Wednesday, January 21, 2009

iPhone is from Mars, G1 is from Venus

I recently got my hands on a shiny new G1 phone. Despite being a little jaded by all the promises made by phone providers in the past, I was excited about getting this phone. I am a fan of the iPhone for the most part and I had high hopes because the iPhone has been out for a while now giving vendors time to replicate and improve. However, the G1 is a completely different experience.

The G1 has a touch screen like the iPhone but doesn’t have some of the cool tapping features. Also, I don’t find the screen as responsive as the iPhone but I guess that can be fixed in the OS. The big plus is the G1 keyboard, which is very usable and sturdy (I’m not usually a fan of moving parts on a phone). The G1 interface is easy on the eye but needs the attention of a few UI folks to iron out some of the windozie-behaviour such as the “are you sure” dialogs. I would like to see a more finger-orientated interface. If you want to type you must flip out the keyboard, this can get a bit annoying when typing quick messages or names.

What was startling about the G1 was the complete lack of consideration for entertainment. The iPhone is designed around the very successful iPod, which makes the phone very appealing to a wide audience. I would think this is something to replicate, but the G1 offers a weak story here. There is an MP3 player but no support for video except YouTube, but most troubling is the lack of headphone jack. The do provide a pair of mini-USB headphones, but that ain’t a lot of use to the rest of the world.

Where the G1 excels is in the apps department. The integration with Google Apps means its very easy to work with email and calendar. At MuleSource we use Google apps for our internal mail and calendaring but with the iPhone I had to mess around with 3rd party calendar-sync tools all the time. It was pretty frustrating. With the G1 I see exactly what I would see on-line, no more dropped appointments or duplicates. The Gmail application is great because I can label and archive messages as I would in Gmail. My only complaint here is that the Gmail shortcut keys don’t work on the G1.

My gripe with the iPhone has always been that the phone itself sucks. This is something that the G1 has mastered, calls are clear and accessing the dialer is easy.

The reason I got the G1 phone wasn’t for the phone itself but for the Android platform. Being an open platform, I think we’ll see far greater collaboration between vendors and users on Android. I already find the applications on Android more innovative than the iPhone and believe the community around Android will increase the lead. The iPhone is an iPod with some bells and whistles, which makes it by far the best entertainment device out there. I’d like to see Android close the gap on the iPhone by acknowledging that a phone needs to be an entertainment device as much as a productivity tool.