I take a few days off and the next thing you know, I’ve got about three hundred unread items in Google Reader. Some of these items are from that haul and some of them have whiskers on them (meaning older than three days) and some of this isn’t related to anything at all.
Let’s start with a topic that I’ve had rattling around the old coconut for a few decades now. It was nice to see Stephen Goldmeier raise the issue over at io9, but i think his discussion only begins to scratch the surface. The issue is aliens who, as Goldmeier puts it, are truly alien. Forget the whole to arms, two legs, two eyes deal (Avatar – looking at you right now). In fact, forget the whole corporeal existence. Let’s get into something really strange. Noticeably absent from Goldmeier’s list is 2001: A Space Odyssey (although Rendezvous with Rama is discussed).
Let me start with a disclaimer: I have never owned an iPhone. So, when I talk about comparing iPhone to Android, what I really mean is iPod Touch. So I can’t give opinions about call quality or even the feel of an iPhon handset. All I want to talk about here is the two operating systems. I have spent a long time with the Touch and use it extensively for work and play. I have access to wi-fi at home and in the office, so I’m able to send lots of email, browse the web, get Twitter and Facebook updates, and even work on this blog from the iPod.
For a long time, I wanted that same level of functionality on the road. That meant getting into one of the established smartphone devices. I had a Blackberry Pearl 8130 which was bad for so many reasons. No proper keyboard, no html browser, no wi-fi, etc. I knew the iPhone OS inside and out and had a great relationship with iTunes and the iTunes shop. App development for the iPhone OS is outstanding, and many of the selections are well worth the price. As I have previously described, BeatMaker is pretty much pro-audio and you can hear for yourself what Fretbuzzdotnet has been up to with SoundGrid.
So, why not just get an iPhone? After all, everybody’s doing it. I guess it was that very fact that made me suspicious. I have also been lectured by smart friends and family members that the way Apple does business doesn’t make sense. If Apple would license the iPhone OS to other hardware makers, the sky would be the limit, just like with the apps. Instead, Apple locks everything up in its own hardware and its own software to keep firm control. I hate to say this, but it is a bit fascistic.
Along comes Android, open source, digital democracy. The first phone came out a year ago there hasn’t been much excitement during that time. While Apple has marched on with millions of downloads and lots of updates for the OS, Android is, only now, starting to look like a contender in this market sector. This Fall a number of Android devices are coming out on several different manufacturers’ handsets and carriers’ networks. Meanwhile, Apple stays locked in with AT&T and one lonely device.
When the Blackberry contract came up for renewal, I knew I wasn’t getting another. I was very comfortable with the iPhone, but curious about Android. Many months ago, I heard of HTC’s Hero, which was going to have a specially customized version of Android called Sense, and it just looked beautiful. The idea of an open-source OS is great for developers, but I needed something that I could work with easily out of the box, and Sense on the Hero seemed to fit the bill. Now, all I had to do was wait for an American carrier to pick it up.
One week ago, my wait ended. I am the proud owner of an HTC Hero on Sprint.
It’s only been a week, but I’m a pretty happy boy. Sense is everything it was cracked up to be. Stunning to look at and highly customizable. The camera leaves a bit to be desired, but works well enough for a cell phone and it’s so much better than what I had on the Pearl. The wi-fi is not nearly as speedy as on the iPod Touch, but that’s not an Android issue. HTC has sort of overpacked the Hero with stuff that stresses out its ho-hum Qualcomm processor. The slower processor makes sense because the battery life is already shortened by the big, bright screen.
I’m not giving up my iPod Touch. Android Market is on its way, but free-for-all means that there’s a lot of nonsense to sift through in order to get your paws on the killer-app. Apple’s rigid control over developer submissions means that there’s a slightly higher degree of quality and fit-n-finish to what I’m seeing at the iTunes App Store. Also, I buy most of my apps from a computer and not a phone. I miss being able to browse on a computer when looking at what’s in the Android Market. Finally, I don’t know if this is true for other Android phones, but the Hero does not permit apps to be saved to the memory card.
For the moment, the apps are better on the Apple, but I am so excited to be part of the Android revolution. It was easy to set up all three email accounts and I have instant and any-time access to Twitter, Feacebook, Flickr and any number of other services in the cloud. The Google integration is stunning. I update contacts in Gmail from a computer and they automatically show up on the phone. Same with calendar entries. The syncing is seemless. Android’s browser needs some work, but I’m still mucking about with version 1.5. 1.6 is already available on some phones and 2.0 was recently announced. Hopefully these newer versions will bring a better browser. Safari for iPhone is still the best I’ve messed with.
Android’s customize-ability is it’s true genius. The more a device can be made my own, the more likely I am to have a strong feeling about it. With Apple, you can only change the lock screed – with the Hero, you can change everything. As I spend more time with this thing, I’m sure to find more faults and more to be excited about, but for now, it’s a lovely OS and it’s fun to use.
UPDATE: Verizon takes the gloves off as it gets ready to roll out its Android powered iPhone killers – OUCH!!
I would have thought, “No way!” Apple likes to be in its own little world, with its own little file protocols and its own OS and everythings locked down nice and tight. Of course, given the success of iTunes, maybe Apple is not too worried about letting me buy songs from Rhapsody while I’m strolling around town. It’s bold, and it looks like its actually going to happen.
I’ve already gotten sucked into the amazing synth app noise.io, which is an incredibly powerful synth for you iPhone or iPod Touch. I’ve also been going back and forth trying to figure out how to realize my dream of electronic music and beats mixed with killer live guitar tones. That has led me to Reason 4.0 and the Akai MPC. The latter is a series of stand-alone units that work as samplers and recording studios. An MPC style controller might be ideal for getting the most out of the powerful Reason 4.0 software, but I know nothing about working such a controller, and they’re not free.
Along comes an iPhone app with a forty-one page instructions manual. BeatMaker features an interface that borrows heavily from both Reason and the MPC, complete with 16 virtual pads to tap out my imagined rhythms. At $20, it might be one of the most expensive apps for sale at iTunes, but it’s still about ten times less than a controller that may or may not work with Reason and that I definitely don’t know how to use. I think BeatMaker looks like a pretty good alternative. I’m willing to bet that after I read those forty-one pages, I’ll be a lot closer to understanding what to do with reason and a good trigger-pad/MPC-style controller than I am now. And I won’t have spent any more than $20.
The other aspect of BeatMaker that is intriguing is an app for your desktop/laptop that lets you take your beats off the phone/pod and actually do something with them. Now we’re talkin! And while I may be a bit far from getting that done, I’ve no doubt that, within the next few days, it’ll get done.
Apple and Blackberry may be direct competitors in the world of mobile phones, and Bono’s image may be indellibly and permanently stamped onto every iPhone and iPod Touch, but do you think Blackberry cares about that? And U2 needs as much extra scratch as possible to help pay for all those nice folks helping to move The Claw all around the globe on this tour. If Steve Jobs is feeling bad that his former pitchmen are now selling Blackberry, well, that’s too damn bad. Because when you’re U2, you don’t sign a restrictive covenant or an agreement not to compete. Pretty good video too.