Monday, February 15, 2010

Nexus One from an iPhone Developer's Perspective

Okay, this article has been a long time in the coming. THe delay is partially because I've just been crazy busy, but it's also because I wanted to spend enough time with the Nexus One and Android so that I wasn't judging them purely on what I was already accustomed to. I think that I've spent enough time with them now to be able to do that. Not only has it been several weeks, but when I was in the U.K. for NSConference, I had only my Nexus One most of the time because I didn't want to incur AT&T's incredibly high data roaming rates. As a result, I got a real feel for what it's like to use the Nexus One as my main phone.

In this posting, I'll talk about the device from my perspective as a user. My thoughts on the Android SDK as a developer will come in a future installment, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Let me state that I tried to be as objective as I was capable of being, but this is in no way an unbiased or objective report. These are my subjective impressions, which is to say that they are the subjective impressions of somebody who has used and developed for iPhones for nearly two years, who teaches workshop on developing for the iPhone, and who has written books on the topic. While I tried to be fair, it should come as no surprise that I believe in Apple's approach to both hardware and software, so caveat emptor.


The Nexus One hardware is so close to being a home run that it's painful to have to bash it around a little bit. But, it misses in a few really major ways. If Google and HTC can solve a handful of annoyances, the Nexus Two could be pure awesome from a hardware perspective. I can't honestly bestow that adjective on the Nexus One, however, because these few flaws were enough to make me want to throw the damn phone at the wall. Hard. Repeatedly.

First, the good. The phone feels really nice in your hand. It feels like a quality piece of hardware. Not chintzy or cheap like the Motorola Droid or most cell phones. It feels solid and very much like the iPhone. The first impression was very good.

The screen is vivid and high-resolution and looks really, really nice… that is, as long as you are indoors. Outside on a sunny day, the OLED screen is almost completely unusable. That's kind of a big deal for a phone. I applaud HTC for pushing OLED technology forward, and I can see it being a great technology today for devices that require mostly indoor use, but this is a phone, and as such, I need to be able to use the damn thing outside.

The touch screen is noticeably less precise and sensitive than the iPhone's. It really makes you appreciate the iPhone's touch screen, which is something I think most of us take for granted since we've had so few points of comparison. The Nexus One's isn't horrible, but it's also not great. Mis-taps are far more common and the finger tracking isn't nearly as accurate. How much of this is the hardware and how much is the averaging algorithm used to determine where the touch registers, I have no idea.

One real issue I have with all of the Android phones is the four hardware buttons they all have: back, menu, home, and search. Three of the four shouldn't be there. Coming from Google, I can understand the emphasis on search, but it simply doesn't belong in a hardware button. I don't need to search while I'm playing a game, for example. Likewise, the menu button isn't applicable in all situations, nor is the back button. Of the four, only the home button really needs to be a hardware button, and it's not a coincidence that Apple made that exact design choice. You have a touch-screen, for crying out loud. Anything that's context sensitive rather than universal, should be contained in an on-screen control, not a hardware button. Search, back and menu are not universal. Home, power, volume - those you might need at any time and should be hardware.

To make matters worse, the sensors on the Nexus One for the four hardware buttons is not exactly aligned with the silkscreened icons. You have to tap noticeably above the button to get it to register. That was very frustrating for me until someone (from Google nonetheless) pointed out the mis-alignment. Up until then, I consistently had to hit the buttons three or four times to get it to register.

But even worse than that, the home button on the Nexus One is right below the fracking space bar on the portrait keyboard. Combine that with the not-completely-precise touch screen, and you have a UX disaster. I can't tell you how many times I've been typing and ended up leaving my application due to accidentally hitting the home button. Leaving an application mid-sentence is hardly a good user experience.

The Nexus One also has a Blackberry-style scroll ball. It serves no purpose whatsoever. You can use it for navigation on Android's home screen, and in some table views, but it's never necessary (touch screen, remember?) and never offers a better experience than the touch screen. I've seen the argument that it could be used for games. Well, I tried a few games that supported the trackball. It sucks as a game controller. It sucks in general. It should never have been put into production. For the most part, you can just ignore it, but you can't help but to wonder what the thought process was that led to this completely superfluous control being included.

The final issue I have on the hardware side is minor, but the SIM card can't be removed or inserted without taking the battery out, which means you have to re-boot. And, on the Nexus One, rebooting takes quite a long, long time. Most people won't need to do this very often (if ever), but as I had to do it several times, I really came to appreciate the location of the iPhone's SIM card slot and the fact that the SIM card can be hot swapped.

When it comes down to it, the Nexus One gets it about 90% right. Unfortunately, it's that last 10% that really seals the deal for most non-geek consumers, and the Nexus One just doesn't have it.

But the Nexus One does have a few advantages over the iPhone. Unfortunately, most of these advantages will only appeal to geeks and not the larger consumer base. For one thing, it has a faster processor and a much higher resolution screen. The faster processor isn't all that obvious in day-to-day use, however, because Android 2.1 doesn't seem to leverage the GPU for most OS-level tasks. Things like table scrolling (for example) are often skippy, which is just inexcusably bad engineering given the 1Ghz chip and powerful GPU inside. That big screen is also partially responsible. The Nexus One has an awful lot more pixels to push than the iPhone, and the end result is that it simply can't do as much work per second as the half-year older iPhone 3Gs, though a firmware update might be able to rectify that, at least for games specifically written to take advantage of the GPU.

The higher resolution screen makes text and drawn elements look a touch smoother and less jaggy, but there's a high price for something most people won't notice. I could see a difference when placed side-by-side next to my iPhone, but the Nexus One's screen didn't jump out at me as that much noticeably better than the iPhone's screen, and even when placed side-by-side, the difference wasn't earth-shattering. Besides that, having all those extra pixels to display text smoothly is rather a waste given that text on the Android's quite simply looks like ass.

The iPhone's 150 ppi screen has a higher-resolution that the vast, vast majority of LED or CRT devices ever created. I don't know of a single person who ever looked at the iPhone's 150 ppi screen and said "if only I needed a more powerful magnifying glass to see the jaggies". The Nexus One's screen seems like a pure case of trying to compete on specs without regard to whether there was any need for a better spec. In other words, a solution looking for a problem. After all this time with the Nexus One's "better" screen, I don't find my iPhone to be at all lacking in that regard.

"Because you can" is rarely a good reason for including a feature.

I do like the ability to mount the device to gain access to its contents, but most people won't care about that, and for the average user, not having tight integration with iTunes and iPhoto makes this phone that much less accessible.

The last hardware feature I'll mention is the haptics, which I'm ambivalent about. The Nexus One issues a little shiver when you touch certain onscreen controls. Most of the places where I appreciated having it was due to some other design flaw that the haptics compensated for, such as the misaligned hardware button sensors. It's kind of a neat feature, but I don't miss it on my iPhone. If it could be designed to tell you specifically which button was pressed instead o just that some button was pressed, I could see it as being a very useful feature, but as it is, it really doesn't add much value.


The Neuxs One shipped with Android 2.1. As far as I know, it was the first and so far is still the only phone to ship with this version of the operating system. When I first got the phone, the most noticeable aggravation for me was the lack of multi-touch gestures such as pinch-in and swipe in the delivered applications like the browser. An update has since added these gestures, and it helps some. Not enough, but some.

As I mentioned earlier in the hardware section, one big shortcoming of the Nexus One is the fact that it doesn't seem to leverage the full processing power available to it very effectively. The hardware in the Nexus One is capable of doing amazing things, yet everyday tasks like scrolling are still often jumpy and unimpressive looking. Games written to use the GPU (presumably using OpenGL ES) seem to be better in this regard, so it's not that the hardware isn't up to the task (based on specs, it's quite impressive actually), it's just that the operating system isn't taking full advantage of the hardware.

Android's home screen can be configured in a much greater variety of ways than the iPhone's. In addition to application icons, you can also add "widgets" for searching the web, reading headlines, or discovering the weather. Third party developers can also develop additional widgets. Not a bad idea, and it reminds me of Mac OS X's dashboard. The implementation isn't as polished as I'm accustomed to with Apple products, however. The shipped widgets lack a uniform aesthetic and some of them are just ugly (Analog Clock, I'm looking at you!). With a little nicer execution, this could be a really great feature, but it left me unimpressed.

One of the small things that really bothered me on the Android is the lack of scroll bounce. I always thought it was silly eye-candy on the iPhone when you scrolled to the end of a list and it went a little past the end and bounced back. But you know what? That's powerful visual feedback. You know that you're at the end of the list. On the Android, when I came back into an application with a scroll list, I often didn't know if the phone was frozen or if I was just already the top or bottom of the list. This is especially important in apps like Twitter apps where the contents of the list may have changed since last use. That scroll bounce is part of that last 10% I was talking about, and the Android software doesn't have it either, for the most part.

"Multitasking" is one of the much lauded benefits of Android over the iPhone. Of course, it's not really multitasking. Everybody except most "tech pundits" knows that the iPhone's Mach kernel supports full preemptive multitasking and also knows that at any given moment there are somewhere on the order of twenty daemons and other processes running on a stock (non-jailbroken) iPhone.

What people mean when they misuse this term is the ability to run more than one GUI application at a time, the way we do on our regular computers. And the Android certainly allows this. Only, it's not really a point in Android's favor. When you hit the home button, the previous application keeps running, which means it keeps eating memory, keeps using processor cycles, and keeps eating battery. To truly quit most applications requires a multi-step navigation that is neither intuitive nor well-documented. The ability to have more than one GUI application at a time on a device with such a small screen isn't as important as some make it out to be, since you can't actually interact with more than one a time.

In the early days, I was a big proponent of having Apple add the ability to run multiple apps to the iPhone OS, but I've come to change my mind on that. I think most people don't need it and Android's implementation only confirms it. Yes, the app keeps running, so when I go back to it, it doesn't have to relaunch. But, if the app were designed to go back where I left it and launched quickly, the end result would be exactly the same, only without the wasted processor cycles and battery time, not to mention the confusion about which apps are currently running. Most people don't want to ever see a process monitor or to even know what one is.

To the extent that there may be a need to have more than one GUI app going at a time, it's also a non-trivial problem to solve. Oh, the technical problem has long-since been solved, but the user experience issues around presenting multiple GUI applications on a small screen have not yet been adequately resolved. Android's solution is simply bad. If Apple does offer a solution to allow more than one GUI application at a time, I'm sure it will be much better, but given the choice between having only one GUI app running and Android's system of keeping everything running, I'd rather have only one app running.

This post has gotten longer than I intended, so I'm going to finish off with just a general statement. Basically, when it comes right down to it, most of the delivered applications on Android just aren't as good as the apps that come on the iPhone. The differences are minor and often subtle, but they make a big difference in the user experience.

To give one example: setting an alarm. Both Android and the iPhone have the ability to set alarms and act as an alarm clock, buzzing and playing a sound at a given time. The day of my flight home from the U.K., I set alarms on both devices (I'm paranoid bout missing flights). It took me quite literally three to four times as long to configure and enable the alarms on the Nexus One as it did on the iPhone. Add that extra time by the number of tasks you do on your phone in a given day, and it can add up to a considerable amount of time.

To make matters worse, on the Nexus One, if you snooze an alarm, there's no obvious way to prevent it from going off again at the end of the snooze interval. You can turn off the alarm, but the snoozed alarm still goes off after the interval (in my case, while in the shower). On the iPhone, if you go manually turn off the snoozed alarm, you never hear it, which is as it should be.


Overall, it's just a general lack of attention to detail that defines the differences between the iPhone and the Nexus One, and that lack of attention to detail exists on both the hardware and software side. The Nexus One isn't a bad phone by any stretch of the imagination. Had it come out three years ago, it would have been revolutionary. But you do have to train yourself to Android's idiosyncrasies much more so than the iPhone. If you've never owned or used an iPhone, you'll probably find the Nexus One to be a very adequate device and will assume that the minor annoyances are just part of owning a smart phone. If you've owned an iPhone for any length of time, you'll likely feel, as I do, that it's a rather half-baked device with some good ideas but generally weak execution.

Then, the question becomes, are the other advantages, such as it being a truly (mostly) open platform or being able to not use AT&T as your mobile provider important enough to you to justify using a less-polished device. Certainly, the answer for some will be "yes". For me, it's a resounding no. I would never willingly choose the Nexus One over my iPhone for daily use, nor would I recommend it to someone who didn't explicitly state that avoiding AT&T or using an open platform was among their top priorities.

But, if the iPhone is not an option for one reason or another, the Nexus One is definitely a most adequate phone. I'd gladly recommend it over any currently available Blackberry, Windows Mobile, or Palm smartphone.


jason said...

Yea,you are absolutely right. Nowadays Apple is growing the fastest large part to the thousands of mobile applications available on iPhone is to fast growing.Apple is now the world’s third-largest maker of smartphones (behind Nokia and RIM).

Nicolas Goles said...

I haven't used the Nexus one , just an Acer phone with Android, while the hardware is very similar to the Nexus 1, I find it funny that I had the same impressions about the real usability of the device that you are pointing out here.

Nice reading.

kelvinkao said...

I agree with most of the user interface stuff you mentioned here. The only thing that I disagree a little bit with is the BACK button. While it's not necessary in every single app, I found it pretty useful for back-tracking to previous apps. iPhone kills one app to start another, but in Android you often see one app passing control to another app. If there's a BACK button, the user doesn't need to deal with the possibly inconsistent mechanisms of going back in different apps, and the developer doesn't need to explicitly implement that part either. It's not useful in every app, but I think it's used enough to be justified. So, iPhone is correct in not including BACK button, while Android is also correct in including it.

Menu and Search, however, are another story.

Carl-Philipp said...

Hey Jeff thanks for that awesome and detailed look at the phone. As an iPhone user, it felt as a bummer that the n1 actually has better specs, but since there are some problems you mention the n1 can not really be called equal or even better than the iPhone. pffeeww. :-)
No seriously, the competition has come pretty close - and that is a good thing. We can finally choose between awesome phones.

the next thing I am really waiting for is the developer side of the deal from you. I tried both and I am seeing slight advantages for android there. although the tools are way better for the iPhone,
Android is an open and free platform. and that is such a major thing that I can only assume that the potential is amazingly great - greater than the iPhone SDK.

Chucky said...

Re: Running multiple apps - My wife got a Droid soon after they came out. We were in the Verizon store and one of the employees loaded an app on her phone called Taskkiller. The purpose of this app is to terminate the long list of apps that end up running simultaneously and thus chewing up CPU and battery. I just held up my iPhone and said "One app at a time".

Eknath Kadam said...

Thanks for this great review. I have been using/developing for iPhone/Android phones for last one and half year. And i have very much same experience as yours. The attention to detail is big factor in making a great UX.
I was tempted to buy Nexus One for its specs but now I can hold on. I also get nervous when I use Android Market. Have you tried to purchase and download multiple apps and then try to uninstall them and so on? You will notice app-management in general is completely un-intuitive and buggy on Android.

Apart from that, I am quite happy that iPhone has a serious competitor. It will only help iPhone to become better. For developers also its rather good platform. If Google improves upon Android Market's ecosystem a bit, more serious developers will jump in. In many ways great third-party apps also make platform a great platform.

Switch` said...

Good points. One nitpick: "multi-tasking" on mobile devices is usually about running an app in background, GUI-less, not about interacting with several apps at once. Few apps need running in background, but some really do.

greggwon said...

I have recently been working on an iPhone app that needs an always connected TCP socket because that is the session. When I leave the app to do something else, for a moment, of course the session is closed.

The end result is other users see connect/disconnect messages about my activities which are frustrating. It would be nice to have a timeout on an application that would allow resources like sockets to remain opened for awhile and only shutdown after a user designated time, or when the phone locks.

This is where the Android behavior would be nice to have.

Vasudev Kamath said...

One quick question What do you think of Nokia's Maemo or upcoming intel nokia Meego (Maemo + Moblin).
Want to know your opinion on these :)

karizma said...

google does not idle. Began to provide services in all areas. If you hear kitchenware produced googleyi soon I do not be surprisedmynet chat

Bob McCormick said...

When you hit the home button, the previous application keeps running, which means it keeps eating memory, keeps using processor cycles, and keeps eating battery.....To truly quit most applications requires a multi-step navigation that is neither intuitive nor well-documented.

That one is one of the most pernicious bits of misinformation about the Android platform. Applications that are no longer visible to the user are NOT "background" applications like they are on a desktop OS. Applications that are no longer visible to the user are stopped. They no longer consume CPU resources, but the OS does hold them in memory in case the user returns to the app. Stopped applications may be killed by the OS, thereby freeing up the memory used by them, at any time by the OS when it determines it needs resources. Think of it like caching. The app state is cached in memory so that if you switch momentarily to another app (to answer a call for example) you can return immediately to the previous app with minimal delay and minimal resource cost (ie, the app doesn't need to be re-loaded, etc). The Android developer docs have more information:

The only things that truly run in the background on Android are service process. These are somewhat like worker threads that are created specifically to handle long running background tasks (like playing music, or downloading data over the network, etc).

There is absolutely no need to go through any "multistep navigation" to quit apps, nor do non-visible apps continue "using processor cycles and eating battery" (with the exception of course of apps that are supposed to be using processor cycles, ie, music players, etc. running in a background service process).

willy said...

I was using a GSM iPhone for almost two years, now changed to a N1.

I will have to disagree in a few points.

I was puzzled about the trackball at the beginning. Then realized it's GREAT for text positioning precisely.
Editing a large chunk of text is painful in the iPhone if you want to go back two sentences.

Application switching is far superior on the N1. As it is app integration. You move between apps (mail, contacts, phone, text, browser, twitter) as if it is one single application chain.

Contact management is superior on the N1. Facebook integration is just one example of that. Sync with the web is another example.

Battery life is better on N1. At least for me.

Screen on the sunlight works good for me. You must max-out the brightness control tough.

I use an app manager to close apps. No big deal.

Voice recognition works really really well on the N1.

Instant messaging running on the background is better on N1. No lost connection, no lost messages.

For me is a tight competition. iPhone is better at some things, N1 is better at other things.

Google really improved the screen scrolling with the last firmware update(the one that included multitouch support). So I expect improvements on that front.

Keeping my iPhone anyway :)

My 2 cents.

Danny R said...

RE: Multi-tasking

Seriously, who wants to listen to Pandora when you're browsing the web? When I switch to a new app, I like that the IPhone terminates the old app so I have to restart it if I want to get back to it.

Android should remove multi-tasking. The IPhone's one -app-at-a-time model is a better user experience.

Lida said...

The scroll bounce you mentioned in your blog may be patented. So that may be the reason why Google didn't included it.

As for multi-tasking, I think Apple will include some form of it. I speculated how they might do it in a blog post.

Josh said...

Pandora is about the only example where a lack of multi-task is annoying to me, otherwise switching between apps is so fast it doesn't really matter and push notifications work great.

Clark Goble said...

Background apps (I hate when people call it multitasking) can be quite useful for music apps or IM type apps. However Google, as someone else noted, was wise and had apps break out their background tasks from the main UI process. Contrast this with say using Backgrounder on a jailbroken iPhone where the whole app is running. Google's approach is simply better and I'd lay good odds will see something similar from Apple at WWDC this year.

OtherWhiteMatt said...

Sorry, but background apps are sorely need on the iPhone. I can't stand having to quit Pandora, or AOL Radio (I like to listen to Sportstalk) just to check my email or check something on the web. THAT is a bad user experience. And some apps just don't deal well with the quiting and relaunching because they have to reconnect to a server. (Mail is like this). Another BAD user experience.

Obviously the Android OS's UI for background apps is very poor. I would be happy if I could just double click the home button, and have an option to "Send to Background" for the current app. Then I would go to the home screen to go to another app. If I wanted to quit the background app, double click again. Either I quits it or I replace it with the current app. An item in the left menu bar could signal a currently running background app.

I'm tired of other people telling me how to run my phone. Just give me one background app- its not hard because OS X is already multitasking. The UI is simple. JUST DO IT ALREADY.

goody said...

The one multitasking improvement that currently keeps me jailbroken is the ability to receive AND REPLY to SMS without leaving the current app (via biteSMS). It's priceless to be able to be able to keep a conversation going with just quick pauses in, say, Plants vs Zombies, without having to either exit and reload (which takes a long time for many games/apps) or put off responding to the message until I finish playing. So, it's not a case of multitasking another app so much as fixing/improving the default SMS app (or popup notification system).

Ted said...

What about integration with Google apps as a point of recommendation (or not). I use GMail and Google Calendar and Google Voice fairly extensively and those experiences are much better on the N1 than the iPhone, IMO. Which swings the needle toward the N1 in my case, but which is a non-factor for someone who doesn't use those apps.

Rachel Blackman said...

I'm reasonably certain the scroll-bounce isn't patented, because Palm implements the same behavior in scrollviews in the Pre and Pixi.

As a mobile developer, I have an iPhone, Droid and Pre Plus. Each OS has its strengths that I miss while on the other two -- I really, really miss something like the Android app 'Locale' while on the iPhone, for instance. The ability to take my Droid and turn it face-down to silence all alerts (but not phone rings) and set myself DND on IM? Very powerful indeed. Not to mention things like location-aware task alerts ('You're near the grocery store! Buy milk!') and so on.

But all three also have their own quirks and drawbacks, too. (The iPhone is the one I find that I use as my primary day-to-day phone, however.)

David W. said...

I am too not a fan of multiple GUI apps. By not having them on the iPhone, you don't need to know the difference between "quitting" and "background". However, I'd like a way to more quickly go back to a previous app.

For example, I'm writing an email, and need to cut and paste something from a webpage. On the iPhone, I have to press the Home button, find Safari, press the Home button again, and then find Mail once more. It'd be nice if I could simply go "back" to Mail once I cut and pasted from Safari.

Even better, not necessarily having apps run in the background, but have multiple apps that can be "suspended", and I can go back and forth between them like you can with multiple pages in Safari. I could look up something is Safari, open a new App page, open Mail, and then switch back and forth between app pages.

I also think there needs to be some improvements in push notifications. Give me a choice to close or go to the app with the notification. Also, save notifications, so I can scroll through them instead of appearing one at a time.

Otherwise, I'm not all that impressed with the Nexus One or Android. Right now, I think RIM is a bigger competitor to the iPhone and I think MS might have something with their Windows 7 Phone interface. (Although I think it's a bit too over animated. Animation shouldn't be used for "wow", they should be used to help the user navigate.)

SoccerShoutPhil said...

I hear what you're saying with the hardware keys, but I have one "but...".

I think one thing the hardware keys give you is consistency. With iPhone apps, controls move all over the place. With Android, you always know where it is even if it isn't applicable all the time.

It's a trade-off, but not as one-sided as you present, IMO.

Edster said...

The hi-res screen of the Nexus is really founded in necessity, it would look terrible at the 320x480 res of the iPhone.

The reason is that the OLED screen has one color per pixel and the pattern is R-G-B-G-R-G-B... So, every other row of pixels is green, and the alternate rows cycles between red and blue. Without the super high res pixel density this would be extremely noticeable. It also explains the not so great color reproduction on the devices.

EdWoodsReviews said...

I agree the Android approach to multitasking just doesn't work for me - it's hard for me to understand what is running and how to get back to it. You should not need a third party app to determine the answer to those questions.

The Palm Pre has a really nice approach to multitasking - push the home button and the apps appear in thumbnail view, and you can flick one up to close it.

I will admit a lot of other things about the device, including the keyboard, are probematical, but they really did multitasking right, and it's worth studying.

Curiously enough, the Pre's system was basically ripped off from iPhone's Mobile Safari and its way of handling multiple browser windows, which is essentially identical.

If iPhone could use that system for applications I think it would be ideal.

I suspect iPhone needs a faster processor for real multitasking, though.


sriveros said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sriveros said...

Here is a another good reason to get a Nexus One instead of iPhone. If you buy an unlocked iPhone and run a software updated from iTunes, it will get locked! On the Nexus One, if you buy it unlocked, it stays unlocked! As far as I am concerned, no phone should ever be locked! Your laptop is not locked when you purchase it, so why do phones? Very unfair business practice. On the iPhone, Apple refuses to support Flash or any anything similar. Google is pushing for support of Flash, Nexus One will support Flash very soon. And I don't mean mobile Flash, the real thing! You buy music on the iPhone, iTunes acts like a police officer breathing down your neck! Nexus One has support for stardard media formats that don't force you to become a prisoner of iTunes! Oh and you want to develop applications, have fun paying for a billion other things including a new Mac before you start developing anything for the iPhone. On Nexus One, it's open source, free to develop apps. So, can't you see? Apple is working with the man! Google is working for us, to free us from the man! So if you want to surrender your freedom, go with Apple. Otherwise, Google's Nexus One HTC is the way to go.

Webreaper said...

The key point you're missing about multi-tasking is the apps it allows developers to build that simply aren't possible. For example:
1. Newsrob: syncs with Google reader in the background, so that the content for my RSS feeds are cached automatically for when I'm offline. Bylines, the equivalent iPhone app, has to be running while it syncs, which means I can't use my phone for anything else at the time.

2. Sprofiles Profiles: this service sits in the background and alters my profiles based on location, time, charging state etc. So wifi, the screen brightness and my ringtone volume are automatically adjusted whether I'm in the office, at home, etc. Try doing that on the iPhone.

3. My twitter and finance apps all download and cache updates silently in the background, so when I open the app the content is already there, even if I have no service.

These are all functions I could not live without, so an iPhone is a non starter, and there are many other examples.

Valentin said...

if your iphone is unlocked, it stays unlocked even after the software update (i have one that is unlocked).

if you would start using a mac you would also know the deal with adobe/flash. the flash plugin is a such a horrible experiente on a mac... come on, they're just starting to use core animation?!

Gregory said...

Apps that I really like to have in the background:

Pandora (duh)
Turn by Turn GPS

Yeah... that's pretty much it. combine that with a not-background app and that's three.

My favorite parts about my DROID:
widgets, customizability, being different
there are a few other things, but that would just be for the sake of arguement

Is it worth having a buggy interface?
Yesterday, i went through a five minute period where the messaging app kept bringing me to my bank of america app. a month after i got my DROID, i had to reset it because it kept restarting itself, every once-in-awhile my texts go to the wrong people and i have to cover up. If i move my headphones just a little bit, the connection is lost

Rik Hemsley said...

An app in the background does not necessarily eat CPU and drain your battery. Just because an app is running doesn't mean it's executing instructions. Most apps are event driven - they don't do anything until an event, coming from outside the app, occurs.

It's quite possible - and very common - for apps to be using zero CPU while they're not being interacted with.

There's also no advantage to getting background apps out of RAM. You still need to power the RAM (unless there's some tech to power down idle RAM, which I suppose is possible) and killing apps just means you have to load them (and any data they might need) back into RAM before using them again. It's much better to simply kick them out when you need the space.

In theory there's no need to run apps in the background. They can simply remember their state and continue where they left off. In the case of traditionally always-connected apps, such as say an IRC client, a proxy can be used and the app on the mobile device can simply be a client for that proxy.

But in practice iPhone apps don't seem that good at remembering what you were doing.

In the end, though, while I own an N1, I still prefer the iPhone UX. It's just more polished and less logically flawed.

Daniel Badawi said...

""Multitasking" is one of the much lauded benefits of Android over the iPhone. Of course, it's not really multitasking. Everybody except most "tech pundits" knows that the iPhone's Mach kernel supports full preemptive multitasking and also knows that at any given moment there are somewhere on the order of twenty daemons and other processes running on a stock (non-jailbroken) iPhone."

fanboy detected.

when (and if) Apple deliveries true multitasking for the iPhone, those fanboys will love it. And magically this will be a "wonderful, great and really nice (Steve's style)" feature.

ps: I have an iPhone and N1.
I love my iPhone, of course it have the best user experience.
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The real value of the trackball becomes apparent when browsing the web. Zoom out so that you can see (and read) as much text as possible. You can then use the trackball to select links (and press the trackball to follow the link). This is a lot better than the experience on the iPhone if you can read small text but need to zoom in to accurately touch a link. I don't understand why no iPhone -> Android reviewer mentions this UX improvement -- perhaps they are conditioned to browse with text big enough to touch links?

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atomly said...

Actually, it's quite easy to stop a snoozed alarm. You'll notice the alarm clock in the notifications bar indicating that you're snoozing. Open the notifications panel and tap on that.

Your review is helpful in comparing the Nexus One to the iPhone and I think you're correct in your assertion that they're not the same thing. Unfortunately, you lose sight of the fact that they're not supposed to be the same thing. Sure, there are some nice things about the iPhone that I miss on the Nexus One (scroll bounce being one of them), but there are a lot of things about Android/Nexus One that I think are amazing and just not possible on the iPhone.

The open nature of the OS is probably the biggest thing for me. This may seem like just a lot of hype, but it honestly makes a huge difference. Take, for example, Swype, a really excellent keyboard replacement brought to you by one of the guys who did T9. After about a half hour of playing with it, I found that I was WAY faster typing with it than with the built-in Android keyboard or with an iPhone. The fact that it was a pluggable keyboard, actually supported by the OS, is just amazing to me-- it's not just some gross hack that somebody got to work, the OS actually allows you to configure and use keyboard replacements (and switch between them quite easily).

I also have to disagree with you on your assessment of multitasking. While it's not always useful, I do find it incredibly so in some situations. That I can hop back and forth quickly between two apps (by holding down the home "key") is really great in some cases. Also, the fact that I can have things like Google Talk always running in the background is just amazing to me.

Speaking of the home button, I also have to disagree with you about the four permanent buttons. Maybe you've grown used to iPhone's home-only approach, but I find the four buttons incredibly useful. Consistency is the hallmark of a good UI and I find it incredibly useful that I always know how to go back, open a menu, switch apps, etc.. Sure, search doesn't apply within the context of a game, but it does in the vast majority of apps and it's really nice knowing exactly how to do it without having to figure out the intricacies of the app that you're in.

You didn't even touch on some of the more amazing features of the Nexus One, such as voice input (way more useful than I would have ever imagined), its incredible camera (with flash), etc... Even the notification bar, which I mentioned above, is an amazing feature if you ask me. It's so nice to have all of my new information clearly collected and actionable in one place.

This is getting a bit long for a comment, so I'll stop now, but I just wanted to say that I think you're looking at things from the wrong perspective... Sure, the Nexus One isn't the iPhone, but it doesn't need to be-- it's excellent all on its own (and I'd never go back).

Rik Hemsley said...

atomly, Swype doesn't seem to exist for the N1. Or am I looking in the wrong place? (Tried the market and the website).

Rik Hemsley said...

Never mind, remembered that Google exists and found Swype. It's excellent. I'm looking forward to an official release.

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Jakko said...

Hmm, reading through this review i can't help but wonder if the reviewer played with the nexus long enough... I mean, not understanding android multitasking is one thing, seeing it as a flaw just really reveals how biased you really are. Also the nitpicking regarding scroll bounce really makes me laugh. An entire paragraph about android not having the same jumpy scrolling eye candy as the iphone. I guess the nexus really is a much better phone if an apple fanboy thinks a lack of scrollbouncing is one of its more serious flaws.

greggwon said...

The important thing about all the visual feedback that you call eye candy is how much it improves the user experience, letting them know that they are at the boundry of the displayable information, and the device is not "busy" and can't show them the rest yet.

It really is a big deal that I have gotten quite used to as well.

I'm beginning to hate my mouse more and more, and the touch pad on my macbook pro is so convenient with multi-touch support.

There is something to be said for the user interface on the iPhone, and if you really pay attention to what people are saying, it matters to many users.

Ali said...

Its really strange...I highly doubt the reviewer actually played with a nexus one for long enough...

I have used iphone since it came out a nexus one as it came out... with nexus one I feel, I can do a lot better than iphone...
from the look and feel of iphone to its OS was great until the N1 came... Now I do not want and will never go back to iphone...

N1 gives you what you want... freedome... do what ever you want with it and how you want it... not how APPLE want you to do it...

Deff will take time to get good appz like iphone...but it will...when iphone came there wasnt good appz at all... so what... developers atleast dont need a macbook to do appz... even one can modify the OS......its just cool...

The only thing is when you review something, review from all perspectives...not being just a fan boy...

chipselden said...

Well, I read the entire article and the comments.
The review seemed mostly thorough but left out things mentioned such as the notification bar, scroll-ball uses in text editing, and the voice to text. The review was noticibly biased and it suprised me that this reviewer had such a strong negative reaction to the N1, unlike any other I've seen.
If anything, this has strengthened my choice to get the nexus one. Seeing it from both sides and still getting the impression that the N1 is the better choice (ESP with the personal accounts from people switching phones) is great.

Lior said...

Hi Jeff,
I'm a devoted Android developer, and I have to agree with 95% of what you wrote (There are some inaccuracies though, for example: Disabling the alarm will also disable the snooze, and you can disable the snooze simply by clicking on the relevant notification in the notification bar).
Anyhow, any time I get to play with an iPhone I'm amazed on how responsive and snappy it is with only a 600Mhz processor. And when it comes to gaming, Android (for the time being) is way behind.

I'm sure this is going to change though, Android is evolving faster than the iPhone, and you phones like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, HTC Desire and HTC Incredible give an amazing user experience with their own Android experience (Rachel on SE, and SenseUI on HTC).

As a developer you have much more freedom. Starting from the fact that you can develop on any environment (PC / Mac / Linux), and you can do simply *anything* with the phone. You can write an app that replaces the entire home screen for example. Not to mention that publishing apps is so much easier.

A few more notes:
1. The back and menu buttons are great and extremely useful.
2. The trackball is very useful in edit-boxes
3. Background applications don't eat CPU, since they are paused.
4. Long-pressing the home-screen shows the 6 *recent* apps, not the 6 running apps.
5. Try an HTC phone with SenseUI, I'd love to read a post on how you find it compared to the iPhone.

Thanks for the great post,

Rik Hemsley said...

3. Background applications don't eat CPU, since they are paused.

Background applications don't have to eat CPU, paused or not.

Applications are not, I believe, paused. They may 'pause' themselves by waiting for input or some other event, but they seem to continue running in the background if they wish to. For example, NewsRob updates its copy of my Google Reader feeds and Spotify plays music.

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