Going Google: Can't We All Just Get Along?

By Trevor Gilbert , written on June 13, 2012

From The News Desk

I wish Apple and Google would shut up and stop fighting over patents and instead focus on the technology. Steal from each other if you want, but stop suing each other over every little detail. It’s not a complicated request, and it makes sense for all sides. Disappointingly, for now this is a pipe dream.

If the two companies would stop fighting over patents and intellectual property law, they might be able to focus more on building better products. As much as I’m a fan of the law, I can’t help but think that if everyone got to building the best technology possible, that the rising tide would lift all boats. For now, though, both Android and iOS are at a stalemate, one that isn’t going to end anytime soon.

The sad thing is, the best parts about each platform are closely guarded. Apple does everything it can to keep developers on the iOS platform, while Google does everything it can to make sure that Google applications are tightly integrated on Android and a pleasure to use. I can’t blame either company, but it is disappointing to think of the future that could have been if Apple wasn’t so litigious with patents, and if Eric Schmidt had never crossed Steve Jobs.

Consider the small things, like slide to unlock. Makes sense, right? Well, Apple owns the patent on it, so on Android there’s this bizarre slide-to-unlock-in-a-semi-circle-configuration. Then there’s the lack of system defaults for iOS, which wrecks Google’s ability to make great apps for iOS and leaves us with applications like Gmail for iOS. These small things add up and cause the two platforms to be on equal footing, yes, but also better in some ways and worse in others.

Starting with Android, where do I begin on the things I enjoy using? Maybe the best place to start is with the tight integration of Google services. Across the board, the best applications on Android are the ones that Google makes itself. This may sound obvious, but it isn’t true for iOS, where applications like Sparrow outdo Mail and applications like Calvetica outdo Calendar. For Android, though, Google really has done a fantastic job with its own applications.

Some of the best integrations are the ones that you never knew you were missing. Simple Google Voice setup, automatic uploading of pictures to Google+, and Maps are all a step above iOS (at present), and Google Drive integration is great as well. The equivalent applications for iOS are nowhere near as good as they are on Android, largely because of restrictions Apple imposes like device defaults and background uploads.

There are also the small things about Android that make the platform more enjoyable to use. Background uploads, better notifications, screen widgets, and that tray at the top of the screen that allows me to see what apps need my attention. They seem like small additions, but they’re things I never knew I was missing.

Outside of the Google-created parts of the ecosystem, the applications on Android are somewhat lacking. Of the dozens of apps that I’ve tried out in the last week or so, an abnormally high number have been entirely useless or unable to run. It could just be my sampling size, but in years of using an iPhone, I have had maybe two applications not start on me. On Android, I’ve already had four crash doing the most basic operations. There’s clearly something to be said about having a curated app store.

Without looking at every single feature in iOS that’s great, let’s look at the most noticeable ones. First, there’s the iTunes Store. It’s the best in the business, hands down. Google Play is trying to be an equivalent store, but it’s just not there yet. Then there’s AirPlay, which is truly great and is going to be key to bringing the success of the iOS platform to the TV. Google is rumored to be working on it for Android, but it’s not out yet, so for now it’s vaporware.

Oddly enough, the best parts of iOS are the parts not made by Apple. The apps that really push the experience forward are third-party applications like TweetBot, Sparrow, Calvetica, Drafts, iA Writer. If these applications were on Android, the experience would be greatly improved. Android is getting closer to being app-for-app with the iOS App Store, but it isn’t quite there yet. There’s also not any evidence that it is changing, either, aside from the recent release of Instagram and Instapaper for Android.

To summarize: there are big holes in both platforms. iOS needs better notifications (still). Android needs better apps. iOS needs to allow apps to set themselves as system defaults. Android needs to take better advantage of the fact that it’s on a touchscreen, and actually integrate pull-to-refresh, and push multi-touch as a core feature, not a frilly addition.

The ideal situation is one in which a cross-licensing patent agreement is reached between Google and Apple, akin to the one that Apple has with Microsoft. It wouldn’t solve every problem, but it would ease the tension between the two companies, and allow features to be freely shared between the platforms. However, it’s unlikely to happen until there’s a major injunction on an Apple or Nexus device in the United States.

For now, I think I’ve solved my problem of which device to own in a decidedly first-world way. I’m going to go the Steve Wozniak-own all phones route and own both an Android phone and an iPhone. I’ll use my iPhone for things like Music, games, and testing out unique apps, while I’ll use my Android phone for uploading things in the background, phone calls, and Web browsing on Chrome. It’s a horrible solution, and one that I don’t recommend for anyone else (it’s going to be rather expensive), but it’s the only way to get all features of the mobile landscape at once.

Unintentionally as an added bonus, no one can ever call me a fanboy ever again.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]

[Read more about Trevor's "Going Google" experiment here.]