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Matthew Ahrenstein

DevOps Engineer for an amazing company, hiker, amateur radio operator, target shooter, and developer.

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I am an iPhone user. I’ve used iPhones since the iPhone 3G. I’ve also used Android. I’ve played with Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7. One thing I’ve noticed is that among the “Big Three” (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry) when a user of another platform sees your phone for the first time, an all out holy war starts. In one of the groups I work with there is a large clash of iPhone vs Android on a daily basis. I’m tired of the debates, and the constant barrage of “X platform sucks, Y platform is better.” Today I’m going to touch on a few things I’ve noticed about each platform. I’m going to leave out Windows Phone 7 though as I’ve only played with a store demo for 5 minutes. iPhone/Android I’ve each had experience with for years (as both a consumer, and as an app developer). RIM’s Blackberry, I’ll talk about a little bit as I’ve never owned one, but I’ve had many hands on (repairs included).

I’m starting with the iPhone. I’m doing this first, because this is my current device, and this is the device I have spent the most time with. This device is seen as the biggest contender, that everyone must try to beat. (“iPhone killer”) As a consumer, I find the iPhone to have the nicest interface, and the best app selection (both in quantity, and quality). As a developer I can say that Objective-C is not easy, but iOS is the most profitable platform there is. iOS has such a stronghold due to so many industry firsts by Apple. Apple controls both the hardware, and software on this phone. This has worked very well for them on their computer lineup, and it is equally powerful on their mobile lineup. iOS is extremely user friendly, and Apple’s head start forces everyone else to always be “the guy copying Apple.” Apple does copy other features from competitors (iOS 5’s notification system is an Android clone) but they do it well, and they improve on the originals in drastic ways. Apple also does one thing I really like, and this killed Android for me: They prevent hardware/OS fragmentation. By controlling hardware, and software, they can make sure that all currently supported devices have the same/latest version of iOS. There is no iPod 3rd Gen running 3.1.3 while iPhone 4 runs 4.3.3. Apps will work on all the devices without having to be programmed to compensate for third party hardware, or different versions. There is a small difference though. iOS 4.3.3 is on the AT&T iPhone and iOS 4.2.8 is on the Verizon iPhone. All I’m missing though as a Verizon user is minor iCloud beta features) Apple also keeps a large stronghold due to their incremental releases. Each year there aren’t major hardware updates, but the new features are enough for even people with modest paychecks, to justify an upgrade. I feel that Apple will remain at the top for at least a few more years. The downside to iOS is the walled garden that users are locked in to. It’s nice in the way that it prevents a lot of malicious apps from getting in, but it also forces developers to be subject to Apple’s whim. A jailbroken iPhone can do a lot more than a regular iPhone, simply because we can use private APIs. A stock iPhone however has to have apps approved by Apple, and this is a serious limitation for power users like myself. Android is a little better in this way.

Next on the list is Android. After owning an iPhone 3G I switched to the Motorola Droid. I wanted the openness. I wanted the freedom to modify my device (unlike Apple’s walled garden). After owning the Droid for the better part of a year, I found several flaws with it. I tried again recently with the HTC Thunderbolt for 3 months, and found the same flaws, only with poorer battery life (a 4G phone issue, not an Android issue) Android is a great concept, but has a poor implementation. The different hardware manufacturers ruin the OS by putting their own custom skins, and controls in it. Not to mention the fact that each manufacturer releases their OS upgrades months to sometimes over a year after Google does (to the point where the phone is outdated hardware by the time the upgrade gets here.) Android is on 2.3 something now, and there are still NEW phones running 1.6. These combinations of skins, and OS versions make it hard for an app developer’s app to work on every device. This creates unhappy users if the app they wanted isn’t supported on their device. They blame developers, and they are reluctant to buy apps. The Android Market just isn’t a viable source for paid apps, as Android users are super stingy compared to iOS users because of this. There are benefits to Android though. The platform is more open by default (rooting is still required for REAL openness). You can use alternate app markets/stores without having to hack your phone. You can install apps from the SD card, and if you use a lot of Google services, you have great integration. (After all, Google makes Android.) Android’s UI (even the generic non-skinned one) is still by far worse than Apple’s iOS. I think this is because the OS is younger, and the underlying system (Linux on Android; Mac OS X AKA Unix on iOS) is just different. Linux isn’t designed to look fancy, it’s designed to work. OS X is designed to work fancy.

There are 2 reasons I’m ending with Blackberry. The first is because I want my closing to be short, and I only have minimal experience with BB compared to iPhone, and Android. The second reason is I always try to end with a joke. That’s exactly what Blackberry has become: a joke. Blackberry OS was an amazing system back in 2002. The problem is Blackberry OS 6 AKA Blackberry OS 5 AKA Blackberry OS 4 never really seems to change. They adjust it to handle newer hardware, they failed at touch screens with the Blackberry Storm, (You had to click the screen, not tap it) and they poorly copied the App Store idea with Blackberry App World. RIM only cares about enterprise customers like government, and large corporations. The problem is now they are trying to add consumer features to a business device, and then push the device on both business, and consumer customers. Businesses don’t want smartphones that play games in the hands of their employees, and consumers don’t need business e-mail servers, and Blackberry Enterprise. I’ve played with a few App World enabled Blackberries and I must say their app implementation leaves a lot to be desired. It took me 20 minutes to find the installed app, and by then I was done playing around in the Verizon store as it was my turn to be helped. I’ve never owned a BB and never will. The only good thing they have going for them is the battery life, but then again Blackberry doesn’t do much, so it doesn’t need much battery during the day. Now here’s the joke part: Blackberry Playbook! A nice looking tablet device. RIM wants to compete with the iPad. They release a nice tablet, with nice features, a way better App World implementation, an amazing notification system, and no e-mail, contacts, or messaging. What good is a tablet if it can’t do these things???? Well it turns out that the reason behind this, is RIM’s closed mindedness. They designed Blackberry Enterprise Server (if you are a consumer, you are connecting to RIM’s BES, so yes you are still using it) to have one user = one device. Device’s are tracked via a PIN (the device’s serial number) So a tablet user can only use a tablet or a Blackberry. However, since RIM assumed that only BB owners will want the tablet, they won’t let that work. In order to get the missing features on the Playbook, it has to be tethered to a Blackberry. So if you want an iPhone/Android phone, or not even a smart phone, AND a Playbook, then you are out of luck! You can’t! RIM won’t let you! RIM’s design means they CAN’T let you! They have to redesign the entire BES system for this to be fixed. That means new versions of Blackberry OS with actual changes, and new BES installations at all the companies that use it. Good luck with that. RIM is going to be circling the drain any day now (if they aren’t already). That is the joke I’m ending on.