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Why There Is No iPhone Killer.

 

Recently a couple of us here at iSource have decided to take a detour from our normal path and (temporarily) leave the iOS fold. With the iPhone 4 a bit long in the tooth if you bought it on launch day and a rumored new iPhone coming soon, the time seemed right to see how green the grass is on the other side of the fence. Truth be told I’ve felt that I might be missing out on something for a while now. I mean millions of Android users can’t be all wrong right? And Windows Phone 7 keeps building hype towards ‘Mango‘ and all the newness it offers. So, with a heavy heart and a slightly lighter wallet (after a trip to eBay) I departed from my iOS brethren and bought an HTC HD7S.

 

Now, before we go any further I completely subscribe to the concept of to each their own. I personally don’t care if you prefer a Sony, HTC, Samsung, Nokia or cheap Chinese knockoff. I am an Apple fan as evidenced by the Macbook I’m typing this on, the iPad charging next to it and the now sold iPhone 4 I had somewhere in NY. My wife carries a 3GS and my daughter uses a (quite aging) iPod Touch 1st Gen. I’m not here to bash your chosen platform or start any flame wars. I am however going to try and explain why in my mind iOS is winning the hearts and minds of many, and while this experiment has been fun I’ll be back to iOS when the new phone launches without pause.

 

Hardware:
First let’s start with what I consider to be a fairly weak argument overall because, again to each their own when it comes to the device you hold in your hand. There’s some great phones out there with out a doubt. But, I’ve yet to come across anything that has the build quality and solidity of an iPhone 4. Take the newest Galaxy “superphone”. Mostly plastic. The HTC HD7S I hold in my hand isn’t any better and frankly feels cheap with its big gap on the back and super thin battery cover. The upcoming HTC Titan looks to fare a bit better as at least it has a metal unibody construction, but still doesn’t look like it took a lot of design effort to produce. A vast majority of the major players are just simply taking their standard designs, updating the internal hardware and pumping out the units. Apple produces (on average) one iPhone model per year. That product is the culmination of months and months of planning, designing and tweaking. Look at the upcoming HTC Radar and compare it to the HTC Trophy. This is like the exclamation point on what I’m talking about. Same phone, new name, no effort. And yes, there was the Apple 3G / 3GS which were identical. Until you actually used the device and realized that the effort of the prior year all went into the internals of the phone. The outside remained the same, but the inside went from a sports sedan to a muscle car. The Radar/Trophy upgrades? Mango (Microsoft did that work) and the camera (again someone else did the work). HTC did very little. Samsung really isn’t doing much more in the design area. If you need any evidence of that… I present to you their power adapter.

 

Operating System:
You know as well as I do this comes down to preference. I’ve been using Honeycomb on a Dell Streak 7 for the past few weeks and I like it. It’s not perfect, but it got a lot of things right. However it feels like Linux. Not a smooth, sexy  KDE interface, but a sharp edged, industrial, spruced up Gnome interface. It just doesn’t feel right for me. For some Honeycomb is exactly what they were looking for and that’s great, but for me it’s just Linux without the satisfaction of knowing you built everything yourself from source.

 

Windows Phone 7 (while I’m still adjusting to it) feels a heck of a lot better than Android to me. If anything it’s less flashy than Honeycomb but that’s what makes it shine. It’s minimalistic and very subdued. Compared to Honeycomb it’s like walking into Moby’s home when you were just at the home of 50 Cent. Moby’s home is minimalistic. 50’s is anything but. The problem for me with Android is it just becomes overload. There’s so much going on with the settings, screens, and possibilities to configure that you lose sight of the fact that you’re there to do something else. I’ve spent more time fiddling with Honeycomb to get things how I want them then I have actually accomplishing the task I set out to do. WP7 is the exact opposite. There’s nothing to do. You can set the colors for your tiles, change your ringtones and your wallpaper. End of list.

 

One thing WP7 is getting right and that’s live tiles. Live tiles are what Apple should have put into iOS to begin with. Just like they’ve copied notifications, I hope they wake up to the live tile concept because it completely changes how you interact with the device. I can’t explain it – it’s something you have to experience. Once you do, you’ll hate everything about iOS’ and Android’s static icon concept. Honeycomb is a close second here with widgets. I love looking at the home screen and seeing my email, calendar and other details all in one place. WP7 is cleaner, but the widgets are definitely more powerful.

 

Overall WP7 feels like a smartphone for beginners. Android the OS for geeks and tweakers. iOS is the middle ground. Lots of missing power but just enough to make it worthwhile.

 

The Missing Link
In all my futzing with different mobile devices and the OS’ that come with them, I’ve determined the one thing that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to beating Apple and their iPhone is the app ecosystem. Let’s take a look at Android to start with. Yes, they have a ton of good apps, but how do you get them? Take a search through the Google Android Market and you’re likely to find everything but what you’re actually looking for. In many cases you’re better off using an app or a website to find the app, then clicking one of their deep links to actually get it. I’m not sure what the problem is on Google’s side – but for a search company their marketplace app search is garbage. Take a look at this search for LogMeIn:

 

One search, two of the same app, two different prices. And WTF does Angry Birds have to do with LogMeIn? Better yet why is it that Angry Birds comes up in a search for damned near everything? Are they paying for placement?  So, assuming you did finally get that app you’re looking for, you’re then stuck finding out there’s a good chance it doesn’t work on your phone/tablet (cough cough Netflix COUGH). Amazon is doing a good job with their marketplace, but many times they don’t have an app that the google marketplace does. And when they do have that app and so does Google … well then you’re stuck either not buying anything from Amazon or later when you want to re-install have do the receipt search from hell to try and determine where you bought the app from so you don’t get charged again. Finally – all you folks with an Android tablet – Why isn’t there a single decent handwritten note application? Every one I tried is terrible. Either there’s no zoom function, no line smoothing or zero in the way of organization in the app. I’ve got a handful for my iPad that are all excellent, yet I can’t find one worth while for Honeycomb.

 

Windows Phone 7 apps are a joke. And by joke I mean one of those jokes nobody laughs at on a late night show. Picture one of Jay Leno’s many awkward moments in front of the audience when a skit bombs. That’s the state of Windows Phone 7 apps. Scrolling performance is terrible in the major platform apps (Twitter and Facebook). Loading new tweets or wall stories in both apps is agonizingly slow (WiFi and 3G) and once they’re loaded the performance is like scrolling through an all flash website on your Windows PC when the CPU is maxed out at 100%. And yes – I’m on Mango – but NoDo was a NoGo too. Selection of apps is another problem. Go take a look.Don’t worry we’ll wait because it’ll only take a second.

Try finding your favorite games from iOS. Almost none of them are there. Even better try finding a decent non-game app you like. For me there’s nothing even close to Air Video, Gas Cubby, GoodReader, Pocket Informant, Reeder, Wonderful Days… and the list goes on and on. The scariest part of the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem is they’ve managed to lose even the developers who were die hard Windows Mobile devs. These guys should have been first in line with apps that defined the platform but try finding Pocket Informant or anything from Mastersoft. It’s a ghost town. A few EA games and the standards (Shazam, Adobe, Yahoo, etc) but the list is short. Hell Microsoft owns Skype and it’s nowhere to be found. Way to support your own platform! I’ve been running WP7 for a week now, and I’ve bought one application. One. That application is called Rowi and the reason I bought it was because it’s the only twitter app I could find that didn’t reload all the tweets and start again at the top. But even that app is a far cry from even the most basic iOS twitter app when it comes to features and design. And don’t get me started on prices. Most devs charge on average a couple bucks more for a WP7 game as they do for an iOS game.  Less performance for more money… sounds like a good plan for failure.

The long and the short of it is there’s two EXCELLENT mobile operating systems out there that can easily compete with iOS. Android and Windows Phone 7 both have amazing qualities when it comes to what the OS is capable of and how it works for you. I’m absolutely in love with the basics in WP7 like live tiles, pivot, lock screen information…  Android’s widgets, tweakability and notifications are killer. But what neither of them have is an ecosystem that provides you with damned near every app you could imagine, with a high production value at a reasonable cost and a simple, make it easy as breathing purchasing system. There’s just no buy in from the people who matter most – and that’s the top level developers who are making Apple a mint right now. Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that iOS on the whole is mediocre at best. But the break out indie developers and the big players have put all their weight behind it, making it into a powerhouse. Until someone else comes along and manages to pull it all together like Apple has done – there won’t be an iPhone killer.

 

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  • Luke

    Absolutely love this man. Wholeheartedly agree. This is very well written and I feel the same way, Apple takes time for everything, their attention to detail is remarkable and it makes all of their products worthwhile. That combined with an unbeatable ecosystem, they’re holding all the cards. Competitors simply do not have the right vision, nor do they even take time to actually develop outstanding products.

  • Drew

    I agree with pretty much everything you said here. The app store from Apple is the handsdown best out there. I’m looking to go the way of Android after using an iPod Touch since it first came out in 07 and looking at Androids Marketplace makes me very sad. I was did something similar that you did – I searched for a weather app and for some reason a game came up in the search results – and it had nothing to do with weather!

    The iPhone 4 is still the best design I’ve seen in a while and I certainly hope the new one is as good. If it wasn’t for the Xperia Play with it’s amazing gamepad, I would probably get a Windows Phone. Even though it’s lacking, I much prefer their interface. Apple’s UI is too much of the sameness from ’07.

    The good thing I do realize about Android is the high level of customization and some of the things lacking can be made up through rooting and launchers, though for the average user, that’s normally not an option.

    Good article!

  • Chill

    Nuff said…

  • jacoch

    And in your review, you didn’t try to change your device. I’ve tried with my Android. Don’t hope that you can just restore your device as it was. If you rooted the device and bought backup software, you can limit what you have to restore. But you can’t find your device as it was before the change.

  • Re:Jacoch

    This post is about the handsets itself not about rooting them or jailbreaking them that is another subject wich once agian the iOS handset would win aswell ! Hands down you can compare every aspect of wp7 and android to iOS and they still have alot of catching up to get a bite out the apple ! They took the first bite for you to have a platform to work with and still have yet to get near the core or apple genius!

  • Kevin

    *Applause* Well done! I have had a similar opinion for sometime now. Great article.

  • Dorothylisa

    hmmm hope so!i have a free app called Apple life, it is a real puzzle game and mind refreshing game. one should enjoy it…! check it out

    Appstore Download link: http://itunes.apple.com/in/app/apple-life/id463407836?mt=8

  • WP7

    As a WP7 user, I actually agree with this article for the most part.

    However, from my own personal perspective, if the quailty apps that you need are available in all of the ecosystems, then for those users the statement “there won’t be an iPhone killer” does not necessarily apply. Therefore, assuming that is the case, it’s the phone system itself that becomes the important factor which is down to personal preference, and why I personally prefer WP7 Mango over the other two.

    Plus, I have an Xbox, so WP7 makes more sense.

    Bottom line is though, at least there are now three decent phone systems available to choose from (WP7, Android, iOS), and that is most certainly a good thing for consumers.

  • Edgar

    this is a great article.. ios and wp7.5 are the smoothest ever..

  • Brandon

    @WP7 — Please tell me … what are the quality apps in the WP7 marketplace that I’m obviously missing? I have almost 300 iOS apps in iTunes right now – not that I use them all but I can’t seem to find anything worth really using for WP7.

    My current list is sad:
    Twitter – slow to load and slow to scroll
    Facebook – It’s almost like they didn’t even try to make this app useable.
    Weather / Weather Channel App – Live tiles FTW.
    WP Shortcut Tiles and few HTC add-ons.

    Other than those it’s very slim pickings when it comes to apps so far, so really I’d love to hear what I can’t miss out on while I’m still on the platform.

  • WP7

    @Brandon,

    With Facebook, I don’t use their app because the native functionality built into WP7 Mango is more than enough for my Facebook needs, such as tagging pictures and uploading them, chatting etc. I don’t Twitter, therefore it’s a feature which not important to me.

    Weather Apps – I have a Samsung Omnia 7 and I only use their own app, which works great. However, I work from home so if I need to know what the weather is I can just look out of the window!!

    Also, I’m in the UK so the UK specific apps that I do use would be of no use to you. London Travel is a great app which I use, especially since I don’t live in London and it’s ideal when travelling around the city on public transport, which can be daunting. I use Outdoor Navigation for my walking activities. So as you can see, I use very few apps. Therefore the fact that the app marketplace in WP7 is behind makes no difference to me because most of the things I need are built into the WP7 system.

    In terms of known quality apps, try something like Cocktail flow. Tasks by Telerik looks nice, but I haven’t really had the need to use it.

    One thing I would recommend is an app called Touch Develop from Microsoft – this is a very cool app which allows you to make your own apps! If you know a bit about coding or scripting, you might be quite impressed by this. It will be updated soon to support all the Mango features, but worth taking a look anyway because it is pretty cool.

    If I’m honest, you’ll probably miss out on many of the new Mango specific apps if you have limited time on the platform, because many of the iOS and Android apps would not have been possible prior to Mango due to the restricted API in the original WP7.

  • Brandon

    @WP7 — Thanks I’ll definitely take a look at those. I haven’t decided how limited my time on the platform is yet. I may keep the HD7S around for a rainy day. It all depends on my budget when iPhone time rolls around 🙂

  • WP7

    @Brandon,

    One thing I do agree with you is that for an established iPhone user with access to the vast array of apps, the iPhone is great. No doubt about it. WP7 with it’s much smaller app marketplace probably does not make any logical sense to a long-time iPhone user. That’s because it’s the apps in the Apple ecosystem that make the iPhone what it is. If you take away all the 3rd party apps from an iPhone, how would it compare to it’s competitors?

    This is in contrast to what WP7 was intended to be, which is maximum functionality out of the box, with a focus on people, natively integrated for a smooth quality experience. That is something it does very well, so much so that many users (myself included) simply don’t need many extra 3rd party apps.

    Will WP7 Mango kill the iPhone? No I don’t think so, and I don’t want it to either because competition is required to drive innovation. However, will WP7 Mango gain marketshare? Yes I think it will, though probaly not from iPhone marketshare. WP7 is fundamentally a very good product and there is a large existing ecosystem to support it (not just the apps) so there is no reason why it can’t flourish. I personally think WP7 is more likely to gain most of its marketshare from new customers, Blackberry users, and some Android users. But who really knows!

    One thing is for sure, there are very interesting times ahead in the mobile world!

  • Eric

    And what’s wrong with feeling like Linux? It’s my operating of system of choice for desktop and netbook alike.

  • WP7

    @Brandon,

    Another nice app which I just found is called Weave. I’m using the free version. There appears to be a paid version too which is available as a free trial, but I haven’t looked at that.

  • Laurel

    Thanks so much for this excellent article. Exactly what I needed!

  • Clint

    Very well written article. But have you considered that a lot of the small things you find wrong with iOS can be solved with jailbreaking? There are live icons in Cydia, as well as a plethora of other tweaks that greatly increase the productivity of the phone.

  • Clint

    I just read through the comments and saw that you specifically said you’re NOT talking about jailbreaking, just out of the box iOS. Sorry. 🙂

  • grover

    @WP7

    okay, so, let’s take out all the apps from all developers on all platforms…….what do we have? a phone! I will take Apples smoothness and the great backup for it in itunes over anything else that android or WP7 have….which is CARP! lol and yes, I know, I missplelled it on purpose. But, I know of people having issues on both phones when they have needed a new phone or upgraded…..lol lost contacts, pics, notes, etc…..

    so, if you want to take out the apps, take them out of all, and still IOS/iPhone come out on top….well, except my crappy camera, and I will give that to you….lmao

    • WP7

      @grover

      If you are comparing Apple smoothness and WP7 smoothness, then I really don’t know what you’re on about because both systems are silky smooth. Android is the one that is not so smooth.

      You mentioned iTunes for backup. WP7 has seemless cloud integration so I can sync all my data across devices, backup my contacts online and access my app purchase history online. I tested how all this works recently by resetting my phone completely just to see how good the WP7 cloud backup is. Guess what, it worked flawlessly – I provided my Windows Live ID and it automatically downloaded all my contacts again, all my data was available to restore, and all my apps could be reinstalled from the browswer wirelessly without even having to touch my phone. So I have no idea what the people you mentioned were doing, but clearly they either didn’t have WP7 Mango or they didn’t use the Windows Live cloud.

      In terms of removing the apps, I’m talking about removal of 3rd party apps for comparison purposes (as originally stated in my earlier post), because that is what makes iPhone so good. But that doesn’t make other platforms inferior if they have that functionality natively integrated. If you look at what’s happening, iOS is slowly starting to integrate more stuff natively, meaning less requirement for 3rd party apps. This is exactly the same route that WP7 took from the beginning. Apple can clearly see the benefits of this.

      Yeah, the camera on WP7 phones is nice! 🙂 And having a dedicated two-position camera button is very useful. Press half way to lock focus and light metering, then press fully to take the picture. It’s exactly how real cameras work and is nice to have for certain situations.

  • Tony

    I’m a WP7 Owner and I think there are many great app on the market place. is 30,000 and growing not enough especially when 80% of the most popular app are in the marketplace. There is less sifting through the crap for sure on WP7. My app list is 4th & Mayor, AccuWeather, Adobe, All Recipies, Amazon Kindle, Automobile Magazine, Bible 7+, Big Oven, Canoe, Car Addict, CNN Newsreader, Collage, Compass, Converter, Craigslist, Currency tile, Ebay, ESPN, Facebook, Find my Bru, Flixster, Foodspotting, Foursquare, Gmaps, Google Search, Groupon, Handy Scan, IGN, IMDb, ING Direct, Kayak, Kik Messenger, MoTewwts Pro, Turn by Turn Navigation, Netflix, MS Office, Open Table, Outdoor Navigator, Podcast Pro, Prime TV, Radio Hub, Realtor.ca, ScoreMobile, Photo Crop, Photo Enhancer, Picture Frames, Pocket Recorder, Shopping List, Slacker Radio, Smart Tile, Sound Enhancer, Sports Scores, Stock alert, Supertube, Tech news now, Techrack, Text my location, Toronto Bus, Traffic Cameras, Twitter, the Weather network, WhatsApp, World Clock, WP Shortcut Tiles, Yellow pages, yelp, youtube, Ztitch.

    As for Ecosystems, who has a bigger ecosystem them Microsoft. Bing, Xbox, MSN Messenger, Windows Live, Office, Zune, Outlook, Skydirve….. And the list goes on. Microsoft is bringing it all together and things are looking good.

  • Kuttyjoe

    Definitely, to each his own. For some, the most important thing may be access to all the apps. For me, Android has enough apps. I hadn’t realized there was a problem with searching for apps. I always find exactly what I’m looking for. The best part of Android for me is having the ability to customize it. While iphone users are dying for the next iphone, I’m much more interested in just making the phone I have more interesting and more usable. The phone is not even an Android phone, it’s an HD2 with a heavily customized Android rom. The rom has it’s own backup system which backs up to the SD card and restores everything except the two or 3 widgets I have (their settings are remembered but I have to place the widgets back on the screen), and I have to log into my email accounts manually. Otherwise, all apps and their settings and registrations, screen layout, and general system settings come back in automated fashion. Anyway, backup and restore is a matter of getting an app for back up and restore. Apple happens to have their own built in I suppose while Android doesn’t but that sort of thing is available. The beauty of Android is it’s ability to be customized and made very personal. I can adjust the tiniest details including stuff like the strength of the vibration on a custom keyboard when I press a key, or the amount of time to hold a key before the little alternate character pops up. Makes for a faster typing experience. Makes for a better phone experience. The guy who wrote this article saw this great commitment to customization as a negative. For me, it’s the best part of Android.

    WP7 is very much like iphone to me. I ran it for awhile on my HD2. It’s super smooth and I like everything except the the homescreen and the extreme lack of settings, just like iphone. I think people are voting on this thing by staying very clear of it. I may use it as a way to help ween me off my phone addiction. That or buy a regular feature phone. LOL

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  • Chance

    I have an Android, and my wife has an iPhone, so I feel like I have somewhat of a unique perspective.

    Here’s what I’ve noticed with the two, that I can try to sum up this way: If Android doesn’t have something you like, you can modify it or find another one. But iPhone makes sure you like it.

    Let me explain with the keyboard. The iPhone keyboard is very good, and is far superior to the Android default. However, with my Android it comes with Samsung’s own version, plus numerous others from the Market, and I happen to use a third-party keyboard. Now, it’s nice because Android offers choice, but I like the iPhone because I actually don’t have to worry about it, they ensure their keyboard is awesome, with easy typing and a nice, clean interface. At the same time though, it’s hard to make everyone happy.

    I think I’ll stick with Android for a while, because I’m happy with it and used to it. If I ever get a tablet though, I’ll get an iPad, and I would love to get a Mac sometime.

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