Android's Independent Problem


Ryan Block:

I found it more than a little surprising that I wasn’t really pining to go back to iOS by this point. But I didn’t have any strong feelings about staying on Android, either, so I decided to try going back. I was glad to be reunited with some of my favorite iOS apps (like Sparrow and TweetBot), but after weeks away, carrying an iPhone felt foreign, just as carrying a Galaxy Nexus had.

I suppose in the end, staying or going just didn’t feel like a very big deal. Using the iPhone didn’t feel like some huge homecoming. It was just moving from one comfortable environment to another.

Weeks into life with the HTC One X and the Nexus 7, Ryan’s reflections on the rift between Android and iOS are utterly resonant with my own. Stock Android is truly a good — and ever-improving — operating system, there is no scarcity of compelling apps, and the peculiarities of Android are rapidly being quashed.

Perhaps the only remaining problem I perceive — as does Ryan, albeit somewhat differently — is the distinct lack of an independent community. For those of us that take pleasure in contemplating Apple’s ecosystem, we have thriving relationships with independent developers, entrepreneurs, and thinkers — each of us constantly considering the developmental landscape and questioning the status quo. Of course, this environment is endlessly conducive to fantastic design and innovation, with even the most disconnected of iOS developers now all-too-aware of the perceived aesthetic requirements for a passable app.

For Android, despite being well-engrained in the ecosystem for weeks, I have yet to stumble upon a comparable community. Although independent developers certainly exist, they seem to reside alone and apart from their consumer-base. Similarly, despite the evident volume of Android-centric press coverage, I tend to think there isn’t quite the same rapport between journalists and Android developers as in the iOS community.

Much of this, in my opinion, stems from the historic lack of control demonstrated by Google. In years past, the search giant proudly touted the ecosystem’s lack of barriers and controls, thereby ostensibly herding its developers into an unprotected wilderness. Discussions of merit aside, Google obviously gained a large quantity of apps and developers in this unchecked environment, but has evidently begun to feel pangs of regret for doing so. With Ice Cream Sandwich, Google introduced design guidelines for the platform — standards which have become much more finely tuned with Jelly Bean.

It is only now, with this trend toward the exertion of control over the platform, that I believe Android may engender a comparable environment. Expressing care for the aesthetic value-system that the iOS community holds so dearly is an obvious leap in the right direction for discerning designers and developers. Now, all that remains is for Google to begin improving upon the discoverability of such apps, rather than mindlessly touting cross-platform iOS equivalents in its ‘Editor’s Choice’ sub-sections.

There is plenty of cause for optimism with regard to the Android ecosystem, and I strongly urge even the most staunch of iOS proponents to read through the entirety of his reflections upon the OS. For further discussion concerning precisely this topic, you should also check out my new podcast, Bionic.