About the smartphone category called iPhone-like

From an email exchange with a friend asking about the Nexus One (the ‘Google phone’) launch.

Thoughts about the Nexus One’s prospects

Does it have better hardware, a better screen, better battery life, better price, more freedom, better apps, better multitasking, better camera than the iPhone? Yes. Is it the iPhone? No.

People who’ll buy the Nexus One say they want to buy something like the iPhone that isn’t the iPhone, and they’re lying even though they don’t know it. They want the iPhone because it’s the iPhone. And nothing else. When you create in your mind a category called iPhone-like, there’s only one member that’s ever going to be a full, incontrovertible member of that category.

These buyers are going to be disappointed even though they won’t know quite why. They’ll blame it on the phone instead of their own expectations, and demand won’t spike the way it did for the iPhone.

Would I buy it?

I don’t like the iPhone, but I like this current crop of Android devices even less. If, in a (thankfully) fictional dystopian universe I had to choose only between the iPhone and the Nexus, I’d take Apple’s baby (and lament long and hard about the lack of alternatives).

Reason #3: form factor wise no Android device has nailed the iPhone. This is HTC and Motorola and Samsung, not Apple we’re talking about. So there. These firms are known for specs, not sex.

Reason #2: I will not buy a phone with a trackball. Ever. Would you buy a Skoda that featured a manually-operated crank to start the engine? Heck, even Blackberrys have moved on.

Reason #1: Polish. I posit that no one has been able to nail the touchscreen experience other than Apple. Not Palm, Not Android. Not (shudder) RIM and most certainly not Microsoft. Since 2007, for instance, Android phones have been underpowered and have had user experience (UX) issues where the phone hasn’t been able to keep up with text or touch input. Now three years later,

Some animations are very smooth, some are janky as hell. The Nexus One has a faster processor than the iPhone 3GS and has twice the RAM, and yet it still cannot have as fluid a UI as the iPhone OS. This is great proof that your software is key—throwing raw power at things won’t necessarily make them better.

And it doesn’t even have to run Android. Every touchscreen phone apart from iPhone suffers from this.

I think it’s worth demonstrating how Apple nails the experience with an example.

In Mobile Safari, the iPhone browser, if you scroll (swipe) too fast, instead of text you’ll see a chequered pattern – the processor can’t render the text fast enough – but the scrolling experience itself is smooth as ever. Once you stop scrolling, text will eventually appear. On any other mobile browser, the scrolling itself will stutter as the processor tries to render everything.

When you’re using a device all day every day as essentially an extension of your body and mind, stuff like this matters more than features.

I’d pick the iPhone. As, sadly, will folks who upgrade from the Nexus One eventually.

Update (10 Jan 2010): Another example of polish in design:

Other issues that I can’t live with day to day? How do I copy text from non-editable field like an email, webpage, or SMS, or even a 3rd party application? Oh, I can’t. Say what you want about the iPhone not having copy and paste for two years — a joke — it’s the single best implementation on the planet for a smartphone and Google’s approach is almost as bad as RIM’s with the Storm-series.

(From Boy Genius Report, via John Gruber)