Google Android – I’m critical because I love

I recently attended an event for Android developers. One thing that surprised me was how much developers tended to be aligned in either the Google or Apple camps. In this case, it was mostly an anti-Apple camp. I understand this – there are a lot of reasons to be annoyed at Apple.

However, a lot of it was blind adoration of anything Google, in part at least, driven by hatred of Apple. From the outside, it looked a lot more like Apple envy and general jealousy. As I dared to criticize anything Google did or anything about the Android platform, I was quickly characterized as an Apple-lover and Google-hater. What I was saying didn’t matter anymore at that point.

There are lot of things I don’t like about Apple, their policies, etc. The iPhone platform SDK is also extremely limited in some really important ways, such as no third-party app integration with SMS, voice signaling, the voice channel, etc. – but that is all a post for another day. My point here is that when I’m criticizing Google or Android, it doesn’t automatically suggests that I love all things Apple. Nor does it suggest that I’m an Android-hater.

I’m critical of Google and Android because I want it to be better – I want it to be as good as, or better than, iPhone. The Android apologists will tell you it already is, but that is just their Apple hatred speaking – they would buy anything and overlook any limitation, as long as it’s not Apple. The fact is, the Andorid user-experience is lacking, from a regular “person on the street’s” perspective. Tech geeks will overlook a lot of things that mainstream users will not accept.

The first problem is that there isn’t a consistent “Andorid user-experience” at all. Every device and carrier offer their own variation. Again, geeks argue that this is a good thing, and admittedly, it does have some benefits – but in trying to build an ecosystem and a brand, it is a recipe for disaster. If you have used one iPhone, you know them all. Likewise, iPhone developers only have to be concerned with a small matrix of variations in the hardware, screen-size, etc. With Android, the problem is exponentially more challenging.  This is one reason why Android apps often look terrible on different Android based phones – or don’t work at all.

And then there’s the app quality and consistency issue. Apple certainly lets through some pretty bad apps onto the app store, but for the most part, their draconian UI guidelines result in apps that people can figure out and use right away. A random sampling of 10 apps on Android vs. 10 apps on iPhone will make this point quite effectively. Android apps are all over the place in terms of UI and quality. In short, with some very impressive exceptions, Android apps suck.

Android is not a brand yet. Is it a “droid”?  Is it an HTC? Is it a Gphone? What the hell is it? It doesn’t help that one Android phone doesn’t look very much like another, externally or in the UI. Nobody knows it’s Android.  In fact, it’s not clear to me what brand Google wants to promote here.

So in short, Google has a branding problem, a distribution problem, and an ecosystem problem. I want them to resolve these problems because I want them to keep putting pressure on Apple. But don’t tell me they’re good enough already. And don’t tell me I can’t criticize Google while still wanting them to succeed. They have lots of room to improve and they need to know it and not assume people will accept an inferior product based on their ideals alone.