more newbies buying products they shouldn’t, (2) building up the “Awesomeness” of the platform to the tech industry, when it’s not really at the same caliber as it could be (and indirectly letting device makers off the hook to build better products), and most importantly – (3) my phone sucks and I’m pissed, so this is my chance to vent.
Here’s some tips how to tell the Fanboys from the rest. Take it all with a grain of salt.
- They preach about openness. The Android fanboy will tell you multiple times about how the platform is open and how that’s a great benefit to everyone. Let’s be totally blunt for a second: the average technology user cares about “open” products roughly zero. If they did, then companies like Microsoft, Apple, etc would never have become the behemoths they are. Openness is great in theory, and in very specific instances can be a huge factor, but it is not, in and of itself, a “benefit”. My “open” phone has a lousy app marketplace, requires third-party software to be regularly usable, has no inherent easy way to play media files, and actually shipped with not one, but two different native email applications (one of which actually disappeared on its own during the last software update).
- They show you widgets. “Look ma, its the weather! On my Phone!” Android devices are capable of displaying widgets, which are unquestionably one of the coolest things about Android. But there’s only a few really useful widgets, and they do not, in any way, make up for the rest of the Android experience. I have a widget called “Agenda”. When I view it, it takes up to 5 seconds to show me my agenda (during which it doesn’t say “loading agenda”, it says “NO agenda”.). Ditto for my Stocks widget, Mail widget, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the widgets, but they alone do not a good phone make.
- They ignore the little details. My “send text message to my wife” shortcut on my home screen is very cool (shortcuts, after widgets, are a very cool element of Android). But when I click on it, it brings me to a “send message” screen, with my cursor highlighting the “To” field, resulting in me starting to write my text in the wrong place (it should be the “message” field). Not a big deal, right? There’s tons of them. Now compound that little experience to all experiences and you’ll get a better picture. It’s as if every edge possible could be the rough version. But Fanboys don’t care, they’ll trivialize these nuances or tell you they’ll be fixed in an upcoming version (more on that in a moment). Here’s the thing: it’s the little things that matter when it comes to product experience! If every single time I send a text message I have to go through an inconvenience, how on earth can this be “awesome”?
- They know the difference between Android versions and implementations. For those unaware, Android is a rapidly evolving platform, which at the surface sounds really great. But it isn’t great to most consumers who are buying phones for their use now, and who don’t want to have to think about things getting fixed in the future. I’d make the analogy to early days of Windows, except when you buy a Dell or an HP (or, shudder, a Vaio – wow, been a while since I went there!), you get a product that works consistently, with some extremely subtle nuance in specific applications. In Android, a Froyo with Sense is different than an Eclair with Blur. Yup, that was a technically accurate statement. The problem here is the very core, the baseline experience simply isn’t good enough, and Google is trying to fight the very upstream battle in mobile of getting manufacturers to not differentiate against each other. Lastly, since there’s upgrades coming all the time, it’s impossible to know if the phone you buy today will do the things Android is promised to one day do.
- They justify carrying huge phones. Have you seen the Evo or Droid X? Massive. Practically as big as my iPad (no, not really, calm down). Maybe if the platform included a great video delivery experience (translated: or any video experience) this would make sense. Instead, you get a huge brick and are left to figure out what to do with it on your own. Worst of all, the bigger phones are the “good” ones, leaving consumers with the awkward decision between buying something convenient versus a house phone. The moment a device isn’t pocket-sized, it’s competing against non-phones, but yet the Fanboys overlook this every time. And if carnies can’t hold it, I don’t want it either. And while I’m at it, can someone explain how 2-3 hours of use with a fully charged battery is considered acceptable??
- They make a big deal out of commonplace stuff. Here’s a recent review of the HTC Hero, which used no fewer than three sentences to praise the headphone jack. Yes, the headphone jack. And so you don’t have to read it, just know – it’s just a headphone jack! In the words of a fanboy: Woot!1!!
- They get excited about hot-sounding but generally impractical features. Translating voice into text messages? Sounds awesome. Now use it. This piece sums it all up nicely. In all truth, you really can build some amazing things with Android, I don’t deny that at all. But if you don’t have the basics working amazingly well, it doesn’t matter. It’s like having sprinkles on your hot fudge sauce on your ice cream on your 7 layer cake only to find out the cake is liver-flavored.
And now for the clincher
They compare against the iPhone, all the time. Greatness is defined by what you are, not by what something else is or isn’t. I wrote this entire post without referencing the iPhone (until now), as I have no interest in comparing the two (I personally have never owned an iPhone, for the record). I have no idea what Android does “better” than an iPhone, I don’t care, as it doesn’t improve my experience one bit. But Fanboys do. Fanboys can’t not bash the iPhone to make a point (here’s an article with 18 references to the iPhone alone). The iPhone being a closed system doesn’t help me decipher bizarre icons littering my experience. The iPhone dropping calls doesn’t help me accidentally hang up on callers because the logic to process touch events handles them after rendering new activities (translation: I am clicking a button on the screen, a call comes in, and the place I had just clicked was “ignore call”, and the phone decides that my click was to ignore the call, not whatever I was doing before. This is poor design). The iPhone having a death grip doesn’t make my onscreen keyboard more usable. So I’ll say it again: Greatness is defined by what you are, not by what something else is or isn’t.