Editorial – Android just doesn’t work

Last night I spent three hours in an extremely hot room in the name of research. The research was for a mobile company, who will remain nameless, but I can reveal the research was all about smartphone interfaces and how they compared.

Each phone in the research was subjected to the same against the clock tests eg making a simple phone call, adding a phone number to the contacts list, adding a widget to the main menu. Just the sort of things you would do on a regular basis.

The majority of the phones were Android phones and the big thing it revealed was; just how bad Android could be, and just how far ahead the iPhone still is.

When the iPhone was launched more than three years ago its interface was head and shoulders better than the rest, unfortunately, even though the mobile manufacturers have had this gold-standard design to work to, they have all failed miserably in creating an interface that even gets half way to that standard.

Apple, with the iPhone, has created the interface equivalent of the wheel, unfortunately all of their competitors are trying to reinvent the wheel, and most of those wheels are square.

The smartphone interfaces in the research were clunky, none of them were intuitive, none of them were at all user-friendly, and many of them seemed to have forgotten, what and who they were designing the phones for. Grab an iPhone give it to anyone you know, old, young, smart, dumb and I guarantee that within two minutes they’ll be using it like a pro, give them a “smartphone” and within minutes they’ll be lost.

Android is at a cross-roads, it’s doing well and manufacturers are adopting it worldwide, but in order for it to be successful it’s going to have to shift up a gear.

The most worrying thing I learnt was how different all the different versions of Android were. If Google want Android to take the crown away from the iPhone for the most useful, intuitive smartphone interface, they’re going to have to stop the mobile manufacturers from adding layers of unnecessary interfaces on top.

Microsoft and Apple know how to create interfaces that work. They also know that to give those operating systems a fighting chance of being adopted, the operating system needs to behave the same regardless of the device. Windows 7 looks the same on an HP, as it does on an Asus, or a Samsung. So a user of Windows 7 can be productive no matter what the device, and the apps written for Windows 7 will work on the Asus, Samsung, HP etc with Android that doesn’t happen. A Motorola Android user will have great difficulty working on a HTC Desire, or a Nexus One, or a Sony Ericsson Xperia despite that fact that underneath they’re all the same. And that’s madness.

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