T-Mobile’s G1: not quite Ponies and Rainbows
Of course, now that I said that, some bored software junky will design the “Ponies and Rainbows” app for the G1 just to spite me. I won’t be too heartbroken.
Probably everything you’ve heard about Google, T-Mobile and HTC’s new superchild, the G1 handset, is that it is the phone that will revolutionize the handset industry, take open software to a new level, and most significantly, crush the iPhone betwixt its powerful jaws (or something to that effect). I won’t refute that completely, but there are some points I feel the mainstream media is leaving out when it comes to T-Mo’s new flagship device.
Let me start of by saying I completely intended to buy this device on the very first day of the pre-order period. I’ve been a long-standing T-Mobile customer, and have followed all updates on the G1 since its baby pictures started circulating the intertubes. In fact, I had set aside the money to purchase the device and darned near had my finger posed on my mouse to pre-order it, but some nagging thing in the back of my mind stopped me.
The biggest problem I had with the device, before it even was officially demoed, was that early reviewers were noting that the touch-scrolling function wasn’t as smooth as the iPhone. Call me a nitpicker or what you will, but that was something with which I took issue. At the very least, it kept me from ordering the device on day one.
So the other day, I decided to jump into a T-Mobile retailer to try the device myself. After playing with it for five minutes, I decided that I was quite glad I hadn’t purchased it. The G1, ladies and gents, is ugly. Granted, that isn’t far from the aesthetic appeal of many late HTC devices, but with handsets like the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro on the market, I was left a little underwhelmed by the brutishly ugly cheap plastic look the G1 boasts. Sure, the QWERTY keyboard is great and the slide-away screen made me happy, but the G1 looks like a device that will be replaced in short order for lack of a pretty face.
I have to say the early reviews that the interface didn’t scroll fluidly are accurate; I hate to do this, but compared to the iPhone, it just isn’t there. The scrolling issue many reviewers thought might be easily resolved with a simple software update, but it seems Google doesn’t care or missed all those reviews, since no patch has arrived.
There is my completely unqualified review of the G1 for everyone to hate on. I think there is something much deeper that needs to be discussed regarding the G1’s position in the handset market, that being Android itself on the device.
The iPhone is simple. It is limited, much like the other products that Apple retails. Everyone who knows anything about software will say that the iPhone’s interface isn’t as open as it might be (though Apple has worked to remedy this with the 3G), and that other platforms, where platforms as Linux-based platforms, Windows Mobile and Android are considered to be open.
For all that being open is worth, Apple’s approach to product simplicity has won the game in the mobile handset, personal computer and music player arenas quite unequivocally, wouldn’t you agree? Android, for all the nifty slide functionality and multiple screens, just doesn’t feel as simple as the OS on an iPhone.
The reason this matters so much is that new handsets and operating systems need to be simple so that those who are switching from old-school handsets aren’t lost in translation. If mobile customers are going to start adopting high-end smart handsets, there really can’t be a large learning curve; sure, Apple does Genius tutorials at their retail locations, but the iPhone isn’t that hard to pick up and use. I can’t say the same about the G1.
I’m currently in the market for a new phone for my dear mother. She’s not the most tech savvy of them all, but I do my best to get the right equipment in her paws so she has what she needs without calling me every five minutes to get a personalized tutorial. She, too, is a T-Mobile customer, and as much as I think she’d like some of the functionality of the G1, I have to admit she’d probably be more comfortable with a Sidekick or the forthcoming Samsung touchscreen handset than the G1, simply because the G1 isn’t that user-friendly right out the door.
My mother wouldn’t be the only exception; there are no doubt more out there who will pick up a G1 and get utterly frustrated with the device in short order. That won’t be good for adoption rates.
Don’t get me wrong; conceptually, I love Android on the HTC G1 handset. I think the next generation (which is rumored to be coming out within a year) will probably rectify many of the problems that plague the current iteration. But more importantly than aesthetics of the hardware and smoothness of the scrolling, Google’s Android team needs to be concerned with balancing simplicity with functionality if they have any desire to steal a piece of Apple’s pie.