Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why I Use an Android Phone

I work in a technology company so we talk a lot about new tech and gadgets. There is no shortage of discussion about mobile. Starting a flame war in our Socialcast forums (like an internal Twitter) is as easy as postulating that one phone is better than another in some way.

But trends have emerged. In general, our company leans heavily towards the Apple side of the argument. With Apple and Google's Android becoming the de facto leaders in the mobile space, the camps are digging in and the vitriolic is ramping up.

I've never considered myself a fanboy of either camp. The gadgets don't make me swoon. I don't know why. Or, I didn't know why until now.

Although I tend not to be a fanboy of gadgets, I am definitely a fanboy of companies. Apple is a company that has revived us from decades of sameness and has vaulted the entire computer industry into a place that's exciting and awe-inspiring. When the iPad was announced, I was more interested in how Apple had come up with such innovation than actually using the gadget itself. I, personally, could not think of a use for the iPad. I already had a Kindle for reading eBooks and a phone that could do everything the iPad could do. I ended up buying one for my wife once I realized that the iPad was the perfect portable television for her as she moved from room to room in our house. She enjoys it a lot. (I know Apple fans will assume I'm using her iPad constantly but I really don't.)

Google occupies a similar status in my mind to Apple. The Google search engine is a thing of beauty. Many of Google's follow-on products -- Docs, Blogger (which I'm using now), Maps, Earth -- you name it -- have been so tremendously useful for me in my life. I'm just listening to an audiobook called "In the Plex" that delves into Google's short life as a company and it is just making me appreciate how much I depend on their technology day-to-day.

Which brings me to my point (finally). I own an Android phone. I don't think the features of my ancient Motorola Droid are so much more fantastic than the features of a comparable iPhone. As far as I can tell, they're about the same. I have to agree with Steve Jobs initial assessment of the Android operating system - they really did copy a lot of stuff from Apple. They are so similar.

And yet, as it is now time to upgrade (I'm a faithful Verizon user), I have the choice to wait for the next iPhone model or the next Droid (which is the Bionic, pictured above). Part of the decision is made easy. The Droid Bionic will definitely be an LTE phone, the next iPhone most likely will not.

But that's not my biggest reason for choosing to stick with Android. My biggest reason is because I live in the Google universe. I use Google's services from end-to-end. I live in them, I work in them, I want to use all of them on my mobile phone.

I made a list of the Google and Apple services I use. In each case, I tried to find a comparable service from both.

Search Google Search use Google on iOS but contemplating switching to Bing
Maps Google Maps use Google Maps on iOS
Documents Google Docs Pages, Numbers, Keynote
Browser Chrome Safari
Music Google Music Beta iTunes
Social Network Google+ Ping
News Reading Google Reader a feature of Safari
Payment System Google Checkout a feature of iTunes
Voice Calls Google Voice N/A
E-mail Gmail MobileMe
Video Viewing YouTube Quicktime
Book Reading Google Books iBooks
Calendar Google Calendar iCal
Chat Google Chat iChat
Home Page iGoogle MobileMe
Photos Picasa iPhoto

Here's what I've realized. In sixteen categories (not meant to be all-inclusive) I use Google services in twelve cases. I use Apple services in two cases (iPhoto and iTunes). In two cases I use some service provided by another company (Amazon Kindle for book reading, Facebook/LinkedIn for social networking).

(The music situation is complicated. I only buy music on the Amazon MP3 store, but I play it on iTunes and my iPod Classic.)

I sure look like a Google fanboy. I don't know how this happened. I think a big factor was that my employer decided to start using Google Apps as our primary collaboration toolset a few years ago, including Gmail, Google Docs, Sites, etc. I've been really happy with the switch (we were using Exchange and some wiki product). A few months prior I had switched my personal e-mail account to Gmail. Everything seemed to culminate after that.

Apple fans will point out, of course, that you can use Gmail, YouTube and other Google services on the iPhone. This is true. However, Apple's clear message to its user base is "You will use what we tell you to use." Note the discussions last year of Apple possibly switching to Bing as the iPhone search engine. Bing? Blecch, that would disorient me terribly. All my search history and preferences is with Google. Not to mention that Google is still a better search engine. I could easily see Apple switching to non-Google defaults or, worse, banning certain Google apps for arbitrary reasons, as they did with Google Voice for several months.

So that's why I use Android. Not for the features of the phones, but for the services that come integrated so nicely. A friend with an iPhone was fretting that he had lost all his contacts saved to his phone. My contacts are in Gmail. It's that integration that I love.

And truthfully, I'm looking to get off of iPhoto and iTunes as well. I think the Droid Bionic has lots of memory so maybe I'll get DoubleTwist and ditch my iPod Classic. Or maybe use Songbird? And I've got to get a cloud repository for my photos. Most likely, it ain't gonna be iCloud.

I think Apple is better at making innovative gadgets than anyone else, including Google/Motorola/HTC/Samsung. Apple will always be first in coming out with cool new hardware. But I want to use the hardware that is easiest to connect to the services I use. And the services I use are at Google.