Thanks to Apple and the iPad, tablets are all the rage. Android-powered devices look to be most viable competitor to the iPad. Motorola recently released the Xoom tablet, featuring Android’s new Honeycomb operating system, which is optimized for tablets. From what I’ve been able to gather, the Xoom sales have not been as robust as Motorola had expected. This is purely conjecture on my part, but I think some people’s reticence about picking up the Xoom is because it seems too complicated.
That may not be the case, but perception is key — particularly in consumer electronics. It used to rub me the wrong way when people would take shots at Apple products being “dumbed down” for consumers. The more that I try to tweak my Android-powered Droid X smartphone, the more I appreciate something that doesn’t require me to learn or decipher code. Most people, including a lot of very smart people, don’t want to program or fiddle with their computers or smartphones. The vast majority of people want to simply turn on the device and have it perform as needed/expected. I think Google needs to better address this with Android devices, because it’s becoming perceived as a product for computer nerds. And that’s actually probably being unfair to nerds, which I consider myself. While I appreciate being able to personalize my device, I don’t want to sacrifice consistent performance.
As we move to relying even more on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (I absolutely refuse to say “post-PC”) a rock solid user interface (UI) is paramount. It is critical because people on the move need things to be easy to navigate and use.
Don’t take this yarn as an indictment of Android. I’ve been tough on Google for its handling of the Android OS lately, but I’m still a fan. On top of seamless integration with Google services, one of the best features built into Android is the ability to use customizable widgets. Aside from the turn-by-turn navigation, app widgets are probably what most my friends with iPhones comment on as an enviable feature on my Droid X.
Irrespective of Steve Jobs comment about Hummer phones, it appears that users do like a smartphone with a screen a little bigger than the iPhone’s beautiful crisp, but smallish 3.5″ display. Since the release of the EVO, larger screens on smartphones have gained traction. It looks like a 4″ screen is the sweet spot between the iPhone 3.5″ screen and the EVO and Droid X 4.3″ screens. It remains to be seen whether this “more is more” carries over with tablets. The near 10″ of the iPad and Xoom would seem to be preferred for people looking to differentiate a tablet from a smartphone or laptop/netbook. I think the additional screen real estate of a tablet is particularly attractive to developers, now optimizing apps for the larger tablet screens. I’m left to wonder of the Flyer and original Galaxy Tab, with 7″ screens will be viable. I can see them being popular from a convenience standpoint (portability), but they may not be the best for viewing the new optimized-for-tablet apps. I guess time will tell. I don’t think there necessarily has to be a standard for tablet screen sizes, but the design of the apps may dictate a minimum, functional size.
Based on what I’ve seen of the Motorola Xoom — I have yet to get some hands-on time with one — the widgets look interesting. However, the widgets look too small to me on that large screen. I am not sure if the widgets are expandable like they are on Motorola Android smartphones, but having a tiny calendar widget that I can scroll through serves no purpose if I can’t make out the tiny font.
To that end, I came across this video for a soon-to-be-released tablet by HTC, called the Flyer. I’ve seen previews and mentions in blogs, but after watching this longer walk-trhugh, I am intrigued. HTC, arguably, has the best Android user interface overlay — Sense UI. This video does a good job demonstrating the features that, in my estimation, make the Flyer more appealing to consumers than the Xoom. The widgets look large and usable.
From what I understand, the HTC Flyer will debut with Android 2.4, better known as Gingerbread. There’s no word from HTC on when the Flyer will upgrade to Honeycomb, but I suspect that it may be a while, given that the UI on Honeycomb is somewhat of a departure from Gingerbread and Froyo versions of the Android OS. Given what HTC has been able to do with putting UI skins on both Window and Android, I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull out a slick update for tablet-specific versions of Android.
I guess that gets me back to the underlying point about the user experience. As you may have gleaned from this post, I am torn. I have come around to appreciating the merits of Apple’s so-called walled off ecosystem. If only from a design perspective, Apple has done a terrific job creating a family of devices that all feel familiar. There’s something to be said about being able to move from one Apple device to another will no real learning curve. Things tend to be in the same place, and function on the iPad, as the would on the iPhone, as they would on the MacBook Pro or iMac. The flip side of that, however, is that it’s homogenous. There’s no diversity of look and feel. I cannot differentiate my iPad from yours, other than the cover and wallpaper image. Whereas, on Android devices, users can create, essentially, a completely unique interface. I can use different widgets, or even a custom ROM on my Droid X that reflects exactly who I am and how I use my smartphone. It’s not purely cosmetic. The catch is that once you drop below the surface of third-party launchers, you have to root or loosely reprogram your phone to take advantage of a lot of cool changes. I’ve done it, but have become fatigued with having to run to a forum to figure out some glitch.
This sleuthing may be okay with a smartphone I picked up for $100–200; but when I’m looking at dropping $500–700 on a tablet, my interest or willingness to lift the hood and tinker diminishes almost immediately. For instance, I had a similar feeling with my iMac recently. I had some problems with the iMac shutting down. There were plenty of forum threads suggesting that I pull out screw drivers and install dodgy diagnostic software. Considering the coin that I dropped for that iMac, my sense of adventure was reduced to making an appointment with the “Geniuses” at the Apple store. I think this resistance to tinker and customize doesn’t make people less intelligent. Most people are busy and simply don’t have the interest in spending significant chunks of time soupin’ up their tablet. That’s why The Gap sells more clothes than a tailor shop.
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s fair to say that I’ve already gone to the Dark Side of Apple zealotry. If nothing else, I think that I just see things a little more clearly now. Apple is by no means perfect. The line at the service area…ahem Genius Bar…confirms the fallibility of Apple products. But, 100% uptime is not the point. It’s about understanding your user. Apple seems to get the basic needs of people buying its product. The thing with Android-based products is that we are being pitched a somewhat schizophrenic experience. The stock Android experience is loaded with features, but comes across as a little too cold and techie for most people. It seems that HTC gets that, and puts a attractive facade on that sturdy Android foundation. Is one necessarily better than the other. Instinctively I say no. However, when thinking about the “average” user [non pejorative], I think if Google hopes for Android to be a compelling alternative to Apple, it has to give considerable attention to the user interface. It feels like Google is enamored with making stock Android the Craigslist of operating systems — highly efficient, but ugly and/or boring as hell. No frills has its place, I just don’t think it’s on a device like a tablet or smartphone.
Thanks for bearing with me. This post didn’t really travel the same path that I started on yesterday when I began typing. That’s actually something I love about writing. Nevertheless, I hope that I made a point in here somewhere.
If you are in the market for a smartphone, and have been eyeballing the Droid Incredible or the Droid 2, today might not be a bad time to shop. Best Buy has added the Droid Incredible to its Free Phone Friday promotion. Further, according to Droid-Life.com, the Droid 2 will join the Friday Feebie party, though I have yet to see confirmation of the Droid 2 in today’s Best Buy’s Free Phone Friday promotion online.
Verizon is offering something nearly as good as free. Big Red currently has a BOGO (buy one, get one free) offer on the Droid Incredible.
ALERT: The word on the street is that the Incredible and Droid 2, though both released this year, already have an EOL (End-of-Life) date set within the next three of four months. Rumor is there is an Incredible HD on the way, and the Droid 2, will be replaced by a Droid 2 Global (running on CDMA domestically and on a SIM card internationally). Add to that, the HTC Merge will be out soon, too. Finally, Verizon is switching over to a 4G network in the coming months, and there will be a number of new phones introduced to take advantage of the increased speed.
With all of that said, both phones are more than capable, and will be so for some time. The only unknown is how long Verizon will support these phones — namely with updates — into the future of a two-year contract. For example, the Droid Eris was barely on the market for one year before it reached it’s EOL date. Additionally, Verizon pushed out one update (Android 2.1) and will no longer support the phone with updates. It’s, unfortunately, that’s how things are going to be for a while.
So…here’s my advice. If you’re someone who loves to have the latest…wait. If you’ve been looking to upgrade to a smartphone, and want a reliable device, I would consider taking advantage of the Best Buy free or Verizon BOGO offer. Naturally, if you’re holding out for the iPhone to debut on Verizon, you were just reading this blog piece to humor yourself…or me.
The folks at TmoNews, a great site for news about products on T-Mobile, are reporting that HTC will likely reveal the HD3, which will serve as a Windows Phone 7 upgrade from HD2 (running Windows Mobile 6.5), at a press event next Wednesday in London. The expected launch date is Wednesday, November 17th.
Reported specs for HD3 include:
If I had to guess, pricing on the HD3 will be around $249.
I originally thought devices with screens over four inches would be too big for comfortable daily use–as a phone. After having some hands-on time with the EVO4G and owning the Droid X — both with a 4.3″ screens – my thinking has shifted. Though too big for some, the EVO4G and the Droid X are not as big as one might think, and are quite comfortable for every day use. I don’t think the .2″ increase on the HD3 will be too significant. Whereas the Dell Streak’s 5″ screen pushes it into tablet territory. We’ll see.
Rumors have been flying around for a couple of months about a dual-radio device coming to Verizon. If you’re not familiar cellular frequencies in the US. Verizon and Sprint use a CDMA network, and T-Mobile, AT&T, and just about everywhere else in the world usesa GSM network. By producing a dual-radio device, the HTC device would use Verizon’s CDMA network in the US, but run with the GSM radio when outside the US to allow for ‘global roaming.’ device.
Pictures of a device with a sizable screen and a [bright red] full QWERTY keyboard started to leak. Then, Engadget got it’s hands on this device working its way through FCC clearance.
Release of this device, code named HTC PD42100, is expected to be early 2011. In addition to the dual radios, this ‘world phone’ is rumored to sport a 4″ screen, 1.2GHz processor and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt, as the details are speculative at best. If the 2011 release holds up, this device may be one of the first devices to run on Verizon’s upgraded, faster LTE (long term evolution) network. If you really want to get your mobile geek on, click here to read more about Verizon’s network upgrade.
I will be interested to see RIM’s reaction to this device, which could present serious competition to global-capable BlackBerries.
The Sense User Interface (UI) on HTC mobile phones seems to generate love it or hate it feelings with Android phone users. Those who love it, remark that it adds a nice polish to the Android operating system. Those who loathe the UI tend to be fans of stock Android and don’t want anything to “pretty.”
Well, if you fall into the first group, you’re going to love this. CodePlex, an open source project community, has released a version of the HTC clock and weather widget for your Windows 7 desktop.
To download this desktop widget, click here.