I've had an iPhone for a long time. I tried a G1 “gPhone” and thought it was slow and unpolished (I've heard Cyanogen's mod helps a lot with the speed), so I went back to my iPhone. But after trying out the G1 for a bit longer, I've discovered the model is quite different, and possibly better, than the iPhone's model. Here are some scenarios:

You're on a web page, you see a link to Youtube, and you click it. The iPhone takes you to the YouTube app. After you watch the video, you press the home button, then go back to the web, and it returns you to the page you were on. Seems reasonable.

You're browsing maps, and you search for something. You click one of the icons, and it takes you a details page. On there is a link to a web site for a restaurant. You click it. It takes you into the browser. You want to go back to the map, so you press the home button, then go back to the map. It returns you to the details page. You click on the back arrow to get back to the map.

You're in the App Store app, you scan the top 25, and click to see 26–50. You find an interesting app, and click it. Read the reviews, decide to install, and click install. It returns to the home page while installing, interrupting your use of the App Store app. Not that big a deal though, since you can just go back into the app and resume browsing. Except it's lost your place. And not only that, it's no longer showing 26–50, so you have to scroll down, click expand, and then find your place.

Some apps, such as Yelp and Echofon, want to avoid you leaving the app, so they embed a browser inside the app. But this means you can't access the usual browser features like bookmarking and emailing links.

The “gPhone” (Android) seems to be designed differently when it comes to navigation between apps. There's a physical back button on the phone, and it seems to get used everywhere. Let's see the same scenarios on the gPhone:

You're on a web page, you see a link to Youtube, and you click it. The gPhone takes you to the YouTube app. After you watch the video, you press the back button, and it takes you back to the browser.

You're browsing maps, and you search for something. You click one of the icons, and it takes you a details page. On there is a link to a web site for a restaurant. You click it. It takes you into the browser. You want to go back to the map, so you press the back button. You're now on the details page. You press the back button again and it takes you back to the map.

You're in the Marketplace app, you scan the list. You find an interesting app, and click it. Read the reviews, decide to install, and click install. It installs in the background. You continue navigating. When the app installation finishes, there's a note in the notification area at the top.

It's not just clever handling of the back button the part of the apps. Later on I'm in the calendar app, and check notifications. I see the app has installed, and click on that. It takes me to that app. I press the back button. It takes me back to the calendar.

The back button is deeply integrated into the system. It wasn't apparent to me when I first tried out the G1. But this is a fundamentally different model from the iPhone. Navigation feels like a browser, where you visit something and then go back, and not like an OS, where you go back to your “desktop” and “launch” an app. I think the difference will be more noticeable in a deeper scenario, such as being in email, then viewing a web page, then viewing a map, then emailing the store, then going back, back, back, to the email you were on. But I haven't tried this to see if the gPhone really handles this case.

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5 comments:

(``-_-´´) -- BUGabundo wrote at Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 3:24:00 AM PST

you can also use LONG press on HOME and choose to jump to any recently open new Apps.

Mason wrote at Monday, December 21, 2009 at 9:37:00 AM PST

I love my iPhone, but I've had my eye on Android for a long time now, waiting for the right handset. Also, I'm locked into a two year contract with AT&T, and switching carriers would be prohibitively expensive.

My proposition: allow consumers the freedom to use the phone of their choice on any network without penalty or restriction. No more two year contracts or excessive cancellation penalties!

I also have the same view in regard to eBooks/readers. I won't invest in the technology until I can read a DRM free book on the device of my choosing, without restriction.

Amit wrote at Monday, December 21, 2009 at 9:52:00 AM PST

Some carriers make the contract explicit and optional.

The usual deal is, you're getting an up-front discount on the phone and in exchange you're agreeing to pay that back over the 2 years. T-Mobile lets you choose whether you'd rather have that deal, or if you'd rather pay the full cost of the phone up front and then pay less per month and have no contract. The cancellation penalty is essentially paying off the remaining balance on the phone.

My guess is that most consumers prefer the lower up-front costs. But T-Mobile offers that choice; take a look at them.

It's also hard to make a phone that works on any network in the U.S. because the networks in the U.S. use different incompatible frequencies. Designing antennas that can work with any of those frequencies is incredibly difficult, and it's unlikely that most consumers would want to pay the high additional cost for a phone that works with such an antenna.

Mason wrote at Monday, December 21, 2009 at 1:18:00 PM PST

Yes, the U.S. cellular network needs to be standardized, which would most likely benefit the consumer in the long term. We are way behind other developed countries in this regard - probably because of special interests?!

As you mentioned, the next time I upgrade my phone I'll definitely say "No thanks" to the up-front discount / contract. You can't put a price on freedom :)

Amit wrote at Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 3:19:00 PM PST

I'm more pessimistic than you; I think we're behind because of population density.

Standardization is probably fine now; I'm sort of glad it didn't happen earlier. CDMA is much nicer than the older GSM, and Europe had standardized on GSM.