Android and iOS, better and right, saying and linking

I find John Gruber, when he’s got the snark dialed up to 11, annoying, grating, vial and egotistical. But that’s only when I disagree with him. I, of course, love it when we’re on the same side.

Gruber seems like a smart guy. His analysis and reporting is usually good. He’s willing to point out the iPhone’s and Apple’s flaws, even if he sees the world of technology from a decidedly pro-Apple perspective. That’s why, as someone who as never owned any Apple device, I continue to read his blog.

But I was surprised to see this in his latest piece, ‘First to Do It’ vs. ‘First to Do It Right’ about the way Apple doesn’t rush features to market:

Here’s the test. Take some normal people, where by “normal” I mean people who have never heard of TechCrunch or Daring Fireball. Give them brand new still-in-the-box iPhone 4’s and HTC Evos. Now ask them to make a video call to one another. With the iPhone 4, they’re going to be able to do it. The only thing that’s technically confusing about FaceTime is that it only works via Wi-Fi (I think many people have little understanding of the difference between Wi-Fi and 3G data — at least insofar as why a feature would work over one but not the other). Otherwise, FaceTime is as easy to use as making a regular voice call.

There are many things in Android that feel like technological demos. (Google Goggles, built into Android starting with 2.1, is a perfect example of this; taking a picture of what you want to search for or add to your contacts is a neat idea, but rarely works well in practice.) And it sounds like Gruber’s right: normal people will be able to figure out FaceTime much, much faster than HTC Evo’s “Android Time.”

But “as easy as making a regular voice call”?

Well, as easy as making a regular voice call to someone with the same model of phone connected to WiFi, sure.

Yes, I’m sure normals can probably figure out how to make a FaceTime call pretty quickly, and they may not need another account. But they still need to make sure the person they want to face call has an iPhone 4 and can connect to WiFi. (While Apple says it wants to make FaceTime an open standard, it hasn’t yet and there are no devices in wide use that can makes these calls, at least until next week when the iPhone 4 is shipped.) That’s not hard, but that’s not “as easy to use as a regular phone call.”

Apple’s implementation does sounds vastly superior to anything Android offers, but it gets sticky when we slap the word “right” in there, as if there is a final, correct way to do things. Is Apple’s implementation of this feature “right” or just “better”? Is Apple’s iOS 4 multitasking done “the right way”or just done a different way? Marco Arment, the lead developer at Tumblr and only developer of Instapaper, has some suggestions for improvements for iOS 4 multitasking. (For what it’s worth, my favorite Android app, the podcast app Listen, allows me to have it update and download new episodes in the background when it’s plugged in and on WiFi.)

How did he declare this the “right” implementation? I might find Gruber’s argument more convincing if he, or anyone else outside of Apple, had used FaceTime for more than the demo time alloted at WWDC, or if he could find something to link to backing up that assertion besides Apple’s own product page. It’s sort of like backing up an assertion that the iPad is actually magical by linking to Apple’s iPad page. I’ve come to expect better from Gruber.

2 thoughts on “Android and iOS, better and right, saying and linking”

  1. As I recall (and I’m going on memory, because I can’t be bothered to actually go back and read it!), my impression was that the contrast was between releasing a product with features, just to have features that can be checked off of a list, vs releasing a proudct with features that are thoughtfully integrated into the product, or that at least have a reason-for-being. So in that context, I think “doing it the right way” probably just meant something like “rolling out a feature correctly”, not implementing a feature in the ultimate, perfect way.

    That said, I’m not sure that Apple’s rollout of video calling (I’m not going to use their marketing term) is as good as it could or should have been. iPhone4 to iPhone4 seems pretty limiting when Apple’s own Macs can videochat via iChat (which also includes screen sharing, btw). And there, look, they already had a marketing term in iChat.

    They still make the best product. Join us, Nick.

  2. Gruber made a few points in the post, one of which was that Apple waits to include features until it has figured out an Apple-y implementation.

    I’m trying to argue that Gruber could have and should have used a different example, one where the Apple version and the competition’s version were both in the wild and had some track record.

    Gruber is, I believe, pretty careful with his language, so parsing it is worthwhile. The phrase “as easy as making a regular voice call” means certain things. It doesn’t mean, to me anyway, the same as “as easy as making a regular voice call to someone with the same model of phone connected to WiFi,” just as it doesn’t mean “as easy as making a regular voice call to someone who has also installed and signed up for Qik on the same model of phone.”

    Is Apple’s version undeniably simpler than Android’s? We have no evidence to the contrary, but, again, no one is carrying around Apple’s version in his pocket yet, right?

    I read Gruber for insightful analysis and good links, not links to the Apple PR line.

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