By Harry McCracken | Monday, August 17, 2009 at 10:51 am
Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has a smart post up exhorting somebody–anybody–to build an Android phone that’s better than the iPhone. As far as I can tell, no manufacturer of Android-based phones has set out to do that–Android phones are getting better, as shown by the significant improvement that T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G represents over the first-generation G1. And some Android phones sport better specs in certain areas than the iPhone, or features that the iPhone doesn’t have. But nobody’s used Android to get to an overall phone experience that’s neck-and-neck with the iPhone yet. (And the overall iPhone experience remains so remarkable that folks are willing to forgive the phone for its many limitations.)
Android has gotten off to a slower start than I expected; even so, I still think it’s likely that it’ll provide the iPhone with its stiffest competition in terms of sheer market share in the years to come. I’m less optimistic about there being lots of Android phones which are just as good as the iPhone, for the same reason that there aren’t lots of Windows PCs that are just as good as Macs–the PC-like business model behind Android encourages manufacturers to build commodity products (albeit potentially good ones), not unique and ambitious ones of the sort Gruber is hoping for.
(Which doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to build something unique on Android; the best Windows laptops, such as Voodoo PC’s Envy 133, use the platform for products of Apple-like refinement and creativity. It’s just that the economics of building products on a common platform encourages those products to be…common.)
As of right now, the iPhone’s most formidable competitor in terms of overall experience is unquestionably Palm’s Pre. It’s anything but a coincidence that it’s also the smartphone that came out of the design process most similar to Apple’s approach, with one company designing the software and hardware from scratch. Very few companies will ever get that ambitious. But I hope that many companies do the next best thing: build Android phones that are so thoughtfully designed and customized that you forget they run an OS that’s available on scads of phones from scads of manufacturers.