Stale Mail

I’ve made a couple of futile attempts at catching up with personal e-mail over the last week while cradling kid #2, a bottle (for him, of course) and my battered iPod Touch.

Despite everything, I still subscribe to a few mailing-lists (mostly fringe ones where some of the industry geeks let off some steam), and eventually stumbled across yet another long winded (and winding) argument about iPhone and Android, relative pros and cons of each, and how they are to become the modern equivalent of the Mac and Windows as OEMs steadily increase their production of Android devices.

Which, if you take away the tin foil hat and conspiracy theory bits, is a view I broadly espouse – my views on Android’s fragmentation and lack of a defining user experience are well-known, but I suppose those are just growing pains.

And my feelings towards mobile platforms are pretty much the same as the ones towards desktop ones – I’ll use whatever suits me, and find it rather wasteful to play partisan to any of them – there’s a difference between personal preference and evangelism, and some people never seem to get it.

After all, it isn’t as if there weren’t enough examples… The Linux “community” (or, rather, the “Unconsensus”, as one of my friends at Red Hat coined it once) damaged their own credibility by over-advocating and under-delivering across nearly two decades (yes, folks, it’s been that long), and some of the more outspoken Android advocates seem doomed to repeat that particular bit of the past.

Fortunately, delivery seems to be a non-issue as far as Android is concerned – it’s just that perceptions are too skewed, and advocacy of any kind becomes tiresome when overdone.

Still, some fun was had watching a couple of arguments unfold around the unspeakably warped piece comparing the Nexus One sales to iPhone and Droid sales, until I stepped in and pointed out that a) the Nexus One is not as much a retail product as it is a mail-order one and b) there are significant differences not just in terms of pricing, but also of operator subsidies and contract commitments.

Now you just try to explain that to people who only watch the commercials and don’t read the fine print…

Anyway, what I realized as I pored over the month old (but still raging) argument was that people weren’t as much worried about “choice”, app stores and usability as they were about the basics: battery life, SMS (and IM, which I have mentally put in the same bag for years now), e-mail and browsing.

And, of course, data plans – oh, what minefield of fun that is, especially when the discussions span national borders – but I won’t get into that. Suffice it to say that out of around 50 active folk on that list, the broad consensus was “it may sing and dance, but we want the basics to work really, really well”.

Then the Blackberry crowd chimed in and the argument pretty much petered out, since you can’t really argue about their phones hitting all the right buttons except browsing (for now, at least), even if they lack the glamour and newsworthiness of the other two platforms1.

But Blackberry is hardly a household name (even if the new low-cost 8520 is gaining traction in the consumer segment pretty much everywhere), and the truth is that most people don’t know or care about what kind of phone they have provided the basics are covered and they know how much it costs for them to use data.

That is something I sorely wish more people realized – sometimes I think that we (as in, the industry, in general) keep losing sight of the basics, and that all the tech and thrills we keep harping on about have brought upon very little actual improvement in how average people use their phones and what for.

1 Before you ask, the Symbian advocates were mostly lurking and debating whether S60v5 still has a future. It’s a US-centric list, too, so most people on it have blinders on where it concerns anything on EMEA (and don’t you just love the bigotry implied in that acronym?) and don’t share my overall feeling of Nokia being the elephant in the room…

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