On phones and the like...
by Richard Kolkovich
About a month ago, my trusty Nexus S 4G crapped out. The “sdcard” (internal storage) was nowhere to be found by the bootloader. It’s been a trusty device for the past 18 months, but now it has sacrificed its screen to replace my wife’s broken one. As it happens, my Sprint contract ended at the beginning of September. I had been waiting somewhat patiently for the elusive next Nexus to be announced in October, though, before upgrading. I was pretty much set on the $30/mo. T-Mobile Monthly 4G Plan and GrooveIP. To test the waters, I had been using GrooveIP on my Nexus 7 to some success.
My phone died about a week before Google was scheduled to announce the next Nexus device. The timing was very inconvenient, but I luckily have a Nokia Lumia 800 lying around for development and testing. I quickly snagged a T-Mobile SIM card and limped along with my Windows Phone 7.5 device.
Windows Phone 7.5
I have never been a big fan of Microsoft as a company or any of their products. I’ve run FreeBSD or Linux as my main OS for the last decade, even battling
WINE to play World of Warcraft back in the day. I do have some frame of reference here, as Windows Phone 6 was my second smartphone OS (after PalmOS), but I’m hardly a Microsoft fanboy. Keep that in mind as I tell you that the WP7.5 experience on the Nokia Lumia 800 is seriously polished. Nothing lags, UI-wise, and there are animations everywhere. The animations are pervasive, yet elegant - they don’t distract you or get in the way, but they add to the polish. The Lumia is a serious candy bar - it’s small (relative to the likes of the Galaxy Note and HTC DLX), but it is very dense. The entire experience is excellent. That’s not to say there aren’t issues…
The Android ecosystem is plagued with OEMs not being willing and/or able to update older hardware to the latest and greatest Android release. Given that Android looks to be settling into a major release every year, this becomes problematic for people on a two-year contract. I’ll not digress into this issue too much, however - the Android comparison is only to show the current worst-case (you can run iOS 6 on an iPhone 3GS - a 2.5 year-old device). Less than a year after the launch of the Lumia 800 and just over a year after the launch of Windows Phone 7,
Microsoft have EOL’d the software and hardware. This is very reminiscent of my experience with WebOS and the Palm Pre, though this time the companies involved are not in dire financial straits. The Lumia will be getting WP7.8, which is allegedly as close to WP8 as they can get with this hardware. That doesn’t make it any better, had I bought this device.
Google, Google. Wherefore art thou, Google?
I was able to easily add my personal Google Apps account as well as my corporate Google Apps account to the device. My contacts, e-mail and calendars synced as you would expect, but the joy ends there. Where is Google Reader? Google+?
Real GMail integration (not IMAP access)? Google Talk? Google Voice? Google Maps? I was able to find a passable Google Voice client, but nothing of the polish of the Google offerings on Android. The Nokia/Bing maps app is not a downgrade from Google Maps, either. But this isn’t about usability - it’s about your platform. Microsoft is attempting to become relevant in the mobile market, but they are fighting the war on two fronts: OS and platform. They are trying to push Windows Phone as a viable competitor to Android and iOS, but they are also making the experience a bit worse if you have not bought into their cloud platform. And I will tell you: Windows Phone 7.5 is a great stride, but it is not enough to make me switch platforms.
Overall, I’m still fairly impressed with WP7. That said, I’d never switch. They have a long way to go to become the 3rd player in the market (and give Apple some competition), especially in the Marketplace. The same thing could be said of Android 3 years ago, though. At the end of the day, I think WP will be able to compete with iOS much better than it can compete with Android. Android has come a long way over the past few years, but it is still a mobile OS for geeks. If you want to tinker, tweak, customize, rice, what have you, Android is it. WP and iOS are, arguably, more polished than Android. They are also more simplistic. There are less knobs and buttons; options are hard to come by.
AND THAT IS A GOOD THING for many people. My parents don’t need knobs and buttons and switches; the average Joe doesn’t need to tweak. And WP (and iOS) are great for them.
On the Nexus 4…
Reading the previous paragraphs, you may have pegged me for an Android fanboy. It’s true, I feel that Android is the superior platform in the mobile space today. I love what Samsung and HTC are doing with Touchwiz and Sense, respectively - they are attempting to bring their own flavor of a polished user experience to the market. And they are succeeding, thus proving the power of the Android platform. It is just that - a platform. Google drives it forward, but OEMs are able to fork it beyond recognition.
For me, however, the raw Android experience will always be best. And that is why I have “suffered” (First-world problems, eh?) through the past few weeks with my Nokia Lumia 800, waiting impatiently for the Nexus 4 launch. The hardware is slick; Android 4.2 is a nice, iterative improvement on the excellent base of 4.1.x. The launch process? A fucking joke.
Google tried their hand at being a retail store with the original Nexus device - the Nexus One. I was loving my Palm Pre when the N1 was released, but I don’t seem to remember any glitches with that release. At the time, however, Android was extremely young. The N1 heralded the arrival of Android 2.1, which was a major step forward for the fledgling OS. For whatever reason, Google decided that they would not be bothered to be a retailer after the N1.
Fast-forward to this past summer, and Google reneges; they offer up the first official Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7, in the newly re-branded Google Play store. This launch was a no walk in the park, but I was able to place my order as soon as the page went live. My N7 was shipped as promised (3 weeks later, I believe?) and arrived without a hitch.
Tuesday, the Android community waited with baited breath for the Nexus 4 page to go live. For whatever bonehead reason, Google did not accept preorders for the device in the 3 weeks or so from announcement to availability. Even still, they opened sales for different regions at 0900 local time. I’m fairly certain that Google has a metric shitton of computing power at their beck and call; they employ some of the best engineers on the planet; they have years of experience building systems that can handle some serious scale. How many times can you remember google.com being down?
So why the FUCK was their storefront overloaded for every single region’s launch? I was quickly able to get a Nexus 4 into my cart, but I failed to complete my checkout for a good 20 minutes straight. Then my cart was suddenly empty. Then, the device was listed as “Coming soon”. Then, I was able to place an order. Today, I was told that my Nexus 4 was backordered, and I could expect delivery within 3 weeks. Oh…but they will be crediting me the $13 or so for 2-day shipping. I’ll not belabor this point, as every media outlet on the Interwebs is covering it right now, but what in the world is going on at Google? Compounding a supply shortage with server issues (and some short-sightedness in not accepting preorders), there has been a serious lack of public communication from Google. This is not how you sell a product, guys; this is not how you run a retail store. I can only hope they learn before the Nexus 5 launch…