Android – You’re Doing It Wrong


I’ve begun to see a pattern of people posting their opinion of Android, especially those coming from other OS’s, with one point that I find more than a little ridiculous.  Since I still move in webOS circles a bit I’ve seen it there certainly, but also from a few people coming from iOS or Blackberry.

The refrain goes something like this:

“I don’t like Android because the built-in apps are lacking.  Yes, I know, I can customize Android a million ways to Sunday, but I shouldn’t HAVE to in order to get a device that rocks, especially when <insert competing product name here> has great apps built-in”.

There’s usually some minor variation on that theme, but that’s the underlying thought: these people seem to be saying that customizing is in some way bad and that the out-of-the-box experience should be top-notch and because it’s not (something I’d frankly agree with) then Android is somehow flawed.

My reaction is always the same: you’re doing it wrong.

Also, the REASON you’re doing it wrong is that Apple has, whether you realize it or not, told you so.

Let me put it this way: have you EVER heard someone complain that Windows isn’t that great out-of-the-box?  In terms of apps I’m talking about, put all other factors aside (stability, performance, etc)… ever hear someone say “Gee, Windows sucks because the built-in file manager (or web browser or eMail client or whatever else) isn’t very good?”

IF you answer yes and IF you’re being honest, then ask the logical follow-up question: did you hear that before or after Apple started becoming popular and mainstream again? (“again” in this context meaning since the iPhone came out)

I’d bet the answer is no most of the time to the first question and yes to the second in all cases where it was yes to the first.

The thing is, Windows has always been a PLATFORM, a foundation.  You’re expected to build upon it.  That means getting the apps that YOU like and that YOU want to use.  The apps that come with it, by and large, are very basic, just enough to allow you to get started until you find the apps to take their place that really meet your needs.  And this has always been good enough- in fact, Microsoft has always been watched carefully when it comes to bundling.  They’ve had a tight leash on them for years in that regard.  But regardless of that, the fact remains that Windows has for the most part always been separate from the apps you run on it and it’s always been a natural (if unspoken) truth that you don’t expect the apps that ship with Windows to be anything great.  You EXPECT to have to load your own apps.  This is flexibility and freedom and exactly how everyone has always wanted it to be.

Until now it seems.

Why is the expectation any different with Android?  Why don’t people view it as a foundational platform, shipping with, for the most part at least, basic apps to get you started and that you are EXPECTED to customize?  Why is this flexibility and freedom EVER seen as a bad thing?

Because Apple has told you it is.

Now, I’m not saying they’ve come right out and stated it as such.  What I mean is that Apple has, really always but especially since introducing iOS (and after working the early kinks out) done very well in providing some excellent apps with the OS.  No, maybe not always the best available, but usually not too far from the top, certainly better than some of the default apps Android provides.  For example, the iOS eMail client is, in most peoples’ minds, a better eMail client than what Android provides by default.  I’d personally agree it is for the most part (I know some people claim the GMail client is fantastic but I hold no opinion on it personally since I don’t use it).

So when I say Apple has “told you” this is how it should be I’m really saying they’ve set that expectation, and if Android or any other OS doesn’t at least meet what iOS provides then it’s somehow not as good (and the comparison works against any other competitor as well).

But, it’s a flawed expectation.  I’m not blaming Apple for anything here by the way.  There’s no problem with them providing good apps out-of-the-box.  In fact, for many people, that’s all they’ll ever need and they’ll be quite happy.  So be it.  Who am I to complain?  But, to then turn around and use that against Android is unfair because Android comes from a different place.

Apple likes to control the experience of its users.  In some ways, that’s a plus (it’s usually a good experience, generally speaking, for most people), but in some ways, it’s a negative (you give up some freedom of choice by accepting it).  Apple has a much more “appliance-like” approach to its products: you take it home, turn it on, and you’re rockin’ and rollin’ with it.  But, the experience they designed FOR you is, to a large degree, the experience you’re ALWAYS going to have (ignoring jailbreaking and really doing some hacking, of course, I’m talking just average, everyday users).

Android, by contrast, is philosophically very different: YOU are in control at a very fundamental level.  The experience you have is UP TO YOU.

Don’t like the launcher that comes with your Android device?  No problem, choose one of the many alternatives.  Default eMail client not doing it for you?  No sweat, there are others to choose from.  Not a fan of the basic Android browser?  Cool, grab Dolphin or Opera or Firefox or even Google’s own Chrome and you’re good to go.  You have these choices, and yes, you may decide you don’t want to put in the time and effort to decide which apps are best for you, but you have that opportunity, and moreover, Android is almost designed so that you are EXPECTED to do that.  I mean, you don’t make it as easy as it is to switch launchers, in some cases RADICALLY altering the way you interact with your Android device, if that’s not the unspoken expectation.

Put it this way: how ridiculous would it be for someone to say: “You know, Windows only gives me Notepad to edit text with… I can’t do formatting, bullet lists, tables or any of that cool stuff I want to do, therefore Windows sucks”?  It’d be pretty ridiculous and you’d quickly and rightly point out: “Dude, go get Microsoft Office or LibreOffice or Symphony or one of the other office suites and you’ll have exactly what you want!”

It’s a question of expectations.  Apple “tells” you to expect a solid out-of-the-box experience, and you accept it because, let’s face it, Apple has been MASSIVELY successful with it.  But Android “tells” you that you’ll get a solid core and an OK set of default apps out-of-the-box and it’s up to YOU to make it really suit your needs.

Now, if you don’t have the time and inclination to put in the effort that Android to an extent demands, no problem, just keep using your Apple products.  I’m sure you’re happy with them and that’s fine with me.  Many people use Macs too and I know many don’t alter the default experience very much either and they’re perfectly happy with it.  That’s cool with me.

But it’s not fair to turn around and bash Android for not being what Apple thinks a computer (smartphone, tablet, whatever) should be.  It’s not fair to say “Android sucks” just because you don’t want to exercise the freedom it provides.  And don’t misunderstand me: Android is certainly NOT perfect, and there are very legitimate gripes people can and should have with it (including me).  But the tired “the default apps aren’t good” is just that: tired, played out, unfair and more than a little ridiculous in the first place.

Android is, at least in this regard, fundamentally about freedom and flexibility.  The competitors’ products are not.  They take a very different view of things.  You as a customer are perfectly free to decide which philosophy suits you best and go with it, and neither choice is more valid than the other for any given individual.  But if you’re decision point is “the default apps in Android aren’t as good as X, Y or Z’s default apps” then, as I said at the start:

You’re doing it wrong.

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