Gaps between apps
Over the last few months I've been swapping between three mobiles: an iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S2, and Nokia Lumia. I've grown fond of each of them; like strangely ugly children, they are all special and I love them equally.
Two observations from all this:
- Moving between phones gets easier and easier. My email and calendaring is all through Google, and the synchronisation with all three platforms works well. The other app I use frequently, Kindle, is also solid everywhere. I could get 80% of my stuff on any of these phones, within minutes;
- It's apps which tempt me to stay with a given platform. The big win of iOS for me is Omnifocus, which syncs beautifully between phone, iPad and desktop, and just isn't available for WP7 or Android. I found myself installing fewer third-party apps on WP7 than other platforms. Many of those available in the marketplace were pretty poor, but the platform itself had decent Facebook and Twitter integration, and I found myself using the (reasonable) browser for things like Google+;
- Whilst the choice of apps of iPhone blows everything else away , there's something unpleasantly disjointed about moving between them. Maybe it's the zoom-in animations when launching an app, but every time I launch one I feel like I'm giving a particular product my full and exclusive attention, and must readjust myself to the whims of its particular interface. It's like each app is a little box of functionality, and I choose to move into and out of them in turn. This is most obvious when launching a site in Safari: I feel like I'm dropping whatever I was doing and trudging over to the web.
In contrast, both WP7 and Android give the impression of moving between apps in a much more flowing fashion. In the case of WP7, maybe it's the left-to-right panning used across the OS: there's no animation indicating that "something else is starting now". In the case of Android, I suspect this is down to the componentisation that comes from breaking applications into Activities: you're not using an app so much as "doing something" (e.g. taking a photo). There are issues with this that annoy me, and I don't think that the design (in Gingerbread) delivers on the promise of this underlying structure. I'm still waiting for Samsung to mess up Ice Cream Sandwich for me; maybe once I have it, this is something I'll find is fixed or improved.
We have the same thing on the web: millions of discrete experiences that we dip into and out of, often with their own navigation, identity/authentication, and so on. And we've had industries like online payments spring up to provide consistency where it's most needed. But why should I have to manage a separate shopping basket for every shop I go to? Hmm...
The Lumia, btw, is a lovely piece of industrial design; the weighting and materials are perfect: extremely classy without aping the iPhone. It also gets some small things totally right: so brutalised am I by every other camera phone I've owned, I've still not managed to adjust to a world where I can take photos without unlocking the screen.
From an industry perspective, the other nice thing about the Lumia is that it's a great product from a partnership of separate hardware and software companies: a nice reference for anyone who takes the view that you don't need to own the whole stack to make a great product.