Now I’ve never been a fan of the cheaply built, plastic phones typical in the Android world. And when I’ve tried to get excited about high-end Samsung devices in particular, I’ve found the user interface to be horribly cluttered and inconsistent.
BUT when I saw the HTC One at Mobile World Congress in February, I was instantly committed to having it replace my aging iPhone 4. Had it been available then, I would have purchased it immediately. The HTC One’s 4.7″ full HD screen is just the right size for me and bests the iPhone 5 in all respects. This was the first Android device I’ve seen with build quality matching the iPhone and the beats stereo speakers are fantastic. The overall size of the device seems the perfect balance, unless you want to go running with it in which case the iPhone’s incredibly light stature has the advantage. The processor and other hardware was competitive with the iPhone 5. The One also has a newer WiFi chipset, including 802.11ac and access to Swype is another attractive feature.
While I have come to love many aspects of the iPhone 4 since it arrived in 2010, it has been far from perfect. Compared to my outgoing blackberry bold, it is a marginal telephone at best, with worse reception exacerbated by the antenna issue, and sub-par audio quality. Search sucks as the iPhone is generally incapable of finding any email whereas the Blackberry was fantastic. Losing the keyboard was hugely frustrating, and while attractive, the iPhone has the physical ergonomics of a brick compared to any of the dozen well designed phones I’d previously owned. As a simple example, it takes over six seconds to turn the iPhone on and fiddle with it to take a picture. Ah but the future had come and I needed to be part of it. We all gave up much in exchange for the first truly usable browser and a modern OS that could support the future.
I certainly saw no compelling reason to upgrade to the 4s and found the iPhone 5 underwhelming relative to other emerging devices so resigned to sit tight for another cycle. At least the iPhone software ecosystem had started paying off with fantastic apps like Foreflight, Google Maps & Earth, Skype, Dropbox, Evernote, Kobo, TuneIn & Sirius radio, TopoMaps, Earthmate, Apple TV remote and more.
I was glad I had skipped the iPhone 5 and recommended the HTC to everyone I met.
I’m fed up with locked phones and the economics of long term ownership now favour buying an unsubsidized phone in any event so an unlocked phone became a hard requirement.
But the HTC One couldn’t be obtained for a few months and by the time it was, it was unclear how to actually obtain an unlocked model in Canada let alone a 64GB one. One of my partners lost his Galaxy S3 so bought a locked HTC and loves it. Seeing it in action, it is a fantastic phone and almost all the key apps seem available. The Google app ecosystem is smoother than on iOS which is a positive and it’s likely to stay that way. iOS 6 was also feeling dated and becoming frustrating on multiple levels. Apple Maps was a joke and to add insult, you had to manually copy and paste addresses to get to Google Maps. Simple things are done more easily on Android and the ability to customize is attractive.
But it’s funny how easy it is to do nothing when there isn’t any urgency and by this time rumours were that the 5s was around the corner. Indeed Rogers wouldn’t sell me an unlocked HTC so the friction of having to go through US mail-order, along with the associated service questions all created friction to my leaping. I decided to, “wait and see what the 5s looks like”.
Now how does the 5s stack up? The leap on the CPU is hugely compelling in my view, the performance of the 5s makes the HTC look a year out of date (read the anandtech review). In reality, it is blazingly fast and I believe the 64bit processor in the 5s can give it a three year life and that it opens up a next generation of applications. It’s basically “better screen vs better computer”. The other major hardware difference is the fingerprint sensor. It does work extremely well, and notwithstanding any security concerns you may have, it is super convenient.
A couple apps which are important to me aren’t available on Android, and when I’ve spoken to those developers they often have no plans to move over. Foreflight for example is valuable enough that virtually all pilots use iOS and buy a dedicated iOS device for the cockpit just to run it, and the benefit of having a second copy on your phone for flight-planning is key. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based applications have held off releasing for Android support because Bluetooth 4.0 hasn’t been part of the standard build, so each device needed to be special-cased, if BLE is even supported (Samsung and HTC do). This is important for any wearable computing device, such as 4iiii‘s excellent sports electronics products. And I can’t argue that Apple’s TV and Airplay (which is wired to every room in our home) have become super-valuable to us.
The problem is compounded for developers by the n^2 problem of having to special-case not only unique hardware (and thus device drivers) from each vendor, but also a highly fragmented OS installed base. More than half of Android devices accessing the Google Play store are running a 2011 or earlier OS. I was also hearing frustration from a lot of folks on Android phones that they can’t get the latest OS even if they want to, either because it’s not yet qualified for their device, or because their carrier hadn’t yet released it. Android has the same ecosystem Achilles heel that plagued Windows — ultimately pushing the bulk of the gaming market away to consoles.
We advise the startups in our portfolio to iterate on one platform until they get critical mass in order to be more capital efficient. Although there are more Android devices in the market and being sold each month, the fragmentation above means that the largest easily-addressable market is still iOS, and there is also (still) more revenue through Apple’s app store than all Android stores combined. Drivewyze.com is an example where, because 85% of truckers use Android devices, the choice was easy despite the increased QA resources required. So depending on your interests, the market can be quite polarized.
But there is another important point here. The fact that Apple has a retail presence, which made it easy to get an unlocked 5s, and that service is easily available without delay, is important.
So my T-Chart looked like this:
HTC One: Superior screen, solid Google app ecosystem, Swype, fun to tinker with.
iPhone 5s: Superior processor, fingerprint, Broader app ecosystem (for me), ease of purchase & service, super light (112 grams) device I can go jogging with!
After 24 hours with it, I believe I made the right choice. iOS 7 adopts the wonderful BB10 style multitasking control, search works and everything is a solid 10x faster than my old iPhone 4. It even seems like a good telephone and what a joy not to have to hold it with a convoluted pose to avoid getting cut off. Your decision matrix may vary — let me know!