If you have an Android, you have …
Disclosure: I work at Google, but I’m unaffiliated with the Android team. This blog post reflects my own personal opinions, not my employer’s.
- Native Gmail. Which means you can get Conversation View, colored labels, stars, search and spam reporting right from within the app. Apple’s draconian rules prevent any other email client from being accepted into the App Store.
- Turn-by-turn Navigation. This has got to be the killer feature on Android. Using the in-built Google Maps app, pick a destination, and ask Android to navigate to it. Then keep doing other things such as checking email, or viewing Facebook — of course, only if you’re the passenger, not the driver. The app speaks directions as the car drives, and uses text-to-speech technology to speak names of streets and cities, so you don’t have to ever look at the phone — focus on the road. The iPhone’s Maps app is terrible in this regard.
- Full Google Voice integration. Android allows any application to hook into its innards. So when you use the Google Voice app, it replaces the actual telephone dialer completely. The iPhone app is not permitted to integrate fully, so it does what it can as a second-class citizen on iOS. (If you’ve ever used Google Voice on the iPhone, check your call log: it’s littered with the behind-the-scenes numbers that Google Voice connects to, not your actual contacts’ phone numbers. There is nothing that the Google Voice app can do about this.)
- Widgets on the home screen tell you important bits of information with a quick glance. I use the Pure Calendar widget to see my daily events without having to start up the calendar app. It’s there, it’s ready, and it’s opportunistically visible even when I didn’t pull out my phone to check my schedule.
- Crop your photos before posting them. The default photos app lets you crop your photos before you post them via email or to Facebook.
- Double-click to reflow text in the browser means that you no longer need to scroll horizontally to read articles formatted for larger screens. Double-clicking in a block of text doesn’t just zoom into it (like the iPhone also does), but it also reflows the text maintaining a minimum readable font size to fit within the horizontal dimensions available (which the iPhone does not do.) You have to experience this to see what I’m talking about.
- You don’t have to wait for an app to update its data. Apps such as Twitter and Facebook can run in the background and update their data, so when you pull out your phone, they already have the latest tweets and status updates up on the screen. On the iPhone, these apps can fetch data only after they’re fired up, which means you must wait until they’re done fetching before you see the updates.
- Sync photos from Twitter & Facebook Contacts. Just enable Contacts Syncing, and start seeing your contacts’ photos from their Twitter and Facebook profiles when you dial their phones.
- Bluetooth-related apps can do amazing things! I use the Car Locator app which comes with a Bluetooth plugin; once you pair it with your car, it will auto-detect your car’s location the moment the Bluetooth connection is lost — i.e., as soon as you park and shut off the car. Apple does not allow apps to do things like this on iOS.
- Barcodes scan quickly with live video capture. On Android, the barcode scanner app has full access to live video when you fire it up. This way, it can constantly refine its view and try to locate a barcode within the field of view. On the iPhone, you have to fire up the app, then 1) take a picture 2) crop it 3) click a button to acknowledge that this is indeed the picture you’d like to use 4) wait to see if the app recognizes a barcode 5) rinse, repeat until code is recognized. On Android, you keep waving the phone at the barcode for a few seconds until it recognizes the code. Zero button presses.
- Switch out of Silent Mode automatically after a preset interval: I have missed several calls because I forgot to switch out of silent mode when leaving the office. Phone Silencer is an app that shows up when you put your phone in silent mode using the usual way (power button, or turn ringer all the way down), and asks if and when you’d like to revert to normal mode. You can pick a time and a volume setting, and the app makes sure you don’t miss a call (well, at least for this one reason.) iOS will not and cannot let apps do such a thing, because silent mode is controlled by a hardware button.
A True Post-PC Device
- Contacts sync over the air. Because a true post-PC device does not require to be synced with a computer every time. On Android, I edit my contacts within Gmail on my desktop, and a few seconds later (yes, seconds; usually about 2 to 5), the contacts on my phone are updated automatically. And vice-versa.
- Apps are installed over the air. With the new Android Market, if someone shares a link to an app while you’re using your computer, simply login and click to have the app sent to your phone. When you take your phone out of your pocket eventually, your shiny new app is there, waiting for you. No connecting to iTunes (or other desktop software) required.
- Sync your photos online as soon as they are taken. You can have an app upload your photos to PicasaWeb as soon as they are taken, so you never have to connect your phone to a computer to get them off it. Lose the cable.
- Full multi-tasking. If you click a link in your email app that opens the browser, clicking ‘back’ will take you back to your email app. If you click a link to a map from within the browser instead, then clicking ‘back’ twice will take you exactly where you expect it to.
- You can skip carrying a laptop. Android lets you download, copy, move and send files by email. Any type. This means that you can actually skip carrying your laptop on trips, and have a device that will let you do all that you want with it. No artificial limitations. If someone sends you an archived file, you can open it, browse it, email it, move it into your Dropbox, …
- Data is easy to get in and out. iTunes not required. If you’ve ever tried to copy music to your iPod/iPhone from a computer other than the one it’s synced with, you know what I’m talking about. I could never get a file out of an iPhone unless it was a photo. Android lets me move, copy, delete, do whatever with any file on the phone with a standard USB cable.
- Not really about being a post-PC device, but: Charge your Kindle and Android phone with the same cable. Depending on the manufacturer of your Android phone, you might just be able to charge it with the same charger as the Kindle (Micro USB) so you need to carry one fewer charger while traveling.
User Interface Niceties
- A consistent, global back button.. You know exactly how to get back to the previous screen in any application, and don’t have to rely on the developer of every single app putting a Back button in a consistent position. Ditto with the ‘menu’ button — it’s always where you expect it.
- Instant previews of incoming notifications. It’s better than a cryptic numeric badge on top of an app icon. You don’t have to fire up an app to see the new email or text message you just received, or a notification when someone mentions you on Twitter. The pull-down notifications area scrolls a quick preview once, and after that, it is available to scan quickly.
- You can tell if you’re typing in upper case or lower case, because the keyboard keys change accordingly.
- Unlock your phone with a pattern instead of using a PIN. Of course, if you’d rather use a PIN, you have that choice too. You, as the user, are in complete control of your experience.
And finally …
- Freedom. I cannot stress this enough. With Android, your phone is yours. It is not rented from a corporation who decides what you can and cannot install on it. If you don’t want to upload your app to Google’s Android Market, upload it to Amazon’s Android Market. Or put an .apk file on your server, and distribute it yourself. You don’t have to pay anybody 30% for the privilege of dictating to you what you are allowed to do with your phone.