In any event, after being a Windows Pocket PC user for nearly 8 years and an iPod Touch user for 6 months it was a grating decision. On one hand was the Apple app store packed with useful and interesting apps and games (and I do use my phone extensively to play games). One the other hand was all of the software I've accumulated and my familiarity with the Windows Pocket PC platform and my history as a Sprint customer (i.e. I could stay with Sprint if I went with a Pocket PC). And then the Motorola Droid backed by Google, a company that I'm not a huge fan of, comes along.
When making my decision I had a few keys things I was looking for out of my new phone:
- A big, sharp screen that I could do Remote Desktop from and not see a postage stamp portion of the server's screen.
- Horsepower both in terms of the main CPU and the graphics engine for gaming.
- Upgradable memory (preferably by just sticking a new SD card into the SD card slot).
- A great browser and a browsing experience as close to that of my PC as possible.
- An open development environment that encourages developers to create software for the device.
- A large, established software base.
- GPS capabilities for navigation and geocaching.
- A physical keyboard.
- A nice camera and preferably one that allows me to take videos.
- Good quality when making and receiving phone calls.
- To be able to change my own battery and not have to send my phone off for maintenance in 2 years.
So it was the iPhone versus the Droid. The Droid had the nicer screen and comparable hardware specs in terms of CPU, graphics, GPS, compass...etc. The Droid is an open device, for 3rd party development, that doesn't require Steve Jobs to personally bless the software I run on my phone. The browser promises Adobe Flash 10 support in the spring of 2010 whereas Apple is shunning Flash integration (wouldn't want any code running that Apple didn't actually approve of). The Droid has an app store of moderate size and I've been able to find the basic apps I've wanted. The Droid lets me easily change batteries and SD cards (although why the SD card is hidden by the battery is a mystery to me). The Droid has a real keyboard and camera, and both are of excellent quality. Finally, the phone call quality has been great to the point that my wife actually doesn't complain about making/receiving a wireless call and that's partially due to the quality speakers and microphone in this device. The only thing the iPhone had going for it was the size and maturity of its app store, however I don't want to dismiss that as a small thing as software makes the computer... not the other way around. Still, I felt that the existing Android marketplace would be good enough and would get better.
My decision has not proved to be errant. Whereas I used to carry my iPod Touch around with me most of the day and have my HTC 6800 phone as a secondary device I now successfully carry just the Droid with me. One of the first things I did was offload the utility type apps from my iPod Touch and install similar ones on my Droid and for the most part that was successful. News, weather, sports, stock quotes, Facebook ...etc were all easy enough to find. Even Amazon has a native client for shopping at their website on the Android. A third party has made a tool for eBay. About the only things I miss are some of the banking tools where the Android hasn't proven to be a big enough success to warrant an Android version of an app to check my bank accounts, but I can still use the browser for that.
The phone itself has proven solid. The 5 megapixel camera has been excellent... far better than some of the reviews claiming the camera was just mediocre. And for the reviewers that claimed the keyboard wasn't very good I can only say that that's because they tried using it for about 18 seconds. After having the device for a month and having the option of keyboard input it is very much appreciated on longer emails and text messages. In fact it's made me more leery of media reviews on brand new technology. I suppose it's possible that I'm not the audiophile, videophile, whateverphile I need to be to truly contrast cameras or keyboards on phones, but the Droid's camera has taken nice, sharp photos for me and the keyboard has the tactile response that I'd except from a keyboard that's a millimeter thick.
I've also been able to pick up some good, entertaining games for the Droid, but admittedly the selection isn't even close to that of the iPhone. The iPhone seems to be getting more A titles every day while those of us in Droidland get software that allows us to shake boobies. I'm jealous! That doesn't mean there aren't any great games on the Droid. Speed Forge 3D is excellent and was an ADC II winner. Spec Trek is quite innovative. And, because it's an open platform I can always fall back on my emulators such as Nesoid (and legally too as I own several hundred NES game cartridges). But having access to a massive library of old games via Nesoid just isn't going to be the same as getting Madden 2010 or Super Monkey Ball II. This is the Achilles heel of the platform and the one thing that keep sticking with articles about companies like Gameloft saying, on November 20th, 2009, that they're cutting back on Android support and EA's support being nonexistent. With that kind of attitude what's going to save the Droid?
If you look back on the history of the app store it didn't happen overnight. First Apple supplied good tools to make it easy for even neophyte developers to write an app. This allowed for the creation of some lousy apps and some great apps. One in particular, Flight Control, comes to mind as it was among the first games I wanted to be able to play on my Droid, after buying it for my iPod Touch, and I still don't think there's a game as good as Flight Control on the Android platform (despite 3-4 attempts). Flight Control sold over 700,000 copies in its first two months in the app store... these are numbers that an Android developer can only dream of. One of the top paid apps for the Android is Robodefense. It is priced at $2.99 and is in the 50k-250k sales numbers. There's no comparing the two app stores right now. Apple's is vastly superior and gets better every day. So what's it going to take for the Android to start matching this?
- Install Base - The iPhone/iPod Touch combo has an installed user base of over 40 million units. The Droid has sold about a million units so far from what I read and it's safe to say that the G1 hasn't sold 39 million units (1 million might be lucky?). All in all, I'm not sure how large of an install base the Android platform has.
Furthermore, there are claims that new Android devices will replace and not upgrade old Android devices creating a fragmented market where developers have to create versions for several similar, but different devices. For example, the TMobile G1 is slow and may not even be getting Android 2.0. Quite frankly, I'd be pretty upset if I was an early adopter and it took this long to get an update (a key reasons being that the G1 has only half the memory of the Droid and the OS is quite a bit bigger) or I never got an update.So, right now the iPhone platform has a much larger user base buying apps and thus the sales are there. Add to it that iPod Touch users are far more likely to buy than iPhone users and that makes things even more interesting. We have a situation where we can't possible hope to compete in terms of sales figures at this point in time. I don't even thing it's worthwhile looking at the iPhone as a comparison. We need a larger installed based of people willing to buy apps in order to get things moving in the right direction.
- Technical Issues - I just read an article on Apple Insider claiming the Android can't run the same kind of quality games as the iPhone because it doesn't have the storage space for apps that the iPhone has. I was distraught when I read that, but then realized it's simply not true.
While the second half of the statement is true, that apps can NOT be stored in the Android's SD card, I recalled that Space Physics is a game that works around this limitation by having buyers download the software itself and the level data separately. The data program is run and creates all of the level data on the SD card so as to not consume limited app memory. It's convoluted, required the user to remember to delete the data file app, but it works. I also thought about this further and figured an app could actually, upon initialization, download any levels, textures, audio, data ...etc it needs from the Internet automatically eliminating the 2 step installation process of Space Physics. Obviously, one would need to provide server space for such downloads, but might even be able to work that into some improved copy protection every time an app gets the latest levels and updates. Finally, we can hope Google will fix this shortcoming and allows apps to be stored on the SD card in a future software update.
- Documentation - I haven't personally checked into this at any depth, but I continuously see stories of the shortcomings of the Android SDK even with the latest 2.0.1 release.
- Marketplace Quality - The existing Android marketplace limits which countries can buy apps and is poorly organized due to a serious lack of categories. It's not as easy to browse as Apple's app store. Furthermore, while I may be critical of Apple's software police there is also the benefit of knowing someone other than the author tried out the software that I'm being asked to download. Apple catches bugs in apps and also creates a quality control system, as well.
- Buyers - Are people willing to buy apps for their Android phone? As stated, the iPod Touch (non-phone) gets the majority of app sales. I know several iPhone users that have a handful of freebie apps on their phone, but pay little attention to the powerful gaming platform they hold in their hands. Perhaps Android users, on average, are more business oriented and don't care about games once they have email and a browser configured. Perhaps Android users are just plain cheap and insist on free ports of other Linux stuff? I only hope that Android owners understant the power of the device they own.
- Dollar Games - I'd say at least half of my iPod Touch games were purchased for the magic $.99 price point. At $.99 I could afford risk taking a bit more than at $3-$5. Why are so many Android games that are worse or equivalent to iPhone games priced are 3x or more the price on the competing platform. I know... quantity of sales isn't there. Still, that doesn't make me feel good as a consumer.
Hopefully the install base will grow by leaps and bounds as predicted and different Android models will not fragment the platform. This is a great piece of hardware that I'm, on the whole, very happy with. Google should also be applauded for their ADC design competitions which has stimulated development on the Android, but I can only hope they take their marketplace seriously. And if you're an Android user reading this do not forget that you're a part of the solution too. Developers are only going to come if they see sales happening in the marketplace and while I certainly don't encourage anyone to buy apps they don't intend to use I also hope people buy apps that will be useful as we all try and support our platform of choice.