Android: Intent on Winning

I doubt many people were not aware of Apple’s latest announcements concerning iOS. Of course Apple again held their little party and pomped and circumstanced all over. This is to be expected. Pretty much any company making an announcement will do virtually the same thing. What concerns me is the reaction to these announcements in the media.

I ran across a comparison over on PCWorld.

First of all, the comparison itself is bogus. The author took only the features that Apple announced that were new about iOS, and compared other platforms to that list. This automatically gives iOS the upper hand. If I were to list the new features of Android or even Win7Phone and compare those to another platform, it’s going to appear as if the OSs being compared are falling short. Unfortunately, this is pretty normal behavior for PCWorld. There are quite a number of Apple fans on staff and they conceal it rather poorly, if they make an effort at all.

Second of all is the small portion of the chart that I pulled out and posted down below (headers left intact for ease of understanding).

See how the Facebook and Twitter integration for Android is listed as “3rd party apps only”? To me, this is implied inferiority from the creator of this chart. It screams “iOS does this better because it’s integrated and in Android it’s not!” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. The chart is technically correct. Android doesn’t build Twitter or Facebook support directly into the Operating System. Instead it does something much better. Intents.

An intent in Android is a mechanism allowing for apps to communicate with each other. This includes the OS itself.

Using Intents, Android can create very similar functionality to what iOS users see when Apple integrates a service into the OS. Not being integrated is it’s greatest strength. This allows for Android to give integrated type functionality to any application installed on the device. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, you name it.

Because the service isn’t integrated, the OS is a lot more versatile.

Allow me to propose a hypothetical. In the not very distant future, Apple trots out iOS6 on it’s new iPhone, complete with it’s neat and spiffy Facebook integration. Shortly after that, there’s a social revolution. A new player appears on the scene. Let’s call it MyFace. Because of several new and really cool features MyFace offers that Facebook doesn’t, users leave Facebook in droves. Facebook becomes a ghost town. iOS users are now finding this new Facebook integration almost entirely useless. Android users simply delete the Facebook app from their device and install the new and really shiny MyFace app. Intents allow for MyFace to be instantly integrated with the device. A year passes, and Apple finally gets around to updating their OS to implement MyFace, removing the now defunct Facebook, only to find that MyFace is old hat. It’s been replaced with a new service, SpaceBook. Android users simply remove MyFace from their device, install SpaceBook, and go on with their social lives. iOS users are stuck waiting, again.

Now, is this analogy plausible? Well, two new and dominating social networks over the course of a two years is pretty far fetched, but that’s not the point. With Android, it doesn’t matter how fast the industry changes. Android changes just as fast. Intents allow for that to happen. iOS is not nearly as agile. It’s slow and dependent on Apple to move it forward.

To often today I’m seeing journalists holding up one of Apple’s greatest weaknesses as if it were one of it’s greatest strengths. Make no mistake, iOS is a dinosaur. It just doesn’t know that it’s extinct yet.

9 Comments

  1. But the dinosaur runs at the C code level, which is intrinsically faster than the Java level. Meaning: better performance for equivalent hardware. Also, there is little fragmentation. And a hughe single force behind with a mastery of the supply chain.

    • Thank you for your comment Philippe. I have some questions for you.

      How often do you think the hardware will be equivalent Philippe? Even last fall when the 4s was first released it’s hardware specifications weren’t impressive. It has a dual core 1GHz CPU? Most phones at the time had that or higher. Since then, Android phones have improved significantly. The Samsung Galaxy S3 for example has a quad core 1.4GHz. C or Java, you can’t compete with that order of magnitude. Fragmentation? Fragmentation is such a minor problem, the only time it’s brought up is when iOS users are looking for something to claim superiority about. Fact of the matter is that Apple is introducing more and more fragmentation into their ecosystem, while Google is reducing it.Single huge force? Not really a benefit in my mind. That’s the reason that Apple can’t adapt quickly to change. Mastery of the supply chain? Not really a benefit of the OS. Not really true either. There’s nothing that Apple offers that can’t be matched or exceeded. If Apple had such a commanding control of the supply chain, that would be impossible. The market disproves that claim.

      • Ben

        There’s one single domain on which iOS has the edge and that is audio apps.  I don’t mean a simple music player but I mean digital audio processing apps like iElectribe, ReBirth, Garageband, etc.

        That would be the only reason for me to ever consider an iPad (I don’t want the phone… I want the tablet if I ever want something portable to create music)On all other domains I can think of, it’s Android that has the upper hand.

        • Alexandre Gherschon

          That’s currently a really pertinent comment. I think it might come from the fact that the MediaPlayer API is really shitty.

  2. It’s all about philosophy, I suppose.  Before I go any further, I would like to mention that I now work for a kiosk and mobile point of sale hardware company.  My full-time job is developing Linux and Android OS’s for the PXA168 and the TI OMAP 4 processors.

    Anyhow, I have long thought that Linux – and by extension – Android have a certain advantage in that integration with third party apps/applications was easy and quick.  I have no experience – yet – with intents (my first project has been mainly just developing a Debian root file system and writing peripheral drivers), but I still hesitate to state that Android really wins.

    The trouble all always comes down to the smoothness and the amount/or lack of bugs.  In other words – How well do these third party apps really run within Android vs. iOS with the same hardware specifications?  I am really asking you:  How much difference would you expect, in terms of performance?  Aren’t Apple and Microsoft simply trying to force a minimal quality for the apps?

    From my point of view, an OS-integrated service means that developers will have new APIs to do more with, let’s say, Facebook.  I know this is true, from firsthand experience, with iOS and iCloud.  How does this work with the Android intent model?  Do Facebook and the other third-party developers have intent hooks for other third party developers to use?  

    • That’s a new job for you isn’t it Chris? Congratulations!

      First, a brief disclaimer. I’ve had a pretty crappy day today, so if I come across as a little trite, it’s nothing to do with you. It’s just a carry over from my day. Sorry.

      First, with the same hardware specifications? It’s hard to make such a comparison since iOS devices tend to be pretty far behind Android devices regarding hardware.

      Let’s just cut to examples. You think that an OS-integrated service means that developers will have new APIs to do more with. What is that belief based on? 

      I look at my Android device, and I can select a line of text from your comment, push the share button, and select from any number of apps. Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Google+, LinkedIn, TweetDeck, Evernote, Flipboard, whatever. I can even select applications like DropBox and a text file will be created with that selected text. Is there functionality that matches that in iOS?

      Another example. I have an app called Kids Paint (my 4 year old loves it). If he does something really interesting, I can push the share button, and post it to Google+ or Facebook, or mess around with it with Instagram Photoshop Express. I can upload it to Picasa or my DropBox or my Google Drive. Is there functionality that matches that in iOS?

      What does the Facebook and Twitter integration get you? What about other services that aren’t integrated? 

      • Thank you very much!  I’m enjoying the new job.  Yep, new job – since there was WAY too much outsourcing going on at the last place.  I was not willing to drink the Honeywell cool-aid, so it was adios for me!

        Nah, you’re not coming off so bad – just the facts and further debate, right?  That’s where I come from and you know that by now….and I know that you have a very good handle on things.

        On the hardware specifications – yes, it is hard to match them up directly.  Apple tends to TRY and get by with less, to cut costs and they also go this route due to (as of the PA Semi purchase), custom silicon.  It’s hard to get a direct comparison, to your point, which is exactly what Apple wants.  It would be good to have “comparable” hardware to make an assessment, ideally, but we may never get this……..  I will assume that you would choose Android as the winner, fair enough.

        With the examples:  Recently, I have been rather annoyed with the Audio Unit portion of the iOS 4 and iOS 5 SDKs. However, it does give me a firsthand example: reverb and general audio effects for audio output.  Previous to the iOS 5 SDK, we developers had to create basically a lot of inefficient array manipulations to create effects such as reverb, echo, “wah”, or even filters (low/high pass, etc.).  As of iOS 5 SDK, we now suddenly have built-in APIs that take parameters to get these effects.  So, Apple does provide APIs for developers to get at iOS features, or what I deem as “more efficient” processes, likely built into to exceedingly low level libraries, possibly at firmware levels.  I will go on to say that Apple does this ONLY after they have utilized those features in new versions of their apps; and, in this case,  GarageBand.  Annoying, but Apple moves the platform on, keeping quality up, but possibly leaving developers out in the cold for a while.  Granted, I do not like this, but when will the Android community reach the critical mass to make it more profitable for us all to move over?

        For iCloud (more examples), I have read the advertisements on the Apple’s dev site and have read over the examples but I have yet to write a line of code, but I can point to iCloud’s integration in others’ apps.

        I have not run across the selected text and text file output you mention, but I think a clever developer could have written such code by now, given what I know about current apps I own that use iCloud and sharing to other apps.  Cloud-centric apps such as Box and SkyDrive offer file sharing capabilities and the ability to add new apps with which to share files, as long as those apps have been purchased and some times new apps for sharing are suggested/advertised.

        I use SketchBook Pro quite a bit for icon and background design, and I know that SketchBook offers sharing to Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, DropBox, etc. and those choices are hard-coded by the developers, so the iCloud APIs are in play here.  With Apple’s photo, they have had sharing capabilities via Email, Twitter, iMessage, WebDav, and all of Apple’s core services/cloud service (iDisk, iWork, etc.) since before developers had any access to iCloud APIs.  

        Of course, iCloud is of ZERO use without both a Mac running Mountain Lion and an iOS device running iOS 5.x.  In summary, maybe the key is that none of Apple’s own apps offer the built in sharing capabilities, but they will leave that up to the developer, while still exercising their strict App Store acceptance rules…..  Android could win here, depending on how ridiculous Apple chooses to be…..

        So, on to your last point about Facebook and Twitter integration, as advertised by Apple:  iOS apps can now act like regular Facebook apps and I think at least some aspects of Twitter (of which I know little about) are already integrated.  iOS calendars will sync up to Facebook accounts, showing friends’ birthdays, events, etc.  It’s being called “deep Facebook integration”.  I think Siri-dictated Facebook posts are supposed to be available.  But, yeah, it is kind of a lot of hoopla, I mean iPhoto can already share to Facebook…..  I believe that this could result in more visibility for iOS apps and iOS developers on Facebook, which would not be a bad thing at all.  Of course, you also have to remember that Google is trying to compete with Facebook with Google+, so Apple is most definitely trying to gain a more meaningful ally in Facebook while dropping pathetic services like Ping.  Google+ has “deep integration” within Android, so Apple is choosing the Facebook route for iOS for a similar integration – though they are WAY late to the game……this must be just one thing or many Jobs had discussed with Zuckerberg along the road.

        I think it’s all still a fair fight, but Android is certainly pushing the envelope – at least outwardly.

        • To clarify just one thing:  In reference to:  “I believe that this could result in more visibility for iOS apps and iOS developers on Facebook, which would not be a bad thing at all.”  I meant that the iOS App Store browsing and purchase notifications available to share on Facebook will provide the developer and app visibility.  This article covers much of what I mentioned on your last point:
          http://mashable.com/2012/06/11/apple-facebook/I am not an expert on this subject.

  3. George Rogers

    I wanted an markdown preview for making documents look pretty.  With intents I can write an app that integrates with almost any editor enabling markdown preview. You can download my app at github.com/georgerogers42/markpipe. It is only 6 lines of code.

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