Friends and family in the market for a smart phone sometimes ask me if they should get an iPhone or Android. Usually my answer is based on how adventuresome they are with technology. For those who want a safe, seamless experience, I tell them they would probably be happier with the iPhone, where Steve has carefully curated the experience. (See Virginia Heffernan's The Death of the Open Web in today's New York Times where she likens the iPod to the suburbs - safer and more planned than the cities or the open Web.)
On the other hand, if people are willing to put up with the more "urban" environment of a system where anyone is free to get software from wherever they please, I recommend the Android. Since Android programs are free to do more things, the overall experience is less smooth, such as when a program running in the background temporarily slows things down, but in return you get a wider range of content and applications, sort of like going to Italy instead of the Italian Pavilion at EPCOT.
With the recent release of the 2.2 upgrade, the Android has pulled ahead, both in terms of smoothness of operation and additional functionality. The background tasks seem to have been tamed, and the new release offers several new features:
- Tethering. You can use the 3G connection on the Android to give Internet access to your laptop via USB or WiFi. In the WiFi mode the Android functions as a miniature hotspot for up to eight other devices at once.
- Flash. (Search for "Flash 10.1" in the Marketplace.) It's just Beta and has a few problems such a privacy settings page that returns "Access denied" but try out Getty Images Moodstream. If you want to use hbo.com or Hulu you first need to change the user agent string to "desktop" - see instructions here. The performance is not so great and navigation doesn't always work. Maybe Steve was right.
- New home screen with dedicated shortcuts for phone and browser.
- Improved Exchange support.
- Camera controls for flash, zoom, focus, exposure, white balance and geo-tagging.
- Voice dialing over Bluetooth (finally!)
The 2.2 update is being rolled out gradually. If you can't wait for Google to send it to you, you can find instructions here. Be sure to follow them exactly. It's worth doing just to see the little Androids in skateboards.