On April 10th, 1912 the British passenger ocean liner RMS Titanic was launched on her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, sailing for her destination port in New York City. It was a grand affair, and one that was touted to usher in a new age of megaships, particularly for her creator, shipping company White Star Line. Yeah well… that didn’t happen. We all know that just 4 days later the Titanic hit a nasty iceberg, sank into the depths of the Atlantic, took the lives of 1,502 passengers with her, and led to an incredibly successful and melodramatically annoying blockbuster film 85 years later. We’ll get back to this Titanic bit of stuff later on…
101 years since that maritime disaster I’ve been a happy Apple fanboy (more or less) who’s been enjoying my semi-regular iPhone updates since the launch of the first one back in 2007. The beautiful industrial design and production machinery of each successive iPhone has been better than the last, the iOS operating system has kept it super simple while making regular smart updates, and the entire ‘it just works’ ecosystem between my iPhone, MacBook, iTunes (despite some animosity), and my iPad kept my Apple life a pretty happy one.
Despite my bliss, I’d occasionally wonder about all the Android fuss that claimed the loyalty of various friends and colleagues. While in the beginning I was in the strong majority of iPhone users, over the past few years I’d see more and more start to depart for Android pastures. Most would snap up Samsung offerings (particularly of the Galaxy S II, III, or now IV line) while a few would take up residence with other Android smartphone makers like LG, Acer, Asus, Motorola, and even… HTC.
By late 2012 I was still holding on to my iPhone fiercely– defending the higher cost for higher quality, the versatility of its App functions, widespread appeal and recognition, etc. etc… But my iPad started to lose the arguments game. I loved my 64 GB WiFi iPad 2, even holding onto it well into the release of 3 new iPad models. At some point, however, I realized I was just using it for eBooks, simple email, and occasional movie or Lakers game watching (via the Time Warner Cable SportsNet app). Was a 9″ screen really worth a $500 (or in this case $700 for the 64 GB model) price point? I decided to wade into the Android waters by selling my iPad 2 and snapping up (justifying it as a holiday gift to myself) a Google-branded Nexus 7 for just $199… Well technically just $179 since it was a brand new one via eBay. I thought about an Amazon Kindle Fire HD (similar to the non-HD version I bought my wife), but I wanted some iPad level functionality and customization the Kindle Fire HD just didn’t provide.
Anyway, It was a bit awkward at first, transitioning from an all Apple interface to an all Google one, but once you really embrace the fact that most of your core uses (email, calendar, file sharing, navigation) are really Google powered, then it wasn’t that bad. I came to love widgets, and the 7″ screen size wasn’t an issue, especially with such great physical and pixel quality built in. The size was even better for traveling, and wayyyyy better for reading eBooks than I thought possible with a 9″ iPad. The iPad mini came out a bit later, but at $330 it was just a tad more bang for way more buck. I soon didn’t miss my old iPad at all, and even today I love seeing the quick widget updates, playing with the different Android settings, and switching between my eBooks, Flipboard news, and YouTube video viewing super quickly with my Nexus 7 tablet.
And then there was the smartphone issue. My loyalty to Apple really solidified with the purchase of my first iPhone around 2007 or 2008… and I followed up with buying an all aluminum MacBook right after finishing up grad school (recently covering it up in all carbon black casing). Even thinking about transitioning to Android sounded like heresy! So I kept saying no thanks and would keep pointing out the limitations of the splintered Android offerings smartphone-verse. This one’s too slow, that one’s too ugly, this doesn’t have sounds as good as the iPhone, that one has terrible battery life compared to the latest iPhone. Etc. etc. Samsung kept grabbing Android markets hare, but every model they spat out was just too crummy for my snobby iPhone mindset.
Then HTC decided to show up and create the non-iPhone, iPhone. After playing catch up for years to big brother Samsung, HTC was looking like it had to knock one out of the park if it wanted to avoid getting crushed in 2013. The company’s past phones were always short on one this or another, and it never made too much of a dent in the Android community beyond a very niche core. With Apple kicking ass, Microsoft off walking into a wall with it’s Windows phones (seriously Microsoft, just GIVE IT UP), and Samsung consolidating all of the Android lands, HTC and its president Peter Chou stuck its reputation, its life, and its future on a new flagship model– the HTC One.
When I saw pre-release pictures of the HTC One I got super excited for it, as if THIS was the next iPhone. It had a larger screen, a smooth aluminum (or anodized black, my preference) roundish backing, dual FRONT speakers, IR output for controlling your TV, and a cool Flipboard-feature called BlinkFeed for news and updates junkies like myself. I would keep reminding myself, this was NOT an Apple smartphone, it was an Android phone. Would I be ready to make the jump? To say goodbye to iOS with the seemingly meaningless limitations and dive headfirst into the unknown of Google’s Android phones?
I wasn’t quite sure so I had to play with it at an AT&T (my carrier) store. So I went in and played with one for a few minutes… Then I went back a few days later… and again a few more… and did so for nearly 4 weeks. Always playing with more of the features, getting accustomed to the Android OS that was somewhat familiar but somewhat different than the iPhone world I’d been in for almost 6 years. I kept playing with them, kept getting intrigued, kept loving the feel and appeal. I even did the financial breakdown of what I could get for my iPhone 5 on eBay and what the HTC One would cost me. After working it out with AT&T over the phone they ditched any early upgrade costs and penalties, and I decided to order the black HTC One to replace my still great iPhone 5. The new device arrived just 2 days later, and I set about backing up my iPhone 5 to iTunes, activating the HTC One, and using the HTC Sync Manager to copy my contacts, settings, music, and photos over to the new Android smartphone I just got. I was super excited about what this frontier would be like. Having an Android tablet and smartphone, and just an Apple laptop left. Crazy but interesting to see how letting Google run the show would turn out…
Then I started having a few quibbles… Then a few more. The settings wouldn’t work the same way I thought they would… Certain apps bugged me in how they ran, and the general interface interaction of Android (not just the HTC Sense skin) was a bit… unintuitive compared to iOS. The widgets I loved on my Nexus 7 tablet were more of a bother than a help on the HTC One, even with the larger 4.7″ screen (compared to the iPhone 5’s 4″ screen). The dual speakers with Beats By Dre BoomSound were great, but unless using the rest of the device was a joy I just didn’t care. I found making calls a hassle, and the Gmail app on iOS was WAYYYYY more sleek, simple, and beautiful than the one on an Android device. I couldn’t use the great Fantastical calendar app I had on my iPhone, and after an hour I stopped using BlinkFeed in favor of trusty Flipboard.
I was starting to worry that I had made a pretty big mistake, and one I might not be able to back out of. I kept trying to love the device, but other than its gorgeous physical look and feel there just wasn’t enough in the Android OS on a smartphone to keep me happy. I missed my iPhone and wanted it back, working (somewhat) as a phone and more! I got AT&T on the line, and within 20 minutes they assured me all was well, I could return the HTC One to them and they switch my iPhone 5 back on. PHEW! No extra fees, no charges, nada. In less than half an hour I went back to my iPhone world and it was as if that HTC One nightmare never happened.
So what does the Titanic have to do with my foray into the Android world of the HTC One? Well for one thing, much like the Titanic, the HTC One is an incredible physical feat of beauty– all Apple copied but even more curvy and sexy in all the right ways. But when you get into the software guts of the device (and I assume most other Android phones) there is a lot left to be desired, and a bit of overconfidence is not a good thing. Android is a solid device for those who were born into it, but so far it is NOT an operating system for truly premium devices. Call iOS too simple or too limited or too anything else you want, but the fact is ‘it just works’ within the ecosystem it’s supposed to, and does so in such a way you can really say it’s a premium offering.
I looked over to my Nexus 7 and tried to figure out why I loved that but didn’t dig my even more gorgeous HTC One smartphone. After a while I think I figured it out; Android is a bit more of a challenge to get accustomed to, especially on smaller screens with more on-the-go communications needs. True, it syncs up to Google services like email and calendar well enough, but the lack of pleasing visual interfaces (compared to many apps in Apple’s store) makes using them on Android phones more of a hassle. On a tablet, though, you can sacrifice some of that for more simple uses; reading eBooks, looking at news, watching a YouTube video. But your smartphone is your digital world Swiss army knife, and you want it to be sleek AND a joy to use.
HTC made some awesome industrial hardware with the One, but they put the wrong operating system on it. The recently released HTC First fell flat because the ultra lame Facebook Home skin was released to everyone at the same time and killed it’s ‘uniqueness’, plus no one wanted all Facebook all the time. The One is a beauty to use, but if the company really wants to kick ass (and hell, just survive) maybe they should reposition themselves as device manufacturers for Apple. The ongoing Foxconn dramas are making Apple look elsewhere, and an HTC One-like iPhone 6 would be a world class smartphone damn near everyone would love. If not, HTC will continue to act like they’re the Titantic; better than they are and running full steam into an iceberg called Samsung. Oh yeah, did you hear in the past week a large handful of top HTC brass have jumped ship? They can probably see the iceberg Peter Chou can’t. Ouch.