Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is iOS 5 A Disappointment?

iOS 5 was a huge update for iPhone and iPad users, with more than 200 new features, including some that had been major requests for some time, and also dozens of smaller, "nice-to-haves" that make the iPhone and iPad such compelling devices. I was among the millions that downloaded the new iOS on the day it was released, 12 October 2011. In fact, so many people were trying to download it simultaneously that they nearly brought down the internet! As good as it is, iOS 5 isn't perfect. Having lived with it for a couple of weeks now, I thought I would just list a couple of little niggles I have. Note, this is not a review of the iPhone 4S, but rather iOS 5 used as an update to iPhone 4.

Notification Center
This is one of the most sought after features, and the one I was looking forward to the most, having used Android previously. Apple have done a great job, and have improved on Android's offering, but is it too much to ask to include a "clear all" button? It's great that you have the option to clear the notifications from each app individually, but if you haven't checked it all day it can be quite tiresome. One button to get rid of all those stale notifications is a must-have!

For this one Apple looked across the border to RIM to copy their hugely successful Blackberry Messaging service. The intention was great, and the integration with the SMS Messages feature is typical of Apple's seamless approach to software design. The problem is, most of my friends don't have iPhones. I am working on that, but in the last 2 weeks I have not used iMessage once. If Samsung can make messaging cross-platform with their soon to be released ChatON service, why couldn't Apple? For now I continue to use Whatsapp.

My only complaint about Newsstand is that there is no way to hide or delete the Newsstand "folder" if you don't use it. It's faux wood shelves are an unnecessary blot on my pristine iPhone screen! Sure, there is a way to add it into another folder, but this is a work around, and it shouldn't be necessary.

I like the Reminders app, but one of its best features is practically unusable! The ability to add a location to a reminder is great, in theory. Unfortunately, Apple only allows you to add addresses from your Contacts, and I cannot get iOS to recognise my work or home addresses, and I don't have the addresses of shopping centers in my Contacts! Why couldn't Apple just allow the option to set the location by dropping a pin on the map?

iOS brings with it some great improvements for the Camera app, including the ability to go to the Camera app straight from the lock-screen, and to use the volume "up" button as a shutter release. However, the new Photo Stream feature hasn't been fully thought through. In theory it's great! All your photos will be instantly synced to all your iOS devises so if, for example, you shoot a picture with your iPhone, you can use the bigger screen on the iPad to touch it up, and then share it to Twitter from there. Awesome! But what if you're out shopping, and you shoot a photo of the latest Iron Man toy so you can check with your wife whether it's an appropriate Christmas present for your kid, and the kid picks up your iPad to play Angry Birds? Bam! Surprise ruined! The photo streaming idea is great, but it should require some user input for each photo before syncing, and perhaps even a list of devices you want to share it with.

Wi-Fi Sync
This is one of the other features I was really looking forward to. For me it just doesn't work consistently  and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. It has worked, but most days I see a message to say "incomplete sync", or for whatever reason the iPhone isn't being recognised by iTunes, despite them both being able to access the internet on the same Wi-Fi connection.

Missing features
There are still a number of basic features that Apple seem to continuously overlook. Two of the biggest for me have to do with the newly renamed Music app. I have an old iPod Nano, and it had a feature that allowed me to set a playlist as an alarm. Thus I could wake up to the music of my choice each day. There are apps that try to imitate this, but most require you to open the app and leave it running all night, which is far from ideal. In a similar vein, why is there no sleep mode. If I using my iPhone to play music through a dock, I should be able to set it to turn off after 20 minutes. These aren't sophisticated features, and it amazes me that they aren't included in iOS. Even iTunes doesn't have a sleep function, which is ridiculous!

Wow, when I list my problems like this, there are more than I thought. This may make it sound like I'm unhappy with iOS 5, but I'm not! It's a huge step up from iOS 4.3, and I wouldn't switch back for anything. I'm just a bit disappointed, because it could have been so much better!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Great iPhone Dock

I have long had a mini hi-fi in my bedroom, and for the last 10 years my Onkyo that I bought in Japan has served me well. Initially, I bought it to play mini-discs, which were hugely popular in Japan before mp3s became the the force de jour. However, the Onkyo was versatile, and the “Aux In” allowed me to connect my iPod with relative ease. Unfortunately, the power supply recently packed up, and I decided it was time for an upgrade.

My requirements were simple:

  • iPod/iPhone capable
  • Good sound, but high volume not an issue
  • Solid build
  • Subtle styling
  • Reasonable price

Enter the Yamaha PDX-31. This little desktop audio system ticked all the boxes, and then some. The case, available in black, dark red or light grey has clean, simple lines, but houses a pair of 3.25-inch speakers that sound awesome, despite only a 15W x 2 digital amplifier.

The dock handles iPods and iPhones with a 30-pin Dock Connector, but there is also an auxiliary input for those other media players. The minimalistic design means the only buttons are volume up and down - the unit has auto power on and off, which is ideal for me. I can set the alarm on my iPod to play a specific playlist, and wake up to my favourite music, without having to leave the unit switched on all night. It works like a charm! There is no need for a "mode" switch - the unit will play from whichever source is connected, and will play from both simultaneously if both are connected. Included in the box is a very basic remote, which unfortunately feels a bit cheap, but gets the job done.

Priced at $169.99 from Amazon, but available for as little as $123 if you Google it, I was able to find one in South Africa at R1,770, after tax and duties, which wasn't too bad. Thanks to the great staff at Audio Excellence on Umhlanga Ridge for your patience and assistance!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

There Will Be No iPhone 5... Ever!

OK, so maybe there will be an iPhone 5, but not if Apple follow logic in their naming convention. The first iPhone was launched in June 2007, and was simply known as the iPhone:

  1. 2007 June: iPhone  -  iPhone OS1
  2. 2008 July: iPhone 3G  -  iPhone OS2
  3. 2009 June: iPhone 3GS  -  iPhone OS3
  4. 2010 June: iPhone 4  -  iOS4
  5. 2011 October: iPhone 4S  -  iOS5
  6. 2012 October: iPhone 6  -  iOS6

The list above also shows a neat pattern in the OS numbering, which the iPhone 4S puts out of sync, as it will be running iOS5. As you will remember, there was never an iPhone 2 either, so there is precedent to leave out a number. It therefore makes sense that next year Apple will launch an iPhone 6, running iOS6.

Of course, there is another possibility, and that is if Apple includes LTE next year. Then they may call the new phone the iPhone 4G!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

iPhone 4S: All You Need To Know!

At last, after 18 months of speculation the iPhone 5 is finally here! Except it's not an iPhone 5 in a sleek tear-drop aluminium case - it's a carry-over design with the A5 dual-processor called the 4S. But what's in a name?

To recap, iOS5 will be available from 12 October. Here are some of the main features:

  • Notifications: Very Androidish - a replacement system for iOS’ otherwise antiquated alerts system.
  • iMessage: A free to use, iOS-to-iOS SMS replacement.
  • Reminders: user creatable time/location based reminders.
  • Twitter integration.
  • Newsstand: Apple’s in-house distribution system for iPad magazines.
  • New and improved camera (One click access from the lock screen, red eye removal, cropping, rotating, etc).
  • Game Center (Recommendation engine, Achievements system).
  • Improved Safari browser (Faster, lighter, tabbed browsing on iPad, and the “Reader” content scraper).
  • Mail app improvements.
  • PC-Free (Activation without iTunes).

But we knew all that. What about the new phone. The iPhone 4S?

  • Externally the same as iPhone 4 - screen size, glass back, etc.
  • A5 Dual-core Processor, dual-core graphics (up to 7x faster)
  • Improved battery life: 8 hours of 3G talk time; 6 hours of browsing; 9 hours on WiFi; 10 hours of video; 40 hours of music.
  • Improved call quality through intelligently switching between the two antennas between transmit and receive. Downloads theoretically 2x faster than iPhone 4.
  • One phone for everyone: GSM + CDMA.
  • Improved camera: 8MP sensor; f/2,4 lens; high speed auto-focus; face detection; auto white balance; 1080p HD video.
  • Airplay mirroring - great for gaming.
  • Voice-controlled personal assistant. You can ask things like “Will it rain in Cupertino?”, or “Can you find me a Greek Restaurant in Palo Alto?”, or “What’s the time in Paris?” and it’ll answer accordingly. This is the culmination of their purchase of Siri back in 2010 - and surprisingly enough, they’re keeping the “Siri” name.
  • Available from launch in black or white.
  • US pricing: 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, or 64GB (new) for $399.
Key for the US market is the addition of Sprint to AT&T and Verizon as official carriers - this should see a nice bump in sales! Add to that the rumored deal with China Mobile, and this could be the best selling iPhone ever!

For the millions of iPhone 4 users out there, myself included, this launch is great news; your phone hasn't been made completely redundant today. I guess time will tell, but after delaying the launch from the typical June timing, I was expecting more. I believed Apple needed the extra time to finalise some awesome new features! I assume that the revised exterior design, 4" screen, LTE, NFC, etc will be kept for the iPhone 5. Let the speculation begin!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Nokia N9, MeeGo, and Who the Hell Would Buy One of These?

I have long been an admirer of Nokia’s hardware. Over the years I’ve owned a number of Nokia phones, from the awesome 6210 back in 2000 (wow, only 11 years ago!), through to the more recent classic, the 6300, and Nokia’s first touch screen, the 5800 XpressMusic. Build quality has always been beyond reproach, and Nokia’s position as market leader was well deserved.

Unfortunately for Nokia, the only constant in the tech industry is change, and they were too slow to react when the iPhone was launched with its revolutionary touch screen back in June 2007. They originally dipped a toe in the water with the above mentioned 5800 XM, and followed up with a series of flagship models like the N97, all running versions of Symbian S60 5th Edition. The latest version of the OS, Symbian^3, was first used as recently as Q4 2010, when the N8 was launched.

On 11 February, 2011, Nokia announced that it would migrate away from Symbian to Windows Phone 7, and the first devices from this collaboration are expected in Q4 2011.

Simultaneous to their work with Symbian, Nokia was also developing the Maemo OS, which eventually made an appearance on the N900 in late 2009. In February 2010 Nokia entered into partnership with Intel to merge Maemo and Intel’s Moblin project. And so MeeGo was born. Nokia eventually launched a device running the MeeGo OS, the N9, and have hailed it as their newest flagship. However, the press releases don’t say that Nokia has already turned its back on MeeGo, and more recently the Linux Foundation announced that MeeGo will be totally replaced by Tizen, a new collaboration between Intel and Samsung.

The Nokia N9 will be the only MeeGo device, ever!

Nokia certainly know how to make decent hardware; the N9 is a gorgeous looking device. The front face is almost all screen – no untidy buttons to detract from that beautiful, minimalist design. The screen is 3.9” of Gorilla glass, and it has a 1GHz processor and an 8MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics, and it comes in a range of different colors. It certainly ticks all the right boxes. The UI is simple and elegant, involving a Home Screen and 3 main views: app launcher (Apps view), history (Open Apps view), and notifications. Navigation is a simple process of swiping between these screens.

But I don’t care! This OS may be the best thing since sliced bread, but why would anyone buy a smartphone when the OS has already been abandoned?

Nokia have made a big deal about the fact that the N9 supports the Qt framework, enabling apps built for Symbian smartphones to be ported easily to the N9. However, if you’ve already grown accustomed to the seemingly endless supply of new apps available in Apple’s App Store or the Android Market, the miserly selection of available apps will be a huge disappointment. What is the point of having all that great hardware, a great UI, and no apps to run on it? And don’t expect any developers to be burning the midnight oil dreaming up the next big thing. With only one device available in the market, and no plan for additional models, what would be the point?

Sadly, this appears to be an effort from Nokia to recover some of their development costs, and to keep their brand in the public eye. They have little regard for the damage that launching another dead-end device will do to their already flagging reputation. I am looking forward to seeing what Nokia can do with Windows Phone 7. The marriage between the very well thought of OS and Nokia’s great hardware could bear some interesting fruit, but Nokia could be losing a lot of potential customers with a poorly supported phone like the N9.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon's Kindle Fire Will Rock the Tablet Market!

The Kindle Fire was the star of the show, but Amazon launched 2 other new Kindles today: the $79 Kindle and the Kindle Touch in Wi-Fi only ($99) and 3G ($149) versions. As great as they are the Kindle Fire was what everyone was interested in.

First off, price. At $199 this is game changing. Amazon Prime is free for the first 30 days, but after that will cost the normal $79/year. The Fire has a 7" display and will have access to all of Amazon’s services including AmazonMP3, Amazon Prime, Amazon Kindle, Amazon Instant Video and the Amazon AppStore. The tablet is powered by a dual-core processor and weighs 413 grams. This compares to the the iPad at over 600 grams, albeit with a 9,7" screen. Customers can pre-order the Kindle Fire today and it will ship November 15 2011, just in time for the holidays!

The Fire runs on the Android 2.3, but you won't see much sign of it. Amazon have built their own UI on top of Android, and it looks pretty good. One of the great features Amazon have built in is Whispersync, which not only automatically syncs your library, last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across your devices, but on Kindle Fire, Whispersync extends to video.

Amazon also introduced their own browser for the Fire, called Amazon Silk. From their own description: "Amazon Silk is a revolutionary, cloud-accelerated browser that uses a "split browser" architecture to leverage the computing speed and power of the Amazon Web Services cloud. Supports Adobe® Flash® Player." It will be interesting to see how it shapes up against the established browsers.

With access to the Amazon AppStore, getting access to and running your favorite apps shouldn't be a problem, but I must point out that there is no camera. An email app is included, or you can download one from the AppStore.

For those that like to know the numbers, the screen is a 7" multi-touch with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and anti-reflective treatment, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors. There is 8GB internal memory, which is apparently enough for 80 apps, plus either 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. However, there is also unlimited free cloud storage for anything you purchase from Amazon. The battery offers up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off. These numbers will vary depending on how much web browsing you're doing.

If the device looks familiar, that's because the hardware is essentially the same as the Blackberry Playbook, without the cameras and microphone.

Amazon have taken a leaf out of the Apple playbook (no pun intended). They have focused their effort on offering a service. This is where every Android tablet has come short. If you visit the web site, or watch any of the video from the launch, you will be left in no doubt what this device is meant for. It is for downloading (or streaming) media content from Amazon, and it offers you the convenience of access to all the apps you're familiar with. There is very little detail of the technical specs - they offer a device that is designed to do a job, and it will do it well.

The Kindle Fire, at $199, compared to the cheapest iPad at $499, is an incredible bargain. Tablets have just been opened up to the mainstream - this is no longer an elitist device. To quote Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos: "These are premium products at nonpremium prices". If you thought the iPad was selling well, watch this one fly of the shelves! The only downside: it's US only for now.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazon's Tablet - Is This The Next Big Thing?

It is widely believed that Amazon will launch its 7" Android 2.1 based tablet at this event on Wednesday. While many see this as a competitor to the Apple iPad, it is actually aimed at the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, and most people expect it to be priced accordingly; around $250-$300. The difference in pricing might be to do with whether Amazon Prime is included or not, but this was not confirmed. Sources are also suggesting that it will carry the Kindle branding, and be known as the Kindle Fire.

So why is this so important? The iPad owns the 10” space, as other manufacturers have discovered to their detriment. However, as the market grows there will be opportunity for other form factors to find their own niche. In my personal opinion, the size and weight of the iPad make it a little awkward to use outside my home environment. Samsung’s original Galaxy Tab was 7”, but only enjoyed minor success in the market. However, this was more because of the poor experience with Android Gingerbread, which was meant for bigger screens, and the lack of available apps, than because of the screen size.

Part of the success of both the iPhone and the iPad can be attributed to the ease of access to apps and media through iTunes. Amazon is better suited than anyone else to offer a similar experience – they are the world’s  biggest online retailer, and already have a large digital store in addition to physical goods.

If Amazon can offer a tablet that is more portable than the iPad, can be held comfortably in one hand (great for reading), has apps available through the Amazon Appstore, and comes in under $300, then they have a great chance at success.

However, Amazon need to concentrate on the advantages of their tablet, and not market it as an alternative to the iPad. Instead, I believe they will market it as a top of the range Kindle, with the added advantage of a color screen (better for magazines) and the ability to run apps.

I am looking forward to tomorrow’s announcement to see exactly what Amazon will present, but I am already lusting over another new gadget!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Which Mobile OS?

When you look at the dozens of phones available to you, what do you look for; the physical device, with it's mirror-like screen and brushed aluminium finish, or do you consider what makes each phone perform the myriad tasks you intend performing? If you haven't thought in these terms, you should. You're about to lay down a sizable chunk of your hard earned cash, or tie yourself into an expensive 24 month contract, and you should really know what you're buying.

To me, it's all about the software. These days, the main manufacturers are all capable of making exceptional devices that vary little from each other in terms of hardware. However, the software is constantly evolving and improving, and if you pick the right phone, you'll continue to get updates and upgrades that will improve your experience, and even after 2 years, you won't feel like you're stuck with old technology.

As can be seen from the graph of worldwide 2011 Q2 smartphone sales to end users by operating system, according to Gartner, Android has clearly captured the lion's share of the market, up 13,3% since 2010, with its multiple manufacturer support from Samsung, HTC, Motorolla, LG and Sony Ericsson. However, Google's purchase of Motorolla could spell trouble for Android if the other manufacturers feel like they're not getting equal treatment and start looking to other OS's for their premium models. Android has another problem, and that is despite regular update to the core OS, these often aren't rolled out to every device, and it's left to the manufacturers, and then the carriers to decide which phones should get upgraded. Google are trying to address this problem, and it may improve with their newer phones.

Symbian may be in 2nd place, but don't be fooled. Symbian is in freefall, losing more than 10% in the last year, and down from complete market domination just 4 years ago, when they held 63,5%.

Apple's iOS takes 3rd place, and considering they essentially only have a single, premium handset (plus a discounted previous generation model) available, that's pretty good. iOS is actually still gaining market share, and I expect continued growth as the next generation is made available to more carriers in the key US market. The launch of iOS5 and the next generation iPhone will also see renewed demand for the iconic device. Where Apple really scores is that they release software updates directly to the customer, so everyone gets to run the latest version all the time, and Apple continue to make their software backwards compatible for several generations.

RIM hold on to 4th place with their Blackberry range, but they're down nearly 4% since a high of nearly 20% in 2009, and despite popularity with text hungry teens, management problems continue to plague the company that was once considered the trendsetter. Their OS is dated; the newly released Blackberry 7 is too little, too late. Blackberry QNX might save them, but launch timing has been pushed out numerous times, so don't hold your breath. 

The dark horse is Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. While it hasn't captured much share yet, Nokia will launch a range of phones before the end of 2011, which may turn things around for the software giant. They've also recently launched a preview of Windows 8, which will use a common format, borrowed from Phone 7, across all devices, from desktops to tablets and mobile phones. This is huge - who wouldn't want a phone that looks and acts just like all their other devices, and sync up seamlessly via the cloud? The jury is still out on whether the UI is suitable for non-touch screens, but regardless, the tie-up with Nokia will be sufficient to see some substantial growth over the next 2 years.

So where does this leave us? There is room for 3, maybe 4 OS's in the market. Why not more? Key to the success of any modern OS is the availability of apps to run on these devices, and developers will not support an infinite number of systems. Android and Apple currently rule the roost, so it'll be between Phone 7 and Blackberry OS to take 3rd. My money would be on Phone 7, because Microsoft have too much money to let it fail. That will leave Blackberry to battle on in 4th place, with a shrinking market share.

So when you're confronted with all those shiny new phones that promise so much, think about where those brands will be in a years time, because you don't want to be stuck with a device that is no longer supported.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mobile Messenger Services Are A Mess

The IM sector is red hot again these days, as people turn to these services to replace the ridiculously overpriced SMS services offered by the carriers. RIM have managed to do this very successfully with their BBM messaging service, despite the fact that BBM is limited to Blackberry devices. For many, this is the number one reason to purchase a Blackberry. In the teen market this is currently the phone of choice.

Seeing the success that RIM has had with this strategy, Google and Apple have rushed to bring similar products to market.

Google's strategy is a bit confusing. Google Chat (or is it Google Talk?) has been developed into a great IM package that works across desktop and mobile, and includes video, SMS, group chat and more. Then along comes the Google+ mobile app and now we have Huddle, a very simple group chat app, built into the G+ app. Now I'm not technical, but why didn't Google just incorporate their existing IM package? Huddle has now been updated to include photo sharing, and simultaneously changed its name to Messenger. The problem with this service is that it's mobile only. For me, turning away from my desktop, with it's large ergonomic keyboard, to reply to a message on my phone, with it's tiny keyboard, is very frustrating. It makes no sense at all!

In early October (hopefully) Apple will release iOS5 into the wild, and one of the new features is iMesenger. I believe it will work across mobile and desktop, but will unfortunately be limited to Apple devices, which makes it pretty useless. I understand that the strategy is to turn each iPhone user into a salesperson: "Get an iPhone like mine and we can chat for free!" It hasn't worked with Facetime, and it won't work here. Really Apple, am I only allowed to be friends with people that also use Apple products? C'mon!

I'm not a Facebook fan, but at least they got this right. Well almost. Facebook Messenger works in the browser and in their mobile app, and now Facebook have launched a separate Messenger app for smartphones, which is a great idea, as you don't have to open the main app first. Are you listening Google? The problem: you can only chat with people you have friended on Facebook. I don't want all my work colleagues following my social activities on Facebook, but it would be useful if I could text them!

A number of startups have also attempted to gain some traction in this sector. Beluga was gaining in popularity, but Facebook bought them out, and created their Messenger service. Whatsapp has a big following, and it's not OS specific, but there is no desktop version available, so it's mobile only.

So what's the answer? Currently, I use Google Talk/Chat, Google+ Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and when iOS5 comes out I'll also use iMessenger. With my Blackberry carrying friends I feel a bit left out, and have to hope they use Whatsapp. Of course, in an emergency, good old SMS is still available, but I would love to be able to move away from SMS entirely. Until one of these companies can build all this functionality into one app, I'm forced to keep using a combination, depending on whom I'm chatting with. What a mess!

And who owns the rights to the Messenger name anyway?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

iOS or Android?

This is one of the most hotly debated topics in the tech world over the course of the last year. Should one prescribe to Steve Jobs's 'walled garden', or go with Google's 'open' approach? Sadly, I don't have the finances to afford both - I have one contract phone and I'll be stuck with whatever I choose for the next 2 years.
Many people mock my indecision, but the latest generation of smartphones are far more than phones; for many that has become a secondary function. A smartphone in 2011 is also a pocket computer and web browser, a media player, a still and video camera, a calendar, an address book, a calculator, and an alarm clock. Furthermore, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of apps available, it can also be a GPS navigation device, an ebook reader, a photo editor, an rss reader, or a portable game machine. It can be the biggest time suck, or a lifesaver in a difficult situation. For Apple, the iPhone has turned them into one of the most valuable companies in the world; no wonder Eric Schmidt has repeatedly stated that Google's focus for 2011 is on mobile.
So what are the choices:
Symbian - still the most widely used mobile OS, thanks to its use in many Nokia feature phones, Symbian has been floundering, and their future in smartphones is uncertain.
WebOS - developed by Palm and bought out by HP, this is a fantastic OS but has limited prospects until HP's future plans are clarified.
Blackberry OS - another proprietary OS, RIM have captured a huge portion of the market, but even with the introduction of their touchscreen models, BB's remain mostly business phones.
Android - Google's open source OS has seen enormous growth in 2010 thanks to widespread adoption by the likes of HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG.
iOS - Apples iconic OS was at the heart of the touchscreen revolution and is exclusive to their products, including the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Considering the options, it looks like a simple choice between iOS or Android, but it's anything but simple. The two companies, Apple and Google, have completely different strategies, and depending on your requirements and/or expectations, these strategies will undoubtedly influence your choice. At first look, the choice for me seemed obvious. I'm a big fan of Google's products, and have long respected their efforts at openness. I've followed their development of Android with eager anticipation, and looked forward to experiencing entering my Google user name and seeing all my contacts, email and calendar events syncing before my eyes! Based on this perception I convinced my girlfriend to opt for a Sony Ericsson X10 Mini running Android when her contract came up for renewal. 
The problems started almost immediately. The phone was shipping with Android 1.6, when the talk in the tech world was all about the imminent release of 2.3. A couple of weeks later an upgrade was rolled out: version 2.1! And what's more, Sony Ericsson announced that this would be the last update for the X10 series. So, within less than 2 months of purchase, we learned that we would not receive any of the future Android goodness. The reason for this is clear; with the best intentions in the world, Google continue to push out update after update, but unless you have one of the Nexus range of Google phones, you're reliant on the phone manufacturer to take the latest version of Android and update their proprietary layer of software before they ship it. Then, in many cases, you have to wait for your carrier to add their bloatware as well! By the time you receive the update Google have pushed out 2 later versions! In contrast, Apple sends out their updates via iTunes, directly to the user, and depending on which version of the iPhone you have, you'll get all the new features that'll work with your hardware. Simple, direct and easy to understand.
My next headache came when I was asked to add some music and podcasts. I have not used an iPhone before, but I'm familiar with the process on iPods; plug into my PC running iTunes, choose which playlists to sync, and that's it. I had downloaded DoubleTwist in preparation, so I was all set to go. To be fair, DoubleTwist works quite well with music files. All my iTunes playlists appeared, and synced up quite easily. Podcasts were a different story. DoubleTwist have their own 'subscriptions', but the podcasts I wanted to sync already appeared on iTunes. Creating a 'Podcast' playlist worked, but the files then appeared as music files on the device, so if you stopped playback midway through, on restart the music player started at the beginning again! There are a number of workarounds, but this shouldn't be necessary. Why haven't Google developed an iTunes equivalent yet? The majority of people don't want to mess around with a bunch of different programs to get their media onto their phones; they want something logical and simple. Apple offers this, Google doesn't.
One of the advantages of Android over Google is the Android homescreen. While Apple only offer a collection of icons, or folders of icons, with minimal 'live' interaction by way of the 'badges' showing missed calls, unread messages, etc, Android has live widgets showing weather updates, stock market updates, etc. Androids also have a stunning feature called live wallpaper, introduced from 2.1. These features add some great bling to the Android experience, but almost no-one can keep them activated - they kill battery life!
And herein lies the rub. Apple controls the complete iPhone experience; they develop the hardware and the software together, and they have strict control over any apps that are loaded by the user. In contrast, Google have developed a great OS, but other than some guidelines, the phone manufacturers are left to develop the hardware in isolation. App developers are free to create almost anything they like, and the customer has no recall if the app doesn't perform as expected. Google have been concentrating on the OS, and while there are plenty of rumours about wireless syncing, and a cloud based gTunes (my name), there is nothing official right now. The future for Android certainly looks bright, and there's a lot of work going into Android 3.0 for tablets right now. But that's all in the future - I need to decide which phone I'm going to get right now. I can get an iPhone 4 and I know that iOS 4.3, when released, will be available immediately for my phone, and that it'll run seamlessly with all the apps I have. For a similar price I can get an HTC Desire running Android 2.2. If I'm lucky, I might get an upgrade to 2.3 at sometime, but there are no guarantees beyond that. If Google introduce gTunes, but it's only available on Android 3.0, I will probably not get access for 2 years, when my contract comes up for renewal again.
In many ways I believe that Android would be a better fit for me, but as it stands right now I don't think that they're quite there yet. In the past I have been critical of iTunes, and as a pure music player/manager I still believe there are better options, but as an overall product management system it is without peer. Google needs to roll out gTunes, or whatever they're going to call it, as a matter of urgency. They need to take back control of their OS; if the manufacturers and carriers want to add a layer onto Android it has to be separate, and not effect the updates that Google should be rolling out themselves. Every Android phone should be running the latest version of the OS that it's hardware can support. Google needs to set maybe 3 device specs: screen size & resolution and processor performance (perhaps), plus a couple more for tablets, so that anyone developing for the platform knows what needs to be supported. This may not be the 'open' utopia that Larry & Sergey envisage, but it's what the consumers want, and sometimes you need to listen.
The bottom line - unless something drastic happens before the end of February it looks like I'll be crossing over to the iPhone camp for the next 24 months.

Thanks for reading.