Posts Tagged user experience
|First, some disclaimers :
I am an iPhone user, fan and application developer. I am using iPhones since day #1, I first owned an iPhone 1G, then an iPhone 3G.
I am a new Android user, I had no previous experience of Android before 2.2, so I will not write about the speed boost or the best new features, just because I do not (want to) know what is new and what is not.
I rather would like to concentrate on the differences with my iPhone 3G, running iOS 4.0.
I will not comment about the hardware pieces, such as the Camera, the batteries etc … I’ve done that already.
A Google Centric World
The first big difference after power on, when I started to configure my most important applications, such as email, calendar and address book : I had to think Google. Obviously, Android is Google-centric and all its data are coming from Googles services such as email, calendar and contact.
Over the air synchronisation is great. Whatever changes in your contacts or calendar is immediately shared amongst the web and your phone. iPhones offers this as well but for an extra fee : a MobileMe subscription.
No big difference for me. A small advantage for the iPhone because no additional software installation is required (Yes – I do consider iTunes as already installed)
Overall, I found the Android general user experience less intuitive, here are a couple of examples :
There are 4 buttons on the bottom of phone : Back, Menu, Home, Search + in addition to the scroll wheel. This is 3 too much. I like the simplicity of the the one button iPhone. As a user you always have to think about which button to click on : do I have other options available through the “Menu” button ? Where the “back” button will bring me back (it is always a surprise move for me). The only button I feel comfortable with is the “Home” button, similar to what I am use to on the iPhone.
“Settings” application contains many options, it is not always clear where to find what option.
Third-party application suffers from lack of coherence and lack of “user interface guide lines” for application developers. Some of them are great (Twitter for example), some are not (no name – sorry), making the whole user experience a little bit like a box of chocolate : you never know what you gonna get.
There is less space between keyboard keys, leading to more typing mistakes, at least with my fat fingers. But I understand this is really subjective.
About the typing experience, Android displays a set of suggested words from the dictionary while typing. I first love this function as it allows users to pick a word before completely typing it. Then I realize this interrupts the typing flow and divert your mind away from the sentence you’re typing. After a couple of days I surprised myself trying to ignore these suggestions and keep my mind focusing at the task, i.e. typing.
On the other side, I really like the notifications in the task bar, it allows to have a quick view on recent events such as unread mail count, unread tweets or new Facebook notifications. This is non intrusive and always available. I miss an equivalent on the iPhone.
More advanced usages
Because Google does not try to control its platform at all cost, Android has some advanced features not available on every iPhone (although some of these are now available with the recent update to iOS 4)
The multi-taksing comes first on my list, your applications stay active in background, and continue to play music, poll network services etc … iOS 4.0 just introduces this possibility too if you own at least a 3Gs. Platforms are equivalent now in this respect.
However, Android allows a much more fine grained application control with possibilities like “Force Stop”, “Clear Cache” and check various system statistics, such as memory used etc … While this is great control for a Geek like me, I doubt this is something my grand mother can understand and will use.
3G tethering to WiFi is close to multi-tasking in my favorite advanced feature list. It allows to turn your phone into a portable hot spot, delivering wifi connection to clients, through the 3G subscription. This is the reason why I will keep the Android phone in my bag when traveling : to let my iPad / MacBook connect to the 3G network through the phone.
iPhone’s iOS 4 offers tethering through USB or bluetooth only.
The camera is not part of my day-to-day phone experience (I prefer to carry along my heavy Canon DSLR to take pictures), although the common advise : the best camera is the one you have always with you.
The Camera control application allows to zoom, control the white balance and the flash. It also allows to record movies.
As said in the introduction, I do not own an iPhone 3Gs, so these are new welcome additions for me.
Android Application Distribution, aka the Android Market
The Android market is the equivalent of Apple’s App Store. This is the place where you can find (and sometimes buy) applications for your phone.
As an end user, the thing I dislike about Android Market is that it is only available on the phone. Using a small screen is not the best browsing / buying experience ever. I’de love to have a web based Android Market where I can select and find the applications I want, then, an over the air provisioning to the phone.
As a developer, on the other side, I do love Android Market because it makes your application available to end users immediately. There is no review or approval process. While this is great to be able to quickly push updates to your users or customers, it also leads to the very variable user experience I described above.
Misc. good and bad surprises
One very bad surprises I had during these two weeks of Android utilization is the way it sometimes merged my contact information. Two contacts in my address book, with similar first or last names are merged together, bringing all the phone numbers and email address into the same contact.
I first thought about an issue in the synchronization software I was using, but after some researches on Google, I found that the is the normal behavior of Android’s Contact application and this is indeed made on purpose ! (although a bug has been filled for inappropriate merging attempts)
This leads me to the good surprise. The Android community is extremely active and vocal (probably never encumbered with NDAs neither), making problem solving and troubleshooting extremely easy, both for end users and for developers.
So, what are my conclusions after 20 days with an Android phone in my pocket and one application developed ?
Android is a powerful system, robust, fully featured and an extremely pleasant platform to develop for.
To me, it looks like a phone made by engineers. It lacks end user interface polish and user interface coherence for third party applications, it lacks simplification. I’d love a system with less functions, buttons and easier to use.
When it comes to software design – I like to remind Saint Exupery‘s thought : “Perfection is not when there’s no more to add, but when there’s no more to remove”
Power users will love Android. I am back to my iPhone.
@fmallefait pointed me to this article fromAppleInsider : “iPhone 4 and iOS vs. Android: desktop and cloud services” which perfectly complements this post.