Droided: After a Long Detour Around the iPhone

by Dave Michels

The Droid is the best phone I have owned. I’ve been using an MS Mobile phone (Tmo Dash) for about 3 years. It was the best phone I ever owned until the Droid. But its been obsolete now for several years.

I was going to upgrade my phone last year when the G1 came out, but decided to wait because it was, after-all, a version one phone. I’ve been on Tmobile for years and like them. I was glad to see Tmobile so aggressively supporting Android. Not only was I happy with their service, but their rates too. Plus their phones work seamlessly in Europe. But all that loyalty was wiped away when Verizon got the Droid. Sad really, but devices are one of the few levers carriers have to distinguish themselves.

Several new Android phones hit the market in the past few weeks – Motorola, Samsung, Acer, HTC, and more. But I really wanted a keyboard which narrowed the options. The Motorola/Verizon Droid was clearly the top of the (Android) line – knowing how fast things are changing and how long two years can be makes settling for anything less than the best just silly.

So I moved to Verizon and got a Droid. More on that below, but I need to address the obvious (daresay nagging) question of why I didn’t get the iPhone. By almost all accounts, the iPhone is considered the superior phone. But I decided no more of my dollars will go to Apple about a year ago. So the question became what is the best non Apple phone on the market, and that is the Droid. At least this week.

I was an Apple fan. I few years ago I bought a Ti-Book. I spent several thousand on this beautiful notebook computer along with all the options. I also bought the very first generation iPod 5GB (with a real wheel), and about 6 more iPods since. I was guilty of the crime I despise now – pushing Apple products on others; dumbfounded why others didn’t see the light.

But while I enjoyed my Mac, I began to grow suspicious of the cult I joined. We had our frustrations, but gleefully accepted them like over sized pits in avocados, accepting the overall goodness without complaint. But, I also noticed a couple important trends that were happening. The first and most concerting was my spending patterns changed. I kept giving Apple more money. I bought a case, an OS-X upgrade, a 2nd power cord, another OS-X upgrade, various Apple programs, even third party products from the Apple Store, iTunes music purchases, and more. That Apple store became just too darn familiar. I concluded that the Apple habit was too expensive and needed to be kicked.

The next observation was issues with my hardware. My power cord got a loose connection, my keyboard started jamming. I had numerous problems with my iPods as well. I had to try out the Genius Bar in their first Colorado store which resulted in sending my Ti-Book in for service. I concluded that part of Apple’s incredible design included the goal of planned obsolescence. I was paying top dollar, but unlike say high-end cars that offer increased reliability or higher residual value, I wasn’t getting long term benefits. I felt robbed, my high-end purchases had a rush of short-lived pleasure.

Eventually my Ti-book became unusable and I migrated back to the PC. No ill-will at all – I just didn’t want to spend the money for another Ti-Book. I was also experiencing too many problems with software and websites designed for Windows and IE. That is no longer an issue. Today apps and websites are fairly neutral; in fact the whole notion of the Mac/PC war seems solely an emotional one now- the browser won – not a specific computer.

But I still loved my iPods. I bought a bunch of speaker docks and all was good. But then new models came and my docks didn’t work anymore. In fact, one incompatible Nano-pod ruined a dock. One of my iPods died – the lock switch broke and whenever I took it somewhere the battery was dead on arrival. That one got stolen. I also noticed my video iPod screen was seriously scratched. Kind of surprising because it didn’t get much use/abuse. I compared it to my cell phone which gets used/abused daily (for longer)– it had no scratches. Then a battery needed replacement…

But still loyal, I bought a new 160 GB iPod mostly for videos– my last iPod. I took it on a trip and wanted to share a video with a friend on his TV. I had my trusty video cable I used with my prior iPod, but it didn’t work. I assumed the cable was bad, so purchased a new one ($6). That didn’t work either. A quick Google search told me that Apple encrypted the video-out so only an Apple cable ($40) could be used. Apple actually taxed video out! That did it for me. I felt like Mongo, a pawn in this game.

The video cable pushed me over. But why did it take so long? I had two proprietary power cords for my Mac. I own a lot of consumer devices, but none of the others have proprietary power cords.

I decided no more Apple for me, but I keep seeing the pattern. The iPhone was introduced as the most expensive cell phone ever; and remained so for quite some time despite a series of discounts. The first iPhone got rave reviews, but one persistent complaint; no cut and paste. It took three versions to get that feature added. That sure smelled like planned obsolescence to me. I think of the “prestigious” @mac.com email service which was originally free. Apple started charging despite so many other free email services were available – but so many kept their “prestigious” address for reasons I can’t fathom.

I also notice that the Apple Fans love to complain about Apple. I especially see it on Twitter, but whats odd is how happy the complaints are. “Scored on Apple Care, saved me $500”, or “Heading to the Genius Bar again, hope they can fix it”.

The iPhone changed the rules and broke the barriers. It was the first mobile phone with a real OS and web capability. That was exciting. The Appstore was genius; it simplified the consumer process of shopping for apps and created a powerful revenue stream for Apple. But what bothered me was there was no way to add applications to the iPhone without Apple’s knowledge or consent. Sure enough it didn’t take long for Apple to block programs with ambiguous reasoning. There is no other consumer computing platform restricted to manufacturer approved programs. People argue that its good censorship, that Apple protects their customers. But I don’t get it. Where is the line? If an upgrade comes down next week that blocks certain websites in the browser is that good too? Of if the GPS starts beeping because you are speeding?

I can’t think of any portable consumer electronic device that doesn’t allow access to the battery (except iPods). My current cell phone has gone thru several batteries; changing them is easy. Simply order a replacement online and change the battery when it arrives. Batteries are wear parts. Would we accept cars that could only have their tires changed by the dealer?

So I decided no more Apple. It’s been frustrating as the iPhone was clearly a great platform, and I was still stuck with an old phone. Especially being a phone guy, a wimpy phone is terible for one’s self esteem. It took several years, but now I am the proud owner of a Motorola Droid. It turns out I could have gotten one sooner; the keyboard I waited for on the Droid isn’t great. I find myself using the soft keyboard more often than I would’ve guessed. But the overall specs on the Droid are pretty impressive.

The Droid has an incredible screen. A very solid feel, a changeable battery and a very nice camera (with flash). Because I have two (home and work ) Google accounts, it was incredibly easy to move into the phone. Literally took seconds and works much better than the Windows Mobile phone which was designed to optimize integration with Exchange. After I moved to Google, my MS Phone could not access Contact notes – things like frequet flyer numbers and stuff. But the Droid got it immediately. The application library (at one tenth the size of the Appstore’s selection) is pretty large. I selected among several Twitter applications. Facebook was already installed. I added an RPN calculator (but no 12c emulation), some games, Shazam, and surprise a Squeezebox remote. I also added Google Sky which is absolutely amazing, though not terribly practical for me.

Though there are some over sized avocado pits with the Droid too. My old phone had only one app I was using – remote access to my home automation system. It is available for the iPhone, but not Android. My old phone automatically switched my phone to vibrate during appointments – the Droid can’t, but I did find a $3 application that says it will. I think applications are great, but they should not be needed for functionality that should have been included. I also find switching between my Google accounts more complex. On the Droid, it involves several steps and I need to manually select each account. On on my old phone I could just use the D button to toggle through the accounts.

But I am enjoying the openness. I added a barcode scanner – it was originally blocked on the iPhone. The Droid came with native Adobe Flash (and YouTube) support and I added the Google Voice client – two apps blocked on the iPhone. Reviews I’m reading give the Apple browser a slight edge over the Droid browser – but soon Mozilla will be releasing an Android Firefox browser (won’t be available on the iPhone) which will likely best both. In other words, I like that I am the only one blocking apps on my phone.

Even with all these blocked apps it doesn’t even make a dent in the disparity of the applications available on Android vs. the iPhone. I hope and expect that more applications will be coming to the Android Marketplace, but I am unsure when or if the gap will cease. I truly believe that Apple made the Android phone possible; and I appreciate it. One phone does not suit all, and a choice is important.

UPDATE: I just installed the Evernote Beta – not available through the Marketplace. I downloaded it from the website and installed the app – without jail-breaking my phone!