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Great Googly Moogly

Recently the tech world buzzed with a series of announcements, one after the other, from Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Despite writing this blog entry on an iPad, I want to tackle my thoughts on Google first. I'm not seeking to do a product review here, this is more of just a rambling commentary :).

As many people know, I've completely "drank the kool-aid" when it comes to Apple products, and most of my ecosystem revolves around 'i'-Somethings. However, I also utilize a lot of other services, and one that has a lot of my information (for better or for worse) is Google. As many a geek did, I jumped on Google very early on in it's history, as a search engine, and continued to add their services to my lists of technologies. My domain is a Google Apps for domain, I really like Google+ for it's layout and functionality, and Google Docs is quickly becoming my prefered method of cloud based document creation/sharing/storage. Now I'm also utilizing Blogger for this blog. So to say that I'm JUST an Apple geek certainly isn't accurate. In fact, I've even been known to sport an Android phone from time to time.

Which brings me to the big announcements from Google I/O recently. The biggest in my mind was the continued evolution of the Android platform with Jelly Bean (4.1). Google announced the new version of the OS, along with a Platform Development Kit that has the high goal of getting manufactures up to speed quicker with new OS changes. This PDK is a long time coming in my mind, although I'm not 100% certain it's going to have the full effect that Google wants.

One of the biggest, and most widely talked about, problems with the Google Android system is fragmentation. Because Google wanted to create an open platform for people to expand and build upon, they had to sacrifice something that Apple refused to compromise on... control. Say what you want about Apple, but because they control the entire ecosystem, and control it tightly, most things work seamlessly and effeciently. Google, on the other hand, by allowing other people to determine how Android is presented on their devices, has ended up with a large mess of varied OS versions in the wild, and no clear path as to how to bring everyone together. This has the added impact of causing developers to need to pick and chose carefully which versions they will support, and deal with manufacture's 'skins' on Android that may or may not cause an issue with their applications. It's a mess, and Google knows it. Which is why I think we're seeing a lot more guidance and support from Google on how to best show of it's nifty system.

So despite my love of everything fruit-flavored, I did use an HTC Droid Incredible for a period of time. For the most part, I really loved the phone. One thing that Google's strategy allows is for much more diversity in physical form factor. You can get an Android phone in just about any shape you want, and that's cool. As much as my iPhone is great, I still loved the feel of the Incredible physically. It was a great extension of my hand, light-weight and perfect dimensions for me. I did take the plunge to iPhone though after realzing how much of the rest of my media ecosystem was Apple, and how much simpler it would be to work with that on an iPhone device. But that's probably not my biggest complaint about the Incredible.

I stopped using the Incredible in 2010, and it was on Android version 2.2. There has now been an upgrade to 2.3 that's been released, but the chances of that phone ever getting 4.x... zero. Compare that to Apple, where that same iPhone I bought in 2010 (iPhone4 Verizon) is still going strong, and getting software updates, and will probably continue to get updates for the foreseeable future. Even the iPhone 3gs is still getting modern updates all the way to iOS 6. That's the type of longevity that you can't get with the model Google has pursued in the past. Hopefully, their new PDK and massive improvements in stock Android UI will start to change that course.

So that brings us to 4.1, Jelly Bean. With the 4.x series it feels like Android has really started to come in to it's own. Many of the quality-of-life aspects of iOS are arriving, but thankfully Google has added their own spin on many of them. The app switcher, with a preview of the app, is reminicant of WebOS cards, and a great refinement. The notification center continues to improve, and has always been a step above any competitor. Plus, Google has really started to leverge more of their infrastructure of services with more maps integrations and Google Now. Overall, they're starting to address perhaps the biggest complaint I've had with Android since the beginning, just duplicating iOS.

From the start, I've always felt like Android was trying too hard to just be "the iOS alternative" and not innovating nearly as much as their competitors. It's one the things that drew me to WebOS originally, since Palm had completly shattered a ton of paradigms with their implementation of a smartphone OS. Too often the Android phones would scream "Look at me, I'm just like an iPhone, but I'm not!" Say what you will about litigation, there was a good reason that Apple is pursuing Samsung. Their TouchWiz interface over Androind 2.x was so iPhone like that even I did a double-take when a friend handed me his Galaxy.

Hopefully, those days are quickly moving behind us, and we can start to get a real choice between smartphone OS's that is driven on real, solid, feature differences, and not just on the idea that "it's not Apple, but it acts like it." So will I pick up an Android phone again? I'm a bit of a collector, so the chances are I might try one out again sometime. If Verizon's 3G network here in the Twin Cities continues to suck, I might be lured to try a 4G phone sometime (despite the miserable batterly life). For the meantime though I'm excited to see how Google continues to differentiate their OS, and position itself as an even better choice in the smartphone world.

 

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