It's always tortoise and hare
Posted by aogWednesday, 16 December 2009 at 09:36 TrackBack Ping URL

I was reading this post about the new “Droid” phone based on Google’s Android operating system.

What is interesting to me is how Google seems to be playing Microsoft to Apple once again. Apple came out with a clearly technically superior product enhanced by a very well done user interface. Meanwhile Google and its partners have been putting out versions of Android that started at mediocre and have been gradually improving. This new phone is at least the third release of the basic platform and is apparently the first to be in the same ballpark as the iPhone.

The question is not so much whether the Droid, in particular, is a real competitor for the iPhone. If not, we can reasonably presume there will be another version. That was the Microsoft strategy after all, to get close enough with a lower price to be a valid alternative. The question is, will Apple rest on its dominance as it did with the MacIntosh?

The other question is why do other companies find it so hard to get the slick user interface? A good team capable of doing that quality of work is hard to find and expensive, but really — Google can’t put one together, in a market worth potentially billions of dollars? For computers it might be debatable about how slick the user interface really needs to be but for a cell phone, a far more commoditized product with few technical differences, the user interface is the plurality of the product. It is the “value add” for which people pay.

I expect it’s a common problem that Apple, institutionally, has overcome. That problem is the realization that nice user interfaces are a lot of work. When I build enhancement in to our product the effort of implementing the backend is usually about 25% of the work. The other 75% is creating a user interface to make the feature accessible to the user. My pattern is to figure out the basic implementation (so I know I can implement the backend) then work out the details of the user conceptual model. If I can’t do the latter well we don’t put the feature in because it’s better to do without than to have an irritatingly unusable one. I suspect that too many tech companies haven’t figured this out and that’s why Apple has been so successful.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Bret Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 10:42

The two models following Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” where the iPhone is the Cathedral and the Android is the Bazaar. The Bazaar has never excelled at User Interfaces. Let’s see what happens this time.

On the other hand, I really like my Motorola Cliq (also an Android based phone).

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 11:08

I have to agree with the reviewer or maybe Instapundit that the RAZR interface was junk. I also tried it and didn’t mind when the phone was accidentally destroyed. I got a completely different model and haven’t consider a Motorola phone ever since.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 16 December 2009 at 11:27

Heh. I am working on some code that just generated this output —

Option dst does not take an argument
You must specific a destination directory (-dst).

Maybe I should fix that…

Ali Choudhury Friday, 18 December 2009 at 19:07

I had an iPhone for a short while and didn’t take to it. For a business user, it’s issues with battery life, connectivity, bulk and lack of intuitive typing\cutting\pasting don’t hold up well against a Blackberry. I’ve mostly used Nokias for my personal phone and am quite happy with my E55.

I’d also have to say the super-gushing enthusiasm of Apple users predisposed me to dislike it from the get-go.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 18 December 2009 at 22:13

Business needs are going to be different. Consumer electronics are a very different market.

cjm Saturday, 19 December 2009 at 12:05

aog, is the code quality of android any better than windows?

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 19 December 2009 at 13:17

I have no idea, since I haven’t looked at the Android code and haven’t look at the Windows code since NT 3.51.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Win32 kernel is an excellent piece of work, IMHO clearly superior to Linux in quality, security, and power (just compare the driver models for one thing). But for reasons I have never understood, Microsoft layers piles of garbage code on top of it to make a … sub-optimal result. I could tell you many horror stories of how some kernel hacker put in a beautiful mechanism for controlling his work and the application people absolutely butchered it. It makes me weep just to think about it.

I should probably check the Android code base at some point in my copious spare time :-). I tried finding the CRUtape Letters code but failed and now it’s too late, lots of other people have already dissected it.

David Cohen Monday, 21 December 2009 at 10:19

I saw another article (I think on Slate) arguing that Google was falling into the trap of playing Microsoft to Apple’s Apple. The idea seemed to be, as here, that Apple was clearly superior and dominating Microsoft.

In terms of product, I have no particular problem with that, but as a business, who wouldn’t want to be Microsoft?

In operating systems, Microsoft still has about 90% of the market to Apple’s 10% (I’m ignoring small competitors like Linux that are basically rounding errors and arguably compete in different markets from APPI and MSFT). Basically, if Apple didn’t exist, Microsoft would have to invent it because it doesn’t want an actual monopoly. In fact, when Apple was in real danger of going under, MSFT did everything it could do to keep it alive for exactly that reason. Leaving “pretty” to one side, it’s clear that MSFT has won the desktop and is in no danger from Apple.

As a business, it’s also in better shape. In their most recent fiscal years, MSFT made a 24% profit on sales of $58 billion, while Apple (now basically a consumer electronics company) made a 15.5% profit on sales of $36.5 billion.

The idea that Apple has Microsoft right where it wants it is nuts.

Ali Choudhury Tuesday, 22 December 2009 at 15:27

Microsoft will do well until people need to stop buying Office (well, Excel) and whatever OS they’re currently selling. Beyond that, they really don’t have a Plan B.

erp Tuesday, 22 December 2009 at 17:15

Ali, if they keep “improving” Excel that might be sooner than they realize. There are probably lots of people like my husband who aren’t really computer literate, but got used to Excel and were comfortable with it. His new Vista laptop came with Office 2007 installed. It drove him crazy. Luckily I was able to install Office 2003 for him and he’s happy as a clam again.

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