The Nexus One phone from Google is out of the bag and the reviews are beginning to trickle in. Overall, it’s being painted as a solid offering, and while it may not be an iPhone killer, it certainly may give other Android phones a run for their money. But in the midst of all the praise that typically accompanies a strong PR push, some of the device’s shortcomings are being ignored, namely its inherent inability to provide users with a comparable mobile app experience to the iPhone platform.
As the smartphone market continues to mature, the hardware between competing smartphones will inevitably converge and eventually become more of a footnote. That being the case, the significant differentiating factor between smartphones going forward will be software, and Apple in particular has made it quite clear that it views the iPhone as a software platform more than anything else. Indeed, the reason iPhone killers continually fail to live up to the hype is because competitors like to blindly focus on hardware feature sets instead of addressing the actual strengths of the iPhone – it’s slick UI and immensely popular app store.
The specs on the newly unveiled Nexus One are undoubtedly impressive – 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, a solid 512 MB of RAM, a 5 megapixel camera, and a generous 3.7-inch display – but lost in the hype of Google’s foray into the smartphone market is the device’s complete inability to compete with the iPhone when it comes to software. Here’s why.
First and foremost is the fact that the Nexus One does not include multitouch, even though the Android OS is technically capable of supporting it. For whatever reason, the tech media is in love with discussing hardware at the expense of focusing on the software, and no one seems to be mentioning that the absence of multitouch is a very big deal. While we may ordinarily think of multitouch in the context of “pinching to zoom” on a webpage or on Google Maps, it’s functionality extends far beyond that and affects not only the overall UI experience, but also the quality of apps capable of running on the Nexus One in the first place.
If you take a look at the top grossing apps on iTunes, you’ll notice a bevy of popular apps that require multitouch support. After all, how else are you going to play games like FIFA ’10 or Assassin’s Creed on a touchscreen? Without multitouch, the breadth of apps developers can create for the Nexus One is necessarily stunted, and it therefore lessens the chance that someone is gonna come along and create a killer app for the Android OS that will generate enough interest to sway users away from the iPhone. But even more problematic is the simple fact that many of the more popular and downloaded apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch will flat out be non-existent for the Nexus One. And so begins a vicious cycle – smaller app catalog = fewer downloads = less revenue for developers = diminished interest in the platform = smaller app catalog.
Second, even if the Nexus One did include multitouch functionality, the device still falls short as only 190 MB of the 4GB of memory it comes with is usable for storing apps. 190 MB is nothing, and as games become more complex, it’s not uncommon to see file sizes in the 50-80 MB range these days. Nexus One users can of course add additional memory all the way up to 32GB, but there’s something to be said for a device that’s everything you need it to be straight out of the box.
So even if we temporarily put aside the obvious fact that the quality and depth of apps on the Android Marketplace simply can’t hold a candle to iTunes, the lack of mulitouch on the Nexus One (and to a lesser extent, its paltry app space of 190MB) ensures that the iPhone’s reign as the smartphone to beat will continue unabated.
Lastly, you have to wonder why Google has refused to officially include multitouch in its Android OS. Some have stated that Google is afraid of a patent lawsuit from Apple, with some even speculating that Apple flat out told Google legal action would commence should it ship an Android OS with working multitouch functionality. While a company like Palm might be willing to roll the dice with the Palm Pre knowing that they have an in-house patent arsenal at their disposal, Google, in contrast, has nothing of the sort.