Articles Tagged ‘Usability’

Droid Doesn’t do tablets

No Android on tablets As a developer and iPhone fan, nothing pleases me more to say that Android has caught up with the iPhone. Android hardware has been great for a while, the Motorola Droid and Nexus One being the first in a wave of great devices, but the software hadn’t been right. Android took its sweet time to develop but finally has all the great features iPhone users have enjoyed since the iPhone 3G and more (wi-fi hotspots for example).

Thing is, the iPhone, and iOS, has moved on.

Since the launch of the iPad, every Android-lover has been waiting for a tablet with Android on it. They want the brilliance and openness of Android on a more useful (day-to-day) form factor. To those people, I say wait, it’s not ready yet. In order to put iOS on a tablet, Apple had to fork the code base into two versions, iPhone 3.1 (later 4.0) and iPad 3.2. To date (though that may change at the September 1st event), these two branches have not converged, nearly 9 months later. Apple did this for a very good reason: the native controllers and views are not suitable for tablet devices and new paradigms needed to be created.

The SplitView Navigation controller

The SplitView Navigation controller, necessary for much of the good UI interaction on the iPad. Courtesy of Apple

Android tablets, on the other hand, are content with throwing the same old mobile-centric code at tablets. For example, today Archos unveiled five new Android 2.2 devices from 2.8″ to 10.1″ and Samsung is about to unveil their Galaxy tablet which is a 7″ Froyo device.

So, why isn’t this a good idea. For one, the Android developer API says it doesn’t support screens larger than 4.3″. That should be a pretty good first clue. Take the iPad HCI guidelines for a second clue. It states that full screen transitions are bad, interfaces have to be tailored to the device, and you have to do more than just blow up the interface to twice the size. Take a look at how iPhone apps look on the iPad for that one.

iPhone app on an iPad

iPhone app on an iPad, now think of an Android app, just blown up.

Truthfully, the current Android SDK just can’t cope with the demands of a tablet UI. Little things like smooth transitions when rotating to big things like having universal apps which cover multiple screen sizes well. Android has support for multiple screen sizes, but it relies on relative positioning for this and is an inelegant solution compared with Apple’s interface builder.

A bigger screen will accentuate the differences in the quality of iOS and Android apps. If you have a mediocre Android app and put it on a tablet, it’s going to look poor, but put a mediocre iPhone app on the iPad, and it’s at least usable. Take a look at this video of a $50 Android tablet from India Do you want a UI like that on your tablet? Didn’t think so.

So, my advice, is wait. Wait until Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) comes out in Q4 this year, then wait until 2011 for some good hardware. 3.0 has set precedent by disallowing vendor customisation, forcing a much-more Apple-esque standard set of controllers which will suit more purposes. Acer and Motorola have already announced that they’re delaying the launch of their Android tablets until 3.0 is available.

Still, when that time comes around, the second generation iPad will be out, and then Android will be playing catch up again.

Update: Just seen the ViewSonic ViewPad 7, a 7″ Froyo tablet. Take a look at the video in the link: it’s full-screen all the way, sluggish and, I quote “a plastic rebadge me-too Android tablet”. When you’re watching the video, think about how that’s going to work on a tablet the size of an iPad (or the Archos 101 for that matter). It’s not going to be pretty.

The Death of the Netbook

Netbook death watchI’ve never really understood the netbook craze. I can see the benefits of having a lightweight, low-power computer that performs 90% of the tasks you use a personal computer for; it just hasn’t appealed to me, or my wallet.

I can understand that it’s a very cheap way to get online (even though they are double US$ the price in the UK), but I’ve been perfectly happy with a 13″ Macbook I bought 4 years ago. I haven’t seen a purpose to re-spend the money that I invested all those years ago on a laptop that can do half as much.

Other things worry me about netbooks though, they’re a stop-gap. Since the iPhone, the dream has been to have a fully-fledged PC available in your hand, that works quickly and has a long battery life. Netbooks bridged a gap by providing a long(er) battery life and smaller screen, but have left it to the big boys to sort out the proper way of interacting with these smaller devices. See my post on netbook touch screen usability for more on how infuriating it gets.

So, in the next two years, netbooks will die completely. They will be replaced by what these users have wanted all along: a tablet PC with a good touch screen interface. For the first year, pretenders to the throne may have to carry a small bluetooth keyboard whilst the niggles are worked out, then the revolution will come, prices will drop and all those people who shelled out their hard-earned money will happily spend again to get a tablet.

If it is not beyond my power, I’d put the whole netbook format on deathwatch. Its death will be prolonged by price, but it will soon fall. The netbook’s time will come, and we’ll be a whole lot better off with its sucessor.