Android is the popular competitor to iOS in the mobile computing market. In addition to being incredibly open-ended and featuring some very cool UI options where iOS is more locked down, it also comes with its share of challenges.
To start, I’d like to state that I’m a big fan of Android. While I use an iPhone for day-to-day business, my hope is to switch back to Android again once my current AT&T contract is up. I loved my Samsung Captivate, and the free spectrum analyzer app that came in handy on numerous occasions during on-site troubleshooting for a company I worked with. So let me state for the record that I love Android.
That said, there are some points that deserve consideration before dropping hundreds of dollars on a gadget that you may be locked into a contract with for a number of years. Buying contract-free can be very expensive, so most consumers will opt for the two-year plan. No platform is perfect, bottom line.
Here are five reasons Android might not be for you.
Updates Aren’t Always Available
I’m writing this piece as a one-time Android user. I bought a Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S) as a replacement for the aging iPhone 3G. My initial response was very good. The representative I worked with at AT&T assured me that the Captivate was due for an update to Android 2.2 Froyo within a couple of weeks. This was my first lesson in Android updates. The update did not come a few weeks later, but six months later. Some variants of the Galaxy S, including the Continuum, have remained on 2.1 for a much longer period of time.
Bottom line: Google’s updates aren’t universally accepted by carriers and/or manufacturers. Different architecture and various agreements made between carrier and manufacturer can cause havoc on the update process. Each update could open up features that carriers love charging more money for, like tethering. Every manufacturer has its own terms.
Apple’s iOS is put on one primary phone architecture. This phone is sold directly by the operating system developer, cutting out the middleman that causes the majority of the delays. Better agreements and an understanding of carrier architecture comes in handy when it comes to getting approval down the line.
Recently, Samsung announced that Android Ice Cream Sandwich would not be available for the Samsung Galaxy S or Galaxy Tab. The reason Samsung gave for the lack up update was TouchWiz, an experience enhancement software. This software eats away at the RAM and processor capacity. Adding a more advanced OS built for modern (as if 12 months can make something less modern) tablets and smartphones.
Not All Apps Work on Every Phone
I love audio recording apps. Unfortunately, these apps don’t always work on every phone running Android. Features such as enabling active recording with the screen off (a handy battery saver during interviews) isn’t universally allowed by multiple manufacturers. Motorola, Samsung, HTC, etc. all have their own flavor of Android UI running which can interfere with certain apps.
Android, by and large, is a consistent platform in terms of scripting and capabilities, but like any OS, things you have installed that alter the interface in any way can conflict with what another app is trying to accomplish. That’s one of the downsides to any open architecture, especially when multitasking is enabled. Another factor to consider is that different hardware works in different ways. The camera on one phone may be very different from another, throwing off or otherwise giving lackluster results to the user.
iOS is a little different. Not only does each and every app have to make it through a specific review process, but the capabilities of these apps are inherently limited. Aside from jailbreaking, your apps live in a space of their own. You can’t install one app that enhances or restricts the abilities of another. Where it might be considered more restrictive and limited, the upside is that you’re pretty much guaranteed that the app will work on your OS and hardware.
Even the Best of Today Will Be Obsolete Tomorrow
How many times in 2011 did you hear about a new Android phone coming out that would be the biggest and best Android device that ever existed? If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard about plenty of them. The Transformer, Transformer Prime, Galaxy S II, etc. have all claimed to the be latest and greatest at one time or another during the past year. New Android devices are coming out seemingly every day.
In a world of two-year contracts, seeing expensive smartphones or tablets come out with the latest version of the OS, better hardware, and more sex appeal (figuratively speaking) can be disheartening. The same can be said for iPhone users who see the latest and greatest iPhone come out almost every year.
Different Devices Have Different Interfaces
As mentioned before, every manufacturer wants to come out with its own flavor of Android. In a market where devices are often competing in terms of hardware, having some software advantage can give one brand the edge over another. Unique devices like the Transformer Prime have taken this competitive edge to the point of creating a dock that turns a simple tablet into a small notebook computer.
Where the downside comes in is the sheer complexity of learning a new interface every time you switch devices. For the 1% of us who enjoy the challenge of using a new device and tweaking the UI, it’s not a problem. For the other 99%, every change and alteration can throw them off and create complexity and anxiety. No device sold to the general market should confuse the user, and this is a downside for many individuals.
Not only that, but you might really like the default Android UI. Having keyboards and other interface options swapped out by the manufacturer can ruin the experience for you. Who wants to spend their valuable time putting things back the way they would be on another device?
One of the biggest downsides to an open-ended OS is security. While open source software does enjoy the benefit of having thousands of eyes on the code to discover and quickly fix security flaws, Android isn’t purely open source. Updates are released by a company as fixes become available.
In August of this year, McAfee released a report indicating that malware is a growing problem on the Android platform. This malware piggybacks on seemingly legitimate software and can bog down your phone. Not only that, but the security conscious certainly don’t appreciate malware on a device so closely tied to their private life. Everything is on your smartphone, from friends and family’s contact information, your email, and even your location.
Apple controls the software made available for iOS. The approval process is much more stringent, making it harder to sneak through anything Apple wouldn’t readily approve. The few cases that have risen to the surface were quickly reversed by Apple and the applications wiped off the iTunes App Store.
Is Android for you? This question requires a lot of thought on the part of the person facing a two-year contract or high price tag. Even an investment of a couple hundred dollars for an Android device is a big deal to most consumers, so it’s for that reason all the pros and cons should be weighed.
Apple’s iOS platform isn’t necessarily better than Android. For many people, it flat isn’t. The differences between the two are where decisions need to be made. Not everyone has the same tastes or preferences. There is a large market of users out there that appreciate alternative platforms such as Windows Phone 7. There are plenty of options out there from which to choose.