Google unveiled the Nexus 4 this week, its latest flagship device running Android 4.2, something Google is describing as a new flavor of Jellybean. Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8 and a pretty slick flagship device from HTC called the 8X. I look at both of these phones and have envy. Not for the hardware, which I am sure is good, but not great. It’s the software.
Both Microsoft and Google are quick to add features and adjust the user interface of their mobile operating systems. Google Now drinks Siri’s milkshake and the start screen live tiles of Windows Phone 8 are still just as attractive me today as they were the last time I gave Windows Phone a shot.
I’ll probably end up buying one or both of these phones to try using as my daily driver. And after a few days I’ll probably end up going back to my iPhone 5, not because the core experience of either Windows Phone 8 or Android 4.2 aren’t good. They just don’t have the platform that Apple has.
The big names are there, sure. I can find a few different options for Twitter, Facebook or Yelp. That doesn’t mean those apps are going to be as good as what is offered for iOS. I’m still not a fan of the Tapbots brand style, but there’s no way I’m going to find a Twitter client that matches its feature set and quality on any other platform. There are probably clones of Paper or OmniFocus for Android, but they won’t have the craftsmanship we’ve come to expect.
Apple has fostered an environment where we can produce high quality games and applications that enhance the iPhone and iPad in so many ways. It is The Show where companies are focusing their design attention and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in this new medium of touch-based mobile devices. Third-party developers take their leads from Apple who has always been a company that sweats the details and ensures every pixel was placed with thought. Google and Microsoft just discovered design during the Obama administration.
The application that powers the home screen of iOS devices is called “Springboard”. The name fits, but I think a better one is used by OS X: Launchpad. To Apple, iOS is a launchpad for the ecosystem of apps that define the platform. iOS may not evolve much visually year over year, but the third-party software available today is nothing like the apps that shipped when the App Store opened. Something like Hipstamatic which was considered cutting edge and pushing boundaries in 2008 looks bloated and antiquated compared to a Camera+ or Instagram today.
Cupertino’s biggest feature of iOS each year isn’t the Passbooks or Maps they tout in the marketing materials. It’s the enhancements to the APIs they offer developers who in turn add more value to your iOS device in the months and years after iOS 6, 7 or X are released. The trends in mobile software tend to follow what APIs Apple offers each year in iOS. First it was maps and location. Now it’s NewsStand and Passbook that are opening up all sorts of new possibilities of what’s possible on a phone.
Microsoft and Google can continue adding features to their operating systems that make iOS users jealous on the surface,1 but until they figure out how to bring the first class third-party apps to their ecosystem, it’ll continue to be like living in a mansion with only a few pieces of IKEA furniture.
Pun slightly intended.↩