Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, when asked about the iPhone, was caught on camera saying “$500 — fully subsidized, with a plan — that is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine…” He didn’t see the iPhone as a threat. He was wrong.
Apple’s iPhone was already making waves, and turned out to be ridiculously popular — and, much to Ballmer’s chagrin, it was even a pretty good email machine.
Then came Google’s Android — a bit late to the game. The first Android-powered smartphone — the T-Mobile G1 — hit the market just over three years ago.
The G1 was my very first Android phone. I didn’t get it until it had been out for awhile, and had time to “mature” a little. Back then Android was still a bit rough around the edges. Don’t get me wrong, it was functional, but Google, it seemed, had put “function” over “form”.
Since then we’ve seen a lot of spit and polish put on the Android operating system and its user interface. We’ve seen new features added and old features updated. Even with all the edges being smoothed over, Android has still remained more “utilitarian” than “stylish” — which isn’t all bad.
Even with Android’s “utility”, Apple’s Steve Jobs was worried. In his recently released biography, Jobs said “I’m going to destroy Android… I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” Ironically, iOS 4 and 5 include a lot of UI elements that look “borrowed” from Android.
Now that Microsoft has re-entered the game with Windows Phone, Ballmer is attacking Android: “You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows Phone, and you do to use an Android phone. It’s hard for me to be excited about the Android phones.” (Ahem, for the record Mr. Ballmer, I’m not a computer scientist and I use and Android phone. Most people who use Android’s aren’t computer scientists — unless you count Google employees.)
But Ballmer isn’t terribly far off the mark. Android is based on Linux, and Linux is for geeks. Even with as far as it’s come since the G1 three years ago, Android has still been relatively rough around the edges — and I’ll admit, a certain level of technical experience does help get around those edges.
Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, changes all that.
Regarding Android 4.0, Google’s Andy Rubin was recently quoted: “We want everything to be smooth as butter.”
Everything in Ice Cream Sandwich has been polished. From the running tasks all the way down to Android’s new font, everything has been given a once-over, everything has made simpler, more intuitive, more fluid, and even prettier.
In a word, Ice Cream Sandwich is elegant.
How did they pull that off?
Remember WebOS? It was Palm and HP’s attempt at a smartphone and tablet OS. It looked really smooth, but couldn’t gain a foothold in an already saturated mobile market. When it was clear that WebOS as on its downward spiral, Google was able to snatch up Matias Duarte.
Duarte is a Chilean-American computer interface designer, formerly of Palm and Danger. In fact, Duarte is named as an inventor in 19 of Danger’s US Patents. Danger, as you may recall, was later acquired by Microsoft, and some of Danger’s influence can be seen in Windows Phone.
Thanks to Matias’ inspiration and direction, Android is getting some long deserved “form” on top of its already solid “function”. Style, has at long last, made it to Android!
Since Honeycomb, apps and widgets are now displayed in the same “drawer”; the way you put them on the home screen is the same — a simple drag and drop. Running and recent tasks now display the name of the app as well as a thumbnail of its screen — much more useful and elegant than the grid of icons from yester-year. “Folders” can now be created simply by dropping shortcuts on top of one another — simple and efficient. Notification and task dismissal can now be done with the flick of a finger. All things “social” are now aggregated in a person’s contact card — right where it should be. And sharing information with another Android user? That just became ridiculously easy with NFC and Beam.
In short, with Ice Cream Sandwich, Android now rivals Apple in terms of “form” and “style” — both in hardware with the Galaxy Nexus, and in software with the “buttery smooth” OS — and it’s done so without giving up any of its hard-earned “function”.
Steve Ballmer’s assertion that Android is “only for computer scientists” is about to be proven as wrong, just like his “$500 iPhone” argument was.
I’d like to coin a phrase that hopefully Google’s Andy Rubin Matias Duarte might pick up…
Android Ice Cream Sandwich: so smooth that even Steve Ballmer could use it.