Why I'm so excited about Google's Nexus One

With the iPhone, Apple indisputably reinvented the smartphone. Everything produced by competitors will be compared to the iPhone for some time, exactly as every personal computer some 3 decades ago would be compared to the MacIntosh.

A little perspective first:

Apples original Mac (source: Wikipedia)

In the early eighties, Apple did not actually invent the personal computer. They only set the rules to make computers usable by non IT specialists: It all seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t back then! Computer users needed a graphical OS interface, a pointing device, WYSIWYG fonts and applications. Apple found out how to transform a nightmarish experience (remember the IBM PC XT anyone? With DOS 2.11!) into something really cool! No command or shortcut to be learned by heart such as the (in)famous CTRL+ALT+DEL). You just went “WOW!” instead of “GASP!”, and this has probably always been Apple’s main strength.

Apples iPod (source: Wikipedia)

Ditto with the iPod in 2001: exit the nightmare. With a remarkable ecosystem, (one application – iTunes – to do the boring stuff (rip, convert, index and later on subscribe to podcasts), the iTunes Store to enable people to buy – in a couple of clicks and for a reasonable price – the music they want to carry around, and an actual object incredibly simple to use and appealing), the iPod literally ejected its competitors and imposed itself as THE personal music device.

Apple ARE brilliant at shifting paradigms! And the iPhone is certainly not the least of their revolutions! This was just fantastic! As far as I’m concerned, my iPhone is an extension of my brain. I rely on it for almost everything: to find, discover and organize things, to stay in touch, to learn. It is also extraordinary as an entertainment device. And it just works. I’ve probably rebooted my Sony Ericsson phone half a billion times just because it freezes when I’m in a rush; I have rebooted the iPhone twice in a couple of years and never ever lost the bookmarks of my audiobooks…

The Nexus One (source: Wikipedia)

So why am I so excited about Google’s Nexus One?

Creative inventors are not necessarily good managers in the long run and this is especially true about Apple! Despite my admiration ever since the eighties, I haven’t yet switched to Mac for my laptops (though I’m almost sure the next one is a Mac). Why? Because for one, I couldn’t conceive of using a trackpad without its most ergonomic feature since the nineties: the right-click to unfold a contextual menu. For years, Apple just wouldn’t understand how important this feature was to the users. They’ve eventually changed their position on this one now and that’s why I’ll probably switch to a MacBook Pro this year. But still, I’ll have to become clever enough to remember how to perform a screen capture without a [PrintScreen] button, to erase text without the [delete] button, to remember how to type a backslash or a square bracket on a Swiss keyboard! There are plenty good ideas out there and Apple is just autistic to them! The same happens with the iPhone: A very ordinary use-case would probably consist in syncing your music with your home computer and your business contacts with your work desktop. Ever tried this with iTunes? Well I have! This has taken me ages and I have never quite achieved it. The other thing I totally despise with both the Mac and the iPhone is the very poor handling of edge-cases and errors. All that works fine is pretty straightforward, but whenever anything goes wrong, good luck with finding out what the problem is and how to solve it! You get no error message, you have no clue as to how things are organized, where to find the settings, where to find help. Already tried to remotely assist a non tech-savvy friend whose iTunes and iPhone suddenly gave up synchronizing? If you have, I’m sure you’re getting my point!

Moreover, Apple’s business model is an impediment to an enjoyable user experience. On the one hand, the iPhone makes you totally addicted to the mobile Internet (at least since it supports 3G, which has taken quite a while), on the other, it practically forbids you from accessing the Internet when you are travelling abroad, between 2 wi-fi spots, since it gets locked if you change the sim card! To me, this is totally unacceptable. Hard to believe that their user-centered design made the whole thing such a cool experience… Who still cares about the user when heavy money is at stake?

Regarding the AppStore, which has become a big mess with time, how dare Apple simply refuse the apps that compete with its own software? Even Microsoft hasn’t been that far! Why can’t 3rd-applications run in the background on the iPhone? Why is Flash not an option when the format represents the largest market share of online video formats?

How can you be so visionary on the one hand and so short-term-oriented as far as the business model is concerned on the other? How long did Apple think its concept would remain unchallenged? How long did they think they would abuse people with their monopolistic position ? Well… It is a fact that without Google, this situation probably could have lasted forever indeed. Not one of the major players has been able to compete with the iPhone so far.

I haven’t tried the Nexus One yet, and I have no doubt that the finishing touches probably don’t meet Apple’s standards and can’t stand the comparison with the iPhone. But who cares? What I love about the Nexus One is the idea of openness. The idea that I can sync whatever I want whenever and wherever I want to. And that I don’t even need to actually sync devices with one another using a cable, Android is one generation ahead of that. All formats are supported. I can change the sim card if I wish to. And even the battery 😉 I can use my A2DP Bluetooth headset again (never worked properly with the iPhone 3GS!), and iTunes can be relegated to wherever it belongs.

Sorry Apple, as much as I admire your capacity to invent, reinvent and bring order out of entropy, I’m not loyal enough to forgive you for holding people hostages as long as you can. There is nothing cool about that kind of experience.

Google, I know I should be scared of you. I know you know everything about me. I’ve just realized how many apps of yours I use every day and how totally dependent I am on you. But so far, dear Google, you have never cheated. You are probably even better than Apple at shifting paradigms; with a  huge difference in the application though: you have always privileged openness and “win-win” strategies and I just love you for that! If your phone is as good as your software, it shouldn’t take me too long to forget the iPhone. I can’t wait…

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