The USS Quad Damage

The Truth Bomb regarding Android Lag

Android users drive like this, and iPhone users drive like this.

Android, by contrast is, in the words of Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson: Ambitious but rubbish

People have been talking in some detail over the UI performance of Android, the almost sub-conscious lag that makes android just not “feel” right.

It’s fairly silly to whinge about implementation details when you have the world’s best coders on each of Google and Apple’s side. You know they wouldn’t have just built something in a stupid way. Some people have been putting the differences down to culture. That’s really a nice way of saying the following:

Android can do things the iPhone just plain can’t.

In order to make sense of this you need to look back in time, when the platforms were substantially different, compared to now, where they’re substantially the same (and perform similarly — iPhone 4S can be jittery sometimes, and Android ICS is a lot smoother. Similarly, if you used IOS5 on an iPhone 3GS you can expect it to run like Android Cupcake on an HTC Magic).

When I got my HTC Magic, out of the box, it had notifications and background apps. Not only was I now always online in Google Talk, as well as having Google Calendar and Mail integration, I also got an app that got me online in MSN, Facebook, Yahoo, and even ICQ. This is actually online — If someone sends me a message, I get a notification. There were even apps to do location based notifications, and Google’s Latitude (which is like 4 square, but you don’t have to do anything to “check in”). To me, this was the entire point of having a smart-phone. I looked at the iPhone and went “it responds well, but what can I do with it”.

The Android’s killer app for me was that I never needed to take it out of my pocket. It would be “doing things” — processing, whatever, and it would let me know if I needed to care. Contrast this with the iPhone, which I saw as having that beer drinking app and sending those “whale” text messages. Cute, but... why?

It’s only now that you could claim a sort of feature parity between the iPhone and Android. And that comes at a cost. Even now, though, the iPhone isn’t as flexible as an Android. You can’t share things from one app to another arbitrarily (I think the iPhone has specific hooks to share via twitter, but you can’t add the option to share via flickr). Even the background apps are somewhat limited, and the new storage scheme means many apps have had to re-think their utility.

That’s the thing with Android apps vs iPhone apps. iPhone apps feel a little contrived. They’ve been created for use on the iPhone in an acceptable way, and I can feel them trying to do things the system won’t let them do. Android, by contrast is, in the words of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson: Ambitious but rubbish. They have enough rope to hang themselves, and they do. There are apps that can use location information to toggle wifi on or off, but end up taking up more battery figuring out whether they should switch off wifi than they save by switching off wifi.

But the thing is, you can do it. You’ve always been able to do it. Android today and Android when it first launched is largely the same, but tweaked. iOS5 vs the original iOS is probably fundamentally different.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Apple have always reduced the feature set to deliver a better user experience for the features that did exist. The first iPhones didn’t do video calls and didn’t have copy-paste. They were just plain less capable. Android’s thrown everything in and tried, but not quite succeeded. Just like Android zealots talk down the lag issues, iPhone zealots talk down the lack of features.

For my money, I never really cared about the lag. I just cared even less for that crappy beer drinking app.