Why the Nexus One can’t compete with the app experience on the iPhone

Wed, Jan 6, 2010

Analysis, News

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.


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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Nick August Says:

    but I thought multitouch could be written into android apps? So it’s just the apps developed by Google that won’t include multitouch. Example: Dolphin browser http://sites.google.com/a/mgeek.mobi/browser/

  2. Keith Says:

    Obviously Android has something that’s driving interest.


    The unfortunate side of cell phone sales is that people are unlikely to purchase a phone, decide they don’t like it, and buy another. Early termination fees pretty much preclude that. So if people are interested that means more sales, which means more locked in users, and a larger app store.

  3. Big Bear Chase Me Says:

    Does iphone have flash? android does! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlWOocHwcLo

  4. Mark Essel Says:

    How long should a patent kill your entry into a market?
    The correct answer is zero seconds. Google has to adopt every interface and hardware feature it can to wrestle with the iPod/iPhone stranglehold on developers interest.

  5. Andy Says:

    Android does have multitouch in the SDK, and apps can make use of it. Great fact checking, asswipe.

  6. Mark Essel Says:

    Alright I accept that Google may have to respect the patent of multitouch (although I hope it doesn’t restrict devs too long)

    Just wanted to add, Flash is the killer App for the web.
    If Apple doesn’t support it on iPhones, they’re going to see many users move to other providers who will.


  7. Tyler Says:

    Multitouch is something only an iPhone user would actually miss. I am one, but I find it easy to switch to the Android way of doing things in the browser and map. Come to think of it, of the over 100 apps I have for the iPhone, the only ones that actually use multitouch are the map apps and the photo apps. Moreover, multitouch is in the SDK, so app developers can use it, meaning that even if the main draw for a smart phone is which games are on it (a dubious claim in itself), there’s no technical reason why those games won’t be on Android.

    As for the space, only the executables are limited to 190MB. All resource files, like images, movies, sounds, etc. that make games big can be stored on the SD card, meaning Android can actually store more apps because you can expand the storage with a larger card.

    Finally, the depth of the iTunes App Store is misleading. A vast majority of the apps there are useless. On a fairly regular basis, Apple takes down a publisher who has put thousands of scammy apps up on the store. Of the 100,000 apps in the App Store, how many have you downloaded? Maybe 200? Seems like the 20,000 apps in the Android Marketplace would surely be enough to cover your needs.

    I get it. You’re an iPhone user and Apple fanboy and the N1 is the first legitimate threat to the iPhone world. But you should actually be happy the N1 is giving the iPhone a run for its money. Take the screen for example. The N1 blows the iPhone screen out of the water. There’s just no comparing the two. Now, El Jobso will have to address that, instead of giving you the same old 320×480 crap they’ve been putting out so far.

  8. Tom Says:

    On the multi-touch patent I don’t see how Palm could have any resources that Google wouldn’t either have or could buy very quickly. Google reportedly had 11.2b Cash on Hand 2 years ago (http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2007/03/8966.ars) and I’m sure that number has increased. Palm in it’s entirety is worth less than 1/10th of that (and you could get controlling interest for half that).

    I don’t know what Google’s deal is but I can’t believe it’s the patent situation.

  9. Peter Says:

    Apple may be able to patent certain gestures, but I have a hard time believing that they can patent two fingers controlling a UI–too much prior art.

    So Apple may be able to restrict people from using “pinch to zoom” or the like. But they cannot restrict the use of two fingers. Developers may end up coming up with other gestures, that’s all.

  10. Andrew Says:

    You seriously think that most people are ignoring the lack of multitouch?

    I have yet to see any article about the phone without mentioning this absent feature.

  11. Ken Berger Says:

    Anyone who says that any Android phone is on the same level as an iphone has never used both much.
    The browser (along with everything) on Android is clunky, and not nearly as functional as on an iPhone. Much it’s just like windows vs mac – they both can do the same tasks but the mac does it (generally not every where) much better, easier and more integrated.

    Google should be commended for what they have achieved with Arnold, it is the only credible other smart phone operating system (WinMo is JUNK, Palm is too small to compete long term and Simbian is just not in the same class). But it is not a game changer it is not even at the same level of refinement. And Apple has much more going for it than 100K more apps (by the way the App store is now over 130k).

    Apple has 70+ million installed base – as a app developer I would do an Android product but why try to sell to a market that is less than 2% the size of the iPhone, there is no return there. Apple unlike the Mac in the days when it lost to Windows is the dominant player – the new competitor has to offer something “better” to get the market to change and Android would be appear to be a year behind Apple in this regard.

    Apple has a MUCH bigger ecosystem that includes the iPod Touch (a lower cost of entry with not monthly charges making it’s TCO more than $2k less than an iPhone or any other smartphone). The eco system includes itunes which is unmatched integration of web/cloud > computer > portable device. And that is before you consider content (movies, Podcasts, apps, ebooks etc.).

    All this is before Apple responds with the next gen iPhone OS/SDK, hardware product or new category (iSlat or what ever).

    And Google makes ugly products – just look at their site. They do not understand UI at all. They do ads and search very well (actually if you have ever used adwords you know they suck os UI design).

    I could go on but all you have to do is wait 6 months as Android will be no more a threat to the iPhone than palm or Microsoft. The Nexus on is the Zune HD of smart phones. It will be buried in a few days. And the Droid has only one thing going for it – it’s not on ATT, and there are people who are locked into Verizon (no one actually likes ether ATT or Verizon).

    Of course all this is before you deal with the “open” nature of Android and malware, viruses and poorly written apps start to crash your phone. Then people will be running for the hills, an web enables phone that is not secure will not be able to be given away.

  12. ME Says:

    Can the Iphone run multiply apps at the same time?
    Answer this…….and you got your answer what will win in the long run.

  13. Rob Says:

    Multitouch and the maximum 190MB app storage should be changed otherwise it won’t be a hit.

    # There were remours that the multi touch would be available in Europe because Apple only has the patent in the US however i saw a message in the FAQ at the Google website that they phones that are shipped to Europe are exactly the same as the US version so also no multi touch. It does however work on apps which aren’t created by Google. But still weird that it isn’t in the standard Google apps and the phone itself.

    # 190 max storage reaction Google:
    Google already confirmed that in their next Android version the maximum app storage should be solved and apps should get stored on the external storage.

  14. Mike Says:

    The 190MB limit for apps is a software limit, set up because Google is wored about piracy. It’s simple to fix if you root the phone (like jailbreaking, only less so), and Google has indicated they’ll fix it when they settle on a DRM system (or hopefully drop the idea).

    It is like the Windows vs. the Mac in experience – apple controls everything, so you get a much better integrated experience. The downside is that you can’t experience what apple doesn’t want you to. So – no Google voice, or anything else that Apple decides might confuse the user. No alternative mail apps, which meant Android had MAPI and push email before the iPhone. etc.

    There is one big exception to the iPhone being better integrated: Apple failed to provide a standard way to move app data to/from the phone, so every app rolls their own. All android apps support import/export to the sd card. So it’s both better integrated and faster.

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