Symbian to Android: A Transition So Far Enjoyed
This week, Barcelona (one of my favorite cities) is hosting the Mobile World Congress, perhaps the most important yearly conference covering cellular handsets and other mobile communications equipment. Spurred on by Suzanne’s writeup yesterday on Nokia’s market share (and trends), along with a recent two-part series in VentureBeat that critiques Nokia’s comparative non-success in the United States versus other worldwide markets, I thought I’d devote today’s post to a follow-up of last November’s two-part Brian’s Brain analysis of Nokia’s business and products.
A friend of mine spent a few months attempting to become accustomed to a Nokia E71 handset on T-Mobile, after having previously used a BlackBerry on Verizon. She eventually threw in the towel, after enduring innumerable frustrations (which I heard about in innumerable emails, phone calls and face-to-face conversations). Part of her problem with the handset was its unacceptably low speaker volume both in conventional and speakerphone modes. The E71’s graphical user interface was also non-intuitive; she kept forgetting where the launch icons for various programs were located, and navigating the multi-tier folder hierarchy was cumbersome. The Garmin Mobile XT Maps GPS software she tested never worked as advertised; its bugs coupled with its poor performance provoked her to give up on it in short order, and Nokia’s now-free GPS alternative still doesn’t support it (but curiously supports its nearly-unchanged E72 successor). And Nokia also heavily relied on keypad buttons to activate, disable and otherwise manipulate various functions, while not clearly labeling what those functions were, thereby compelling her to repeatedly reference the product documentation.
She’s now using the T-Mobile G1 that I showcased in a mid-September 2009 Prying Eyes piece, which is now running Android v1.6 (the current official O/S version available for the handset). What a difference; she took to it like a fish takes to water. Admittedly, she had some initial glitches related to its data services. She’s got one of the no-contract Even More Plus plans, and when we initially transferred the SIM card from the E71 to the G1, the handset went online just fine. A few weeks later, however (in conjunction, I suspect, with the start of a new monthly billing cycle), the phone reported that her account as currently configured was data services-incompatible with the Android-based handset. A phone call to customer support sorted out the situation in short order; T-Mobile migrated her data plan from a generic ‘Smartphone’ profile to an Android-specific alternative, and within a few hours, she was back online.
The next steps in her evaluation are to load up her Google Contacts and Calendar services with data that will subsequently auto-sync with the phone, then explore the wealth of applications available in the Android Market. Watching her ramp up to speed on the G1’s capabilities validates for me the inherent intuitiveness to users of a touchscreen-enabled rich graphical user interface. Granted, the G1 isn’t perfect; short of jailbreaking the handset, there’s no means available to tether to it either over USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi in order to use it as a cellular data modem for a laptop. It doesn’t offer a multi-touch user interface or turn-by-turn GPS capabilities, both features available in latest-generation Android v2.x builds which I unfortunately doubt T-Mobile and Google will ever port to the G1 due to the memory and processing limitations of this initial hardware offering. And it’s bulky, in part a reflection of its physical keyboard, and doesn’t have stellar battery life. As such, I’ll be curious to have her do a comparative try-out of a Nexus One, which I hope to have in my hands within a few weeks.
But all in all, these are minor nits. Android’s reportedly been the shining star of the Mobile World Congress show, which alas I was again unable to attend this year. While in part this is a reflection of the operating system’s fiscal appeal to handset manufacturers and carriers alike (albeit with accompanying potential radical transformative potential to the latter), my friend’s experience suggests that Android isn’t just inexpensive. It’s also an intuitive and robust operating system that has quickly become a serious competitor to long-established alternatives. Nokia may have finally delivered on its longstanding promise to convert Symbian to open-source status (along with partnering with Intel on Moblin-plus-Maemo-now-MeeGo), Palm may still be on life support, and Microsoft may be attempting to re-establish relevance with upcoming and Zune-derived Windows Phone v7. But right now, Android’s the contender with the most momentum, and I’m hard-pressed to come up with a scenario that would counter or even tangibly slow that trend. Unless, of course, Apple licenses the iPhone O/S…naaahh…;-)