Three Month Review: Nexus 5X

nexus-5x

So three months ago I got the Nexus 5X. It was an upgrade for my aging (and cracked and dented) Nexus 5. I really enjoy the form factor and size of 5″-ish phones, having had both larger (Samsung Note 2) and smaller (HTC Desire). I tend to use phones for about a year and a half or so before I feel like I really need to upgrade, though I’ve found myself using newer phones longer and longer as they tend to be just better devices over the long run.

Before I say anything about the 5X, let’s talk about the 5 for a bit. It was a good phone, not a great one, for several reasons. The most glaring defect was the terrible camera. It couldn’t really take good photos even in broad daylight. Every photo I took was very clearly from a phone, when what I’m looking for is parity with a point and shoot camera. It also had just average battery life and a fairly unimpressive screen resolution. Especially approaching the end of it’s usable life (for me), I was getting very little screen on time.

I liked the Nexus 5 but didn’t love it. What I really wanted was a newer, better version of the Nexus 5 with upgraded camera and better battery life in roughly the same form factor.

When the 5X was announced, I was excited but a little cautious. I wanted to wait for some trusted early reviews to get their hands on it and give me a real impression of what I was in for (MKBHD first and foremost on that list). What I heard made me pull the trigger, I bought the phone from the Google store, and got it next day, which was nice.

Display

The phone itself is basically an upgraded 5 form factor. The screen is larger and much, much prettier. Mind you, it’s still and LCD screen and I was hoping for an AMOLED display for some of the neat things it can do. But the LCD looks nice. So that’s good. It’s nothing super special but it’s leaps and bounds above the quality of the 5, which had a terribly display even for its time. Colours are crisp, it’s nice and bright, and the display even goes down to a fairly decent don’t-disturb-your-partner-in-bed level.

Form Factor & Design

The back of the phone is made from rubberized plastic, but it’s important to note that it’s not nearly as grippy as the Nexus 5. It’s gotten less slippery over time (good) but still isn’t anywhere near as rubberized and non-slippery as the 5.

The camera bulge is new too. I wasn’t that excited about the camera protruding from the back of the phone, but it looks like that’s something we just have to deal with if we want a thin form factor with a large camera sensor. Then again, the 5X isn’t really that thin. It feels very solid in the hand, a really physical object, and the camera bulge isn’t very pronounced. It doesn’t rock when you set it down on a table. The corners are all nicely rounded, but not rounded enough to make the device more slippery than it already is, and not enough to throw off the geometry of the phone (a complaint I have with the more recent iPhone industrial design: too much rounding just looks… dumb). All in all after using the phone for 3 months it really feels like a lot of thought went into the device’s design, reflected in a really nice package that’s a pleasure to hold and use at first and in the long-term is unobtrusive and most importantly not annoying.

The only bit of industrial design I don’t know if I love is the placement of the fingerprint sensor, a feature new to this phone by the way. The fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the phone. For being on the back it’s in a really good place, falling almost exactly where I would normally put my finger. 90% of the time this is great but there’s that other 10% of the time the phone is resting on its back and needs to be picked up to unlock. From what my friends with iPhones say, they often use their thumbs to unlock their phones (as the iPhone fingerprint sensor is on the front of the device), a motion I know would annoy me. On balance I think the fingerprint sensor on the back is a lot better if you have to pick one. The solution here is of course put a fingerprint sensor front and back which could be a selling point for the phone. This would change the speaker placement too, but I’m sure that could be gotten around.

Sound

Speaking of speakers, the 5X looks like it should be a stereo device (as it has identical grilles above and below the screen), but it’s definitely not. The sound is good and front-mounted speakers are a definite improvement from the bottom-mounted speakers of the 5 which I ended up blocking like 50% of the time, and having to rearrange my hand hold to suit the placement of speakers and buttons and whatnot isn’t something I want to think about.

Internals

This phone could really use is a little bit more RAM. It’s currently at 2gb, which isn’t really enough to do intensive multitasking and stuff like that. I haven’t run into that issue too many times but enough for me to notice apps having to be reloaded from disk and stuff like that. Other than the RAM issue, I haven’t had any problems with the speed of the processor itself. Everything seems buttery smooth. None of the interface artifacts I got on previous devices and versions of Android are present, and I only get slight hiccoughs when doing RAM-intensive stuff. Again, I would really have liked 4gb of RAM in this thing.

Android

Since this is a Nexus device it’s loaded with vanilla Android, my preference. I’ve used vendor skins and while some are okay most can die in a fire (I’m looking at you, Touchwiz). There’s not much to say here except to mention the Doze feature, probably the best thing about new Android versions. It senses when the device is at rest (eg when you’ve put it down somewhere like a nightstand for extended periods) and batches all those annoying wake requests together instead of allowing apps to randomly send wakelocks anytime they like. This means that the Nexus 5X just sips battery overnight instead of chewing through it. It’s really that good: I’ll lose only 1% of battery or so over an entire night. Other than that there’s not a whole lot more to say about the Android experience. There’s some new stuff baked in like Now on Tap, but that feature isn’t really ready for prime time yet.

The cool thing with Android now is the OS is in a place where I can just say “Yep, it’s Android, it’s good, nothing too annoying here”. I could not say that a year or two years ago. Android has come a long way. I think it’s actually better than iOS now, especially the latest versions. I don’t see anything about Android that gives me iOS envy, let’s put it that way. Again, that was not the case a year ago or two years ago. (In fact I think the latest versions of iOS look a little too… I dunno, cartoonish? I used to really envy their interface design; that’s no longer the case.)

So pros and cons time. This is stuff I really like about the phone versus things I really hate.

Cons

I have a couple nitpicks that really annoy me. First they changed the button layout so the power button is directly above the volume toggle on the right hand side of the phone. This is a decent concept because I can reach all the buttons with my thumb, but practically it means I accidentally power off my phone all the time when adjusting the volume. I’d like the power button to be absolutely anywhere else. Seriously, top of the phone, left side of the phone, anywhere else.

Second, the headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone, quite close to the edge on the right side. This makes it really, really awkward to hold when you’ve got headphones plugged in. Every time I have headphones in it just bothers me where this jack is located. I understand some people like the jack on the bottom so they can pull their phone out of their pockets naturally without having to flip the phone around, but if the jack had been located just a couple centimeters closer to the center of the phone it would have been way, way easier to hold.

Speaking of headphones, you don’t get any out of the box. This is annoying, as I basically trashed my last pair and needed new ones. I’ve never had a phone not come with headphones before, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t throw some in-ears or something in there. This is kind of a small thing, but it still annoys me.

The camera doesn’t have optical image stabilization. I get it, at this price point we’re probably not going to see that, and I expect the next generation of this phone will have it. But taking shots in low light conditions without HDR mode is only okay. Movement with definitely screw up your shots.

USB C means all those connectors you have are pretty much obsolete (well, except for the raft of devices that use the old connectors still). The package comes with a USB C-compliant charger and cable which is a good thing because compliant cables and bricks are pretty darn hard to find. There’s lots of dangerous USB C junk on the market right now.

Pros

The camera is great. Like, really great, especially for a Nexus device. In daylight I wouldn’t be able to say if the photos it takes came from a phone or a point and shoot. It has a larger and better sensor than Nexi past; in fact this is probably the biggest upgrade in this device. The Nexus family has always had terrible camera quality and it’s nice to see that boat being turned around. It’s not perfect, but it’s leaps and bounds better than any camera on any other phone at this price point. Low light still struggles a bit, but HDR mode will help out with that at the expense of slowing down your shots. The camera is nice and responsive too, another huge pro. I hate missing shots because shutter speed is an issues, a problem I’ve had so much with Android phone. Thankfully that’s almost never the case here.

USB C, apart from having to buy new cables and whatnot, is just so much better than USB-whatever-came-before-it. The plugs are reversible, small, and fit snugly, so no more turning your USB plug around 3 times to orient it correctly in whatever 4-dimensional space old USB occupied.

Fast charging is just… this is the standout “I wasn’t expecting this” feature for the Nexus 5X. I knew it charged faster, but I wasn’t prepared for just how fast. Not having to wait around for two hours to get a fully charged phone is amazing, and plugging this thing in for 10 minutes will net me a ~50% charge. Excellent. I hadn’t noticed how annoying having to charge my phone the old way was, but trust me, I don’t ever want to go back.

The fingerprint sensor has changed the way I interact with the phone, too. I wasn’t expecting to care about this, even though I knew it existed. But it really took away some of the annoying friction of unlocking a secured device. I should have known I would like a fingerprint sensor, as I’d always just kept my old Nexus 5 unsecured to get around having to type something or draw a pattern or whatever. The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, and setting it up is super easy. I use it all the time, and I just love it. The only thing it doesn’t like is when you have any moisture on your finger, like if you’ve just washed your hands or been doing some dishes. Other than that? Awesome.

Verdict

So for a long time every Android phone I’ve had has had some significant downside that would make me second-guess recommending it to your average user. The Nexus 5X is probably the best all-around Android phone I’ve seen, ever, for what it is. It’s a very simple, very good, very well-thought-out package with no really big downsides. I would be absolutely comfortable recommending this phone to anyone except maybe a power user. This is the kind of phone that the Android market has really been missing for a while. Just a good, good phone. And at half the cost of a new iPhone or whatever, sure it’s not as fast, but if you drop it on the ground or accidentally throw it in a river you’re not going to have to empty your savings to get a new one.

The real question is: If I lost this phone tomorrow, would I go buy a new one? And the answer is… hell yeah. And I can’t think of another Android phone that’s made me say that in a long, long time. Maybe ever. This is a great daily driver, a well-rounded experience, and just generally a wonderful phone. There’s nothing on the market right now that makes me say… “I want that instead”.

So the verdict? Good to great. Very happy with the purchase.

Apple vs Android, Us vs Other, etc.

So the ever-interesting Waxy.org pointed out an article by Marco.org that specifically talks about anti-Apple anger, saying this:

Marco Arment on anti-Apple anger — I thought such a balanced essay wouldn’t inspire anger itself, but HN quickly proved me wrong.

I don’t really want to talk about the articles and discussion in question. They’re not really interesting. Apple fans trying to paint Android fans as angry fanatics trying to paint Microsoft fans as angry fanatics… Well, it’s turtles all the way down. Personally I think Marco and Andy are both displaying a remarkable myopia and confirmation bias. But what do I know?

What’s a lot more interesting is the binary with-us-or-against-us fanboy logic that happens in all these camps. For a certain class of people that love these companies and their devices, this is a battle and the other side is the enemy.

We do this all the time. All of us. We define the other as many things, people, attitudes, on an on. We dehumanise them, vilify them, mock them, fight them, whatever we must to keep our position outside of the other.

This is the root of violence. Maybe just the violence of hasty, nasty words on the internet. But still violence. In your electronics you see a microcosm which explains every outbreak of war, every genocide.

Maybe that seems a bit dramatic. Okay.

But I think it’s true. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, but for the moment I think it’s true.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be like this. Especially when it comes to gadgets. I know a lot of people are absolutely enthralled by and passionate about technology (it is, after all, the practical witchcraft of this age). But we can try to remember that in order to be part of this group, I do not have to diminish another group.

It also helps to remember that these are companies. They don’t care about you; they care about your money. Why in the world would you declare strong allegiance to a platform or a product made by a company? It seems to me as if you’ve dehumanised yourself in some way with that act of allegiance. Leaving aside the dehumanisation and denigration of the other, how about the dehumanisation and denigration of the self?

Apple vs Samsung: An Opinion

I’ve held off writing this piece for a few days now. Mostly to let the white haze of rage fade from my field of vision, but also to ruminate about the ruling.

I’m not going to comment about the ridiculous speed with which the jury reached the verdict, the idiocy of Samsung to even let the jury foreman on the jury at all (a calculated risk, I suppose, but a very bad one), or the saliency of Apple’s claims or Samsung’s defence.

Instead, I want to take a look at these two companies. Specifically, I want to take a look at their design philosophies, their business methods, and their supply chains. Then, finally, I want to take a look at the climate of insanity that let this lawsuit even come to trial.

Design philosophy

Apple is an odd company. They make very few products. They’re extremely secretive. They have a huge following, a huge (and, honestly, super-annoying) fanbase.

Cards on the table: I have owned two different iPods (a Nano and a Touch), and my wife owns a MacBook air and came into our marriage with a horrible white MacBook of some kind. My wife has an iPhone 3GS, and I have a HTC Desire and a Nexus 7.

Apple takes a great deal of care with their branding. They always have. Even though the old Macs look ridiculously outdated now, they were at the forefront of design culture of their time. The same is true today.

However in recent years Apple has become very minimalistic. Not only with the one-button thing (after all, remember those terribly uncomfortable unibutton mice that Apple shipped with their old PowerPC Macs… not sure if they still do that), but also with their branding. The Apple logo isn’t on the front of their device at all. In fact, they consciously avoid any branding on the front of their mobile devices.

So Apple’s branding is in fact a lack of branding. They rely on the design of the devices themselves to speak as branding. Whether or not this is a wise decision is left as an exercise for the reader, but let’s be honest… it works. It works well. It works really well.

You have to turn the device over to see the Apple logo. By the time you’ve gotten that far, you already know what the device is. This is Apple’s mindshare. Their trade dress patents reflect that. It may seem insane that Apple has patented the rectangular slab with rounded corners, but in light of the above, how could they not? Their image is exactly that: A blank slab with rounded corners and one button on the front.

Anything that looks like that screams, “This is an Apple device!”

Samsung on the other hand is a massive conglomerate that makes everything and the kitchen sink (including, I should add, a lot of the components that go into the iPhone and iPad). By the way, when I say they make the kitchen sink, I mean it literally. They have a line of kitchen sinks. I’m not kidding. Google that shit.

Samsung has no design philosophy, unless you consider “release anything and everything” to be a philosophy. The fact that they make everything and the kitchen sink is an opportunity for some massive synergies that they don’t seem to be able to capture. But that’s Samsung for you.

That said, they make great hardware. Clearly. Again, their hardware is in all Samsung phones… and in all iPhones. They know how to make components. They just lack a visual identity.

So let’s be honest here. Samsung copied Apple. Their devices, while slightly different sizes, were for a while essentially photocopied Apple devices. They made them look almost exactly like Apple devices, all the way down to the lack of branding on the front.

Now, they’ve stopped doing this now, and their flagship phones and tablets are starting to take on a sort of Samsung-ish visual language of their own (in other words, not very cohesive, and also to my eye, not very beautiful). This is something that HTC and Motorola have tried very hard to do, and have basically failed. If you consider the bubbly looks of most HTC phones, with their plastic moulded bumpers and screens that seem to emerge from the device, you can see that they’re at least trying (for the most part) to implement their own design philosophy. Motorola on the other hand has veered off toward the industrial, giving their devices hard corners and geometric designs. Some of these, such as the Droid Razr, look quite unique and actually quite nice. Others look like ground up shit on a plate.

The point it, Samsung looked at the market, looked at what it took to be successful in the market, and did that thing. They copied Apple’s design philosophy so closely that certain Apple and Samsung devices are virtually indistinguishable. And it worked. Samsung and Apple now rake in most of the profits in the smartphone sector. Samsung got there, in part, by efficiently copying Apple.

Obviously, this is a problem for Apple. Samsung is going to dilute their brand with, essentially, cheap knock-offs. They’re going to tarnish the lustre of Apple’s reality distortion field (the one that makes people grossly overpay for a mobile device).

Now, Apple should never have been allowed to patent the trade dress of a simple geometric shape with no branding. This is patently ridiculous. Pardon the pun. If you choose to base your brand on looking a certain way, and that certain way is basically Euclidean geometry, you deserve to be punished in the marketplace. Your device and your brand deserve to be knocked off, they deserve to be diluted. Apple made that bed. It should have to lie in it. I mean, there’s no easy way to get around that. And they clearly must have known that this would be a problem. There are only so many ways to make a tablet or a phone. Apple should not be able to own the most sensible (and most historically implemented) device design.

But they do own that. That’s been determined in court. (Though this could be a good thing: There are other ways to design a device that do not look exactly like an Apple device. Innovation in phone design can only be a good thing. Look for instance at the newer Nokia phones. They’re beautiful, or at least their renders are beautiful, as I’ve never seen a newish Nokia phone in person ever, not once, and they look nothing like an iWhatever.)

Samsung took a shortcut to success and now they’re paying for it. It’s not just, it’s not right, but it is the way it is. Until something changes with the way software patents and trade dress patents are awarded in the US, this lawsuit crap is just not going to stop. Apple has opened pandora’s box here. They nuked Russia, and the fallout is just going to spread and spread.

Business methods & manufacturing process

This is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while. I want to talk about something only tangentially related to the case, and that is the way that Apple does business and manufactures devices, vs the way everyone (and I mean everyone) else does.

In case you haven’t noticed, it looks like Apple only makes a handful of devices. This is actually not true at all. They make a handful of lines of devices, but they make quite a few devices at the same time.

This manufacturing and marketing philosophy is what I call the Moore’s Law Supply Chain.

Apple doesn’t want to be seen as a maker of crappy phones and outdated hardware. That’s not to say that they don’t make crappy phones (the iPhone 3gs, still in production as far as I know, is a remarkably shitty phone compared to just about everything else, including but not limited to the HTC Desire that I still use to this day). They just don’t want to look like they make crappy phones.

So they have one line of phones, and that’s called the iPhone. Maybe one day they’ll have two, one big and one small, but right now they just have one. But they still sell three different phones. The iPhone 4S gets all the attention, and the downmarket folks buy the 4 or the 3GS. When the 5 comes out, it will get all the attention, but mark my words, they’ll still sell the 4 and 4S, even though soon the iPhone 4 will be a remarkably shitty phone compared to just about everything else on the market.

They do this because they need a cheap phone for people who want cheap phones but don’t want an Android for whatever reason. They need to satisfy the full spectrum of consumers.

Apple can do this because the manufacturing process for the 3GS is so well known, and the components so cheap, that they can make it for a fraction of the price of their latest gear, sell it for a fraction of the price of their latest devices, and still make a killing on it.

So they preserve their profits all the way down the line (and this is something Apple will never, ever compromise on; if there comes a day where Apple is cutting their margins to sell more phones, the Apple that Steve Jobs helmed will well and truly be dead and gone), and preserve their brand image as well.

Of all the things that Apple has done to the mobile device sector, this is the one that I respect them most for. I don’t think they invented this practice, but they’ve certainly perfected it. The Moore’s Law Supply Chain is both savvy and exceedingly clever.

Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, on the other hand, release a wide spectrum of phones every year. And throughout the year. Instead of capitalising on a simplified command structure (less infighting, fewer managers and staff needed, no silos, everyone working on the same flagship products instead of 10 teams working on 10 different products), a simplified manufacturing process and supply chain (as detailed above), and brand focus (the iPhone can launch with a bang every 1 – 2 years because there is literally no other Apple phone to steal the spotlight), they’ve managed to dilute their own brand in their own markets.

Where Apple has to fear people like Samsung eating their design lunch, Samsung has more to worry about from itself! They have so many wildly varying devices for every conceivable lifestyle, desire, and taste that they can’t bring themselves to focus on just one thing.

Now, this is changing. Motorola under Google is doing away with this. Samsung seems to be focusing on the Galaxy line. But still they have a wide array of phones with long, stupid, acronym-laden names. They should have 3 phones, max. A small, a medium, and a big one. The Whatever, the Galaxy, and the Note. You can sell last year’s Whatever or Galaxy or Note to the hillbilly who wants a $99 smartphone.

Can you see how these companies are laden down by their desire to produce everything for everyone? They have this problem with everything they build. Have you seen how many different kinds of televisions Samsung makes? Or their appliance line? It truly boggles the mind. Their market segmentation department must be staffed by coked-up monkeys. I swear.

So that’s that.

Patents are bad, etc

Now. As for the prevailing patent paradigm, things obviously have to change. Some of the patents that Apple asserted in their trial were absolutely trivial or had a lot of prior art behind them.

I can only wonder at the staggering amounts of money that must go into stockpiling these nonsense patents. Imagine right now the research departments at all the major mobile tech companies, and how much effort they must be going through to come up with new and more obvious things to patent. Just so when the time comes they can legislate. This is innovation for the sake of mutually assured destruction.

It’s insane.

There has to be some sort of massive change in the winds of patents in the US. There has to be. Even congressmen must be able to see that the situation in the mobile market right now is completely untenable.

We have a company, Apple, who is using a set of (again, let’s be honest here) ridiculous patents to restrict my choice in devices both now and in the future, and causing an innovation vacuum as other companies scramble to adapt to this new, restrictive reality.

There’s no room for new entrants in a market like this. The cost of licensing or the cost of being sued into the ground: Take your pick.

So, Android…

I have an Android phone. It was my absolute first choice when I was looking for a phone. I’m a power user. I like to do odd things with my phone, and I had researched my choice quite well before diving in. My HTC Desire was served me well for a year and a bit now. I want to upgrade, and when I upgrade it’s going to be to another Android device like the Galaxy Nexus. Beautiful hardware, and Android 4 is looking very beautiful (especially compared to the version I get to run on my device right now).

But Android has its limitations. I’m not talking hardware, fragmentation, or any of that junk that doesn’t really matter or has largely been solved.

I’m talking about vision. Specifically the vision of the Android team and (I’ll get into this a little later) the vision of Google in general.

Android is always playing catch-up. Really. Ever since it was announced, it has played catch-up to iOS. There may be many reasons for this, especially when building a device to fit a bunch of different hardware from different manufacturers, with different form factors. Apple may (and probably does) have it a lot easier than Android due to its single-device nature.

Of course none of that really matters. What matters is the device that the customer gets in their hand.

Android has a bunch of really cool features I could mention. But none of them is a big selling point. I can’t point to a single feature or group of related features on Android and say, “That’s why I bought an Android device.” Larger screen, cloud backups, good notification system, etc. But none of those is a really killer feature.

Android’s killer features have been, as far as I can tell, that it is on cheaper devices. It’s open. You can can do some geeky things with it. But it still feels unfinished and a bit awkward. Slapped together.

Now, iOS is playing catch-up too. Their notification system was notoriously broken. They had no cloud backup. But as usual, iOS caught up to Android in those areas. Then they moved the goalposts.

Siri is a killer feature. It really is. I don’t personally like the idea of talking to my phone, even though I often narrate text into my Android phone. Speech-to-text (when done right) feels stupid, but it makes typing seem really, really slow and bothersome. The little easter eggs built into Siri encourage exploration and further usage. It’s good to look at. It’s a selling point, and a big one.

That’s how you move the goalposts. Apple has always been good at that, and that’s a good thing because we all benefit.

There’s no way that Android, who had speech-to-text first, by the way, can create a competing project in the next while without seeming like a huge me-too.

Android had speech-to-text before iOS did. It was here and there. There was voice search (of course), and voice transcription, and some voice controls, but nothing like Siri. You have to ask: Why not? Did no-one at Google thing, “We should do a unified AI assistant”?

They should have. I’ve had the idea before. It’s not a new thing. It’s hard to do, especially when you consider the spotty history of voice input (Microsoft, I’m looking at you), and digital assistants (Microsoft, again, I’m looking at you).

The phone is the absolute best space for this. It has a built in microphone, connects to the internet so all the horsepower doesn’t have to be in your hand, and is has always been a space in which text input is difficult and time consuming.

This is a failure of vision. All the pieces were in place for Android to do that, but no-one put the pieces together.

(There’s also a huge failure of branding and marketing at Google, as they had iCloud functionality first as well and no-one freaking knows it; but that’s a whole other post.)

Isn’t this characteristic of Google right now, though? All the pieces and no-one to put them together.

Think about every product that Google has launched since search and Gmail (and maybe Maps, maaaaaaybe Chrome). They’ve all been me-too products. Search and Gmail revolutionized their fields. Android, Picasa, PicasaWeb, Google+ (most obviously), Reader, Books, Music, App Engine, etc, are all pushing into markets with dominant players with better products. None of these services is particularly visionary or different in their field than the products or platforms they’re trying to displace.

This isn’t to say Google isn’t going to be marvelously successful in some or even many of those areas. Copying or buying others has always been a great business strategy (as always, Microsoft is a great example of how to copy well).

But if you want to truly own the market you have to be more than a copier and a follower. You have to be a visionary. Move the goalposts. Get there before the other guy. Especially when you have all the pieces in front of you, and all you have to do it put them together.

A quick note on mobiles…

I’m a bit of an Android fan. I like the customization ability, the tweak-ness of it. I like that there it has its own “distros” like CyanogenMod (full disclosure, I run CM7 and love it). I’m (hopefully) not a typical Android user, though. I’m what they call a super-user, or an early adopter, or a technology maven. A one-man Lifehacker. Be that as it may.

The worst thing that ever happened to the personal computing market is Microsoft. Their monopoly (however it developed) changed the market, and Microsoft itself. It changed the market by inhibiting innovation (real innovation, not slapping a shiny new interface on an old hunk of crap) and preventing many potentially wonderful products from catching on. Microsoft’s monopoly made it into a giant bureaucracy that could only produce good, solid products by painstaking evolution (Microsoft Excel being one of these products) or by buying startups. Google is on its way to becoming this sort of lumbering giant as well.

Look, instead, at the console market. There are a bunch (and have almost always been a bunch) of competing consoles. And they’ve figured out how to gain the lead, to gain mindshare: rapid, disruptive innovation. Not just the generative, evolutionary advance of processing power and better graphics (boring!) but new game-play modes and methods (interesting!). The Wii and Kinect are examples of the latter. The PS3 is an example of the former. The Playstation team needs to (and hopefully knows it needs to) do something, anything wonderful and different to gain that mind-share back. Otherwise they’ll lose their place in the market. While everyone else is having fun making a fool of themselves with a motion-sensing controller or an infrared camera and some neat AI… PS3 owners can sit in the dark and shoot every-more-realistic zombies.

I don’t ever want Android to become like Windows. I don’t want it to have 90% market share. I want it to do well (after all, getting stuck in Apple’s gilded prison shouldn’t be something anyone wants), but not too well. I want Android to excel, but not dominate. There’s a place at the table for everyone. As there should be. Apple can have their shiny, crippled products for those who want such things. Android can have its tweak-able, customizable guts and interface. WebOS can have… whatever it has. And Windows Phone can pick up the scraps that fall off the table.

This way there’s competition. This way there’s innovation, disruptive change. This way there’s benefit for the customer, no matter whose customer you might be.