Tuesday, June 12, 2012

There's No Leaving Now - The Tallest Man on Earth

It is not merely heard, but experienced.
The sunset casts a canopy of oranges and reds and purples across the porch.
The evening humidity makes her shirt stick to her chest,
highlighting the contour of her breasts
while the beads of sweat sparkle from her neck and disappear down the front of her shirt.
Condensation from a glass of sweet tea trickles off the edge of the glass
while its contents cools his lips.
The plaines are calm with a mist so delicate that only
the crickets in the distance dare disturb it with their song.
They sit there without speaking.
They just listen, each tapping their foot slightly out of time with one another,
heads lightly bobbing in the same fashion.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Failed Android Experiment


4 years ago, when the iPhone 3G first arrived in Canada, I bought it. I was all over it. I bought the visual voicemail package from Rogers for $1,500/month and I was happy. But within 9 months iOS 3 had officially driven me bonkers. The draconian notification system that steals your focus. The inability to jump between apps without routing everything through the home screen. The sheer amount of "clicking" I had to perform to navigate around the system. Having to sync my contacts and photos to my laptop via USB. I was going bonkers, but there weren't any real alternatives available.

In May of 2009 I was one of the lucky 3,000 people attending Google I/O, where I received a brand new HTC Magic, running the latest stock version of Android (I believe it was 1.5 at the time). I gleefully took it out of the box and started playing with it. Within minutes the phone had synced my contacts, calendars, and email over the air. The notification system was out of the way and effective. I could easily bounce between applications by long pressing the home button. The tip of the iceberg of what Android could do, and where it could go, struck me in the heart like cupid. I was giddy. I just got a free phone from Google and it solves all my annoyances. My iPhone promptly hit kijiji and craigslist as soon as I got home.

For 3 years I didn't look back. The hardware of the HTC Nexus, then the Samsung Nexus S, and subsequently the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, were each a beautiful evolution of the handset. Android was getting better and better; seamless integration into Picasa for photo synchronization; improved email and maps applications; a robust market place where I could find any application I wanted. Not only was there an ever expanding plethora of applications, as a result of Android's public API's and supporting technologies (such as background processing) the applications were more interesting as well. I wasn't merely content in my switch, I was becoming a fan boy. "It's open source!" I would extol to anybody within ear shot. "It has background processing!" I would denote to any haters. "Look at how I get text messages! And I can factory reset it whenever I want and not lose any information because it's in the cloud!" I was a Born Again Googler. Convert, or perish forever in the totalitarian depths of Apple's walled garden.

However, after 3 years, I am convinced Google's experiment of pumping out an open source operating system for handsets is on its way to failure, if it hasn't failed already, for several reasons.


As Android continued to evolve, so did it's ever increasing bug list. Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), while launching the OS into the next level of UI/UX, was also one of the buggiest releases of the OS. In my own experience, there was first the volume bug (everything was super quiet). Then there was the random rebooting. Then there was the random death of the 3G/HSPA radios wherein I'd have to toggle airplane mode to resolve and, if that didn't work, reboot my phone. These issues were not once in a blue moon - they were several times a day. And these were just core operating system problems... they had nothing to do with the apps.


It does not matter what Android supporters argue - the operating system is fragmented beyond belief. According to this likely inaccurate comment There are now over 400 different phones and tablets, each running 1 of the 10 different versions of Android. Even outside of the 10 different stock versions of Android, the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that every single manufacturer customizes the operating system, adding not only their own applications, but their own UI tweaks, work flows, and OS changes. This is a serious problem for developers and application stability. Speaking as a developer of 12 years, without a predictable, consistent foundation upon which I can build my house, I cannot guarantee the stability, performance, or an enjoyable user experience. 

The current state of fragmentation is bad for the end user. Full stop. Manufacturers get the source, make their own modifications, and control the deployment to their own handsets. If you buy a phone from Samsung, you fall outside the stock Android ecosystem. As a result, when updates are issued, you won't get them until Samsung says so. It's for this reason why over 55% of Android devices are still running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) - despite it being over 18 months old. Security patches, functional improvements, bug fixes - all out of the user control, unless they want to flash their phone to apply the fix themselves (unlikely).

People will make the Windows/PC to Android/Handset comparison to argue there's no fragmentation proble, however there's a noteable difference. When I buy a computer running Windows, the manufacturers (Dell, Asus, Lenovo) aren't making changes to how the interface renders, or other operational functionality. I have a consistent platform against which I can write my applications.


As the plethora of Android devices become more ubiquitous, so does the malware. As my good friend and colleague Dale Zak points out, the number of Android focused malware applications jumped from 500 in 2011, to over 6,000 in 2012; an increase of 1200%. While, admittedly, the majority of malware is installed from "untrusted" sources, there have been incidents of malware invading the official Google Market. Malware is becoming problematic enough to warrant its own genome project. While users have to explicitly grant permissions to the application their installing, in my experience (and I'm assuming the experience of 99.9% of other users), rarely is the permission approval process heeded any attention other than a blind mashing of the thumb to approve. It is the proverbial rubber stamp allowing a trojan horse into one of your most personal assets.

Sub-par Terrible Cameras

Sure, having more computing power in my pocket than I had in a laptop 5 years ago sounds like a great thing, but at the end of the day all I care about is how good of a picture it can take. If there's a single, massive gripe that I have with Android and every single one of its phones, it's how shitty the camera is. Considering I have a nephew who just turned 1, and I now live a mere 7 minute bike ride away from him, I'm taking a lot of pictures. A lot. And never have I had a camera on an Android device that's anything more than disappointing. And if you don't think having a great camera on a phone is a big deal, I'll remind you that as of January of 2011 Facebook was receiving over 200,000,000 photo uploads a day. That was 18 months ago, and there's little doubt that rate's higher today. Facebook has over 900,000,000 users, and an estimated 50% are mobile. Your phone's camera matters.

If You're Not In The U.S. Half The Awesome Features Don't Work

Canadians have been up in arms about Siri's location services not working in Canada. The fact is, however, I can still use Siri and have a natural way of scheduling appointments, texting and calling friends, and checking the weather. On Android, I can't use Google Music (without spoofing my IP), use Google Voice, or even buy music. Canadians are left in the dust. And while it's easy to argue that this is not the fault of Google (because of copyright holders or the CRTC), I could simply argue that Google doesn't know how to negotiate. If Apple was able to do it years ago with a fraction of the market share they have now, then surely Google - with an even bigger distribution of devices - could wrangle a deal in Canada. Apparently not.

Accessory Ecosystem

It sucks. Have you tried finding a place that actually sells the desktop dock for the Google Nexus? I have. Phone's been out for 7 months and I still can't find it in Future Shop, Best Buy, Bell, Rogers, or The Source. There is no debate about how shitty the accessories are for Android.

Enough was Enough

After having to reset my phone for the umpteenth time because my radio decided to turn off and not turn back on, I'd decided that Steve Jobs' totalitarian regime over software and the hardware it ran on was actually a good thing. As a developer I have a consistent and predictable environment upon which I can create my applications. I have only a few devices, as opposed to several dozen, that I have to worry about supporting and testing. As a user I have a consistent and predictable user experience and upgrade cycle. As an uncle I have a camera that doesn't make you look like you have liver failure unless you're outside on a clear day in the high noon sun. 

My original gripes with iOS have been fixed. The notification system isn't a soul crushing dialogue box demanding my attention. I can now easily transition from app to app. I have a consistent user experience and I know approximately when the next version of iOS is coming out. I have voice command that actually works (comparatively speaking), a malware free ecosystem, and a suite of applications I can actually use in Canada. 

Apple's tightly controlled walled garden is a good thing. As a developer and a user, all I want is one thing: for shit to work. The less variables there are, the higher chance shit will work. A walled garden produces shit that works, and frankly, I'm okay with that.