Android smartphones come calling in Canada
If Leasa Hachey’siPhone was a duelling pistol matched up against her two teenagers’ Android phones, she would have been gunned down long ago. By the time she gets the Safari browser up on her screen, her kids have already beaten her to the draw and begun surfing the web.
“I race both my kids on their Android phones, and their phones are amazingly quick for the tasks that I would be doing the most, namely Google search, maps, and Gmail,” Hachey, a communications specialist for the Trucking Safety Council of B.C., told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Hachey, an early adopter of the iPhone, said her 3GS used to be the one to beat when it came to doing quick searches and downloads. But after updating the operating system a few months ago, she found her iPhone slow and buggy.
“Apparently, the new OS code is built for the technological level of the [newer iPhone] 4G, and the bloated code slows down the 3GS with their less productive processors,” Hachey said.
Other annoyances emerged after the software update. iTunes stopped recognizing her phone, and support she tried to get from Apple was nonexistent, according to Hachey. Now, she’s looking elsewhere for a smartphone.
Hachey’s son has a Liquid E phone from Acer, and her daughter has a Motorola Quench. Both devices run Android, an open-source operating system developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, whose members include cellphone manufacturers HTC, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson.
The first Android smartphone, the HTC Dream, entered the market two years ago. In Canada, Android phones first became available in June 2009, and around a dozen devices running Android are being sold across the country today.
Damon Jones, general manager of the retail division of Glentel—which owns the WirelessWave chain—argues that no single Android phone will come to dominate the marketplace like an iPhone or BlackBerrys. That’s because multiple devices running the same Android operating system compete against each other. Apple and Research In Motion power their devices with proprietary operating systems.
“Our BlackBerry market and iPhone market have remained the same, but Androids have brought more people into smartphones,” Jones said by phone from his office in Burnaby. “These are three very strong platforms. Collectively, the whole category has become stronger with increasingly better products.”
A survey released on December 1 by the GfK Group, a German market-research firm, shows that three out of four smartphone users are looking at switching to a different operating system with their next purchase. According to the information-technology research firm Gartner, Android’s share of the global smartphone marketplace grew sevenfold during the past year, from 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009 to 25.5 percent in the third quarter of 2010.
The Straight recently tested three Android smartphones: the Motorola Flipout, which has a five-row QWERTY keypad and a 2.8-inch touchscreen; the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini, which has a 2.6-inch touchscreen; and the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant, which has a four-inch touchscreen.
The Galaxy had the brightest screen, the X10 Mini was the most compact, and the Flipout had a super-responsive keypad. All three devices loaded Google searches and my Gmail account faster than either my personal iPhone 3G or my work-issued BlackBerry Curve.
But the iPhone still has a major advantage over Android phones—the quantity and quality of applications available for download. There are more than 300,000 apps for the iPhone; the Android Market carries a third that number. And the myriad Android devices running the open Android platform means the apps have to contend with greater variability in screen sizes, as well as hardware and software compatibility.
Android devices have benefited from an overall surge in smartphone sales and infrastructure upgrades in recent years. Networks are now fast enough for live streaming of videos without delays or bumpiness. Hardware has also improved, with today’s screens being bigger and clearer than those of mobile phones from a few years ago.
Rogers data guy Dustin Bhartu made some new friends this past summer when he used his Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 to view FIFA World Cup games live. During one of the matches, Bhartu had five people watching over his shoulder at a SkyTrain station.
“Androids are another alternative,” Bhartu said during an interview at a coffee shop in Yaletown. “They’re not necessarily a response to iPhones or a BlackBerry. The wireless industry has gone light speed over the last couple of years. Right now, we don’t have any single product dominating the market like BlackBerry did and then iPhone did when it launched in 2007. There are a lot of choices out there, all high-end, and there’s only going to be more available in the future.”