Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Android vs. iPhone


Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 -- 11:25 a.m. -- at my desk

Now that we know that T-Mobile will feature the first Android phone -- The Dream by HTC -- starting next week, it's time to consider what implications this phone has on the iPhone that other phones -- like the Voyager and the Instinct -- have not had.

It's going to be interesting. I will go out on a limb and say this much to start. While I think this phone will sell better than the previously mentioned 2 other phones, I don't believe it's going to threaten the iPhone landscape anytime soon ... now, that's not to say that it won't eventually if Apple is complacent on fixing problems and adding new features, but for now, I think we can all breathe easy.

First off, the phone is going to T-Mobile. Of all of the carriers, T-Mobile has good customer service support when you call the toll-free number. But when you need your phone upgraded -- well, unless Google and T-Mobile have an iTunes like surprise planned that no one knows about -- or unless all software updates are over the air -- well, that's an area in which they don't excel. iWife was forced to use a version 1.0 phone even though there were several versions of software after that because the representatives said that they couldn't help us if we didn't own a PC.

So the point is ... a phone can look good -- it can smell good -- it can sound good. But it's got to have a seamless experience and one of the things that makes the iPhone so special, despite its faults, is the way it interacts with iTunes. Because when it's not taking 25 hours to back up and sync, the iPhone's interaction with iTunes is still pretty amazing no matter how many times you see it.

In that case, point iPhone.

And we've also heard that the price of the Dream will be $199 with a 2-year T-Mobile contract that will be agressively priced to compete with the iPhone data plans. No doubt. In fact, I think this could be good for us down the road if AT&T decides to get into a little price war with T-Mobile. However, that likely wouldn't help current customers as much as it would new customers.

But that said, if the Dream and the iPhone are similar in price, what's going to prevent folks on the fence from going Google?

Well, first off, the phone is unproven. HTC makes phones, yes, but the software inside is brand new. Talk about being beta testers. No doubt that Google is an amazing, amazing company, but any company doing something this big is going to face some big hurdles and customers might be on the receiving end of many of those.

Then there's the pictures. Soon we'll have high-quality ones to look at, but the low-resolution shots show a bulky Windows Mobile-like device that makes me incredibly bored and disappointed. When I think of Google creativity, I think of something that absolutely gives Apple a run for its money. This phone is not that phone.

Plus, there's the coverage. T-Mobile has been slowly rolling out 3G and only plans to have about 2/3 of the country covered soon -- and remember, T-Mobile's footprint is smaller than AT&T to start with, so 2/3 3G on T-Mobile is less than 2/3 3G on AT&T ... case in point, the coverage. While the Android phone won't require 3G, we all know how much it helps and how important the coverage is when some folks decide what phone to purchase.

So what we have now is something that I think will be interesting, but pretty telling. I don't think this is going to be a Zune-iPod situation, where the 4 proud Zune owners will be facing the millions of iPod users. I think you'll get plenty of people interested in signing up. And I think you'll get folks switching over to T-Mobile for the chance. Heck, you might even get some folks to give up the iPhone and go over to T-Mobile, especially with some of the frustrations with the iPhone lately. (p.s. note to my colleague David Pogue over at the New York Times -- you finally used my joke in yesterday's column after I've been using it for about a year now -- but you got it wrong ... it's 4 Zune users ... not 6. Just FYI).

But in the end, the first Android phone is no match for the iPhone. I don't really think Google is trying to make it a match ... I think it's just trying to get its foot in the door and go from there. To use the Zune as an example .. I think it's the same business model. The first Zunes were terrible and laughable and really didn't get much traction. Now, with the new Zune 3.0 software that came out this week, the reviews are showing that the software is really maturing and that it's giving iTunes a run for its money in some places and actually not following in the shadow of the iPod anymore.

That's what Android needs to do. It needs to lure people away from thinking that the iPhone is the only phone and then it needs to prove that it is. It needs to give people more. It needs to be responsive and fix problems quickly. And then it needs to develop software. It looks to look for weaknesses in the Apple armor -- like the whole App Store what's in and what's out flap. But it also needs to remember that open source, no matter how noble and open to developers it is, runs the risks of phones with viruses and problems permeating the landscape ... Apple said it best when it said that it would control the iPhone universe and keep users from malicious apps. Google needs to watch carefully that that doesn't happen here.

In the end, I'm looking forward to the competition. I've always said that competition is good for the tech sector and I still believe it. Am I worried about Android in the future being a big player? Yes, I am. But I think the competition I speak of will keep Apple on its toes and make for a fair, fun and interesting fight.

What do you think in all of this? Are you going to purchase an Android phone? What do you like about it and what don't you like? Do you agree with my assessment? The questions are never ending, and lucky for all of us, the room in the comments section is pretty much unlimited as well. See you there.

Thanks for calling.

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