The Android Experiment, Part 6: The Conclusion

Android figure with umbrella in the rain

ANDROID FIREWALL: FLICKR, UNCALNO TEKNO

I never thought that my experiment would last as long as it has. It’s been six months since I put my iPhone aside and embraced an HTC First Android phone. If you have missed any of the previous parts in this series, feel free to jump back and review:

Part 1: An Introduction
Part 2: Hardware, Messaging, Apps and Notifications
Part 3: Speech-to-Text, Calendars, Typing and Sounds
Part 4: Music, Hangouts, Multitasking and Widgets
Part 5: Google Now, Default Apps, Photos and the Android App Launcher

Now, it’s time to let you all know what I’ve concluded. I’ve genuinely enjoyed my experience, but, like a wayward lover, I’m returning to my iPhone.

Android figure with heartsFirst, I’m going to miss Android’s notification tray. It’s been wonderful having all my notifications in one area and being able to dismiss them without opening an app. I’m really sad to say goodbye to chat heads, gesture typing and predictions, defining preferred applications for common tasks, seamless Google integration and even the hardware back button—which has saved me from bad UI and annoying ads more times that I can count. I’m tearing up a little just thinking about it. So after all of that, why would I ever go back to iOS?

The Apps I Want Are on My iPhone

Android has made great strides in balancing the marketplace, but there are still a few apps worth having that you can only get for iOS: Facebook Paper, the beautiful “illusory adventure” Monument Valley, productivity app IFTTT, Tweetbot, Amazon Instant Video and the addictive game Letterpress to name a few. Android versions of Monument Valley and IFTTT are imminent, but it does demonstrate that when new apps launch, iOS first is still fairly standard.

While the majority of applications have both Android and iOS versions, they aren’t always created equal. Whether this is a result of development costs, U.S. market share or personal preference, Android apps have suffered by being the second app that a company chooses to build. There is not always feature parity between the platforms, and sometimes, the Android version of the app is a direct port of the iOS version—lacking the native Android user interface. In addition, many have serious bugs well after release. I have a number of apps that “unexpectedly stop” on a frequent basis.

Of the Android apps that are not direct iOS ports, there seem to be a lot of Google’s design patterns that have been ignored or misinterpretted. As a result, a significant number of Android applications seem poorly conceptualized with inconsistent interfaces. For example, my grocery list application has the drawer indicator on detail screens, so the only way to get back is to use the hardware back button. Other apps present the up button on deeper detail screens to go up and only allow drawer navigation by swiping from the right edge. Similar functionality or visual cues will react differently in different apps. I find it very frustrating when I’m in an app where there are tabs that look just like tabs in other apps, but I cannot swipe between them. iOS is far from perfect in this regard, but there does seem to be more consistency across iOS app interfaces than those on Android.

While it wasn’t always this way, Google now provides excellent documentation to help both designers and developers create apps on Android. My own irritations with apps that don’t adhere to their standards has made me very passionate about designing Android apps that follow Google’s guidelines and to create the best user experience possible for Android users.

Broken Android Phone

It Broke

While the overall app landscape was the driving force behind my conversion back to iOS, gravity created a much more pragmatic reason. Remember how I noted in part 2 of this series that the HTC First didn’t seem as fragile as my iPhone, and I hadn’t felt the need to get a case? Well, I guess it wasn’t that much sturdier after all. A few nights ago, it slipped out of my purse and shattered on the garage floor. After the shock had passed, I removed the SIM card, returned it to my iPhone 4S, and called AT&T to complete the device switchover. I didn’t want it to end this way, but it did bring about a cleaner break for all parties involved.

Android has come a really long way from being the inelegant, clunky operating system that once ran on cheap smartphones. There is a level of organization and refinement in the system that is extremely useful and customizable, even if it’s not always the most intuitive. Development tools for Android are improving, which will help reduce development time and, as a result, decrease the cost of development for companies and appeal to more developers. Many of the popular manufacturers are beginning to standardize device resolutions and produce devices that rival the iPhone. I’m looking forward to my return to Android in the future, after Android has become more of a priority for app developers, and next time I’ll purchase a protective case for my phone.

Auf Wiedersehen Android phone, it was a pleasure!

If you have any followup questions about my experience with Android, feel free to contact me via Twitter or email.