Can Android Jelly Bean Convert This iPhone Lover?

I've never liked Android. It's an opinion born out of ignorance and bias: The iPhone is the only smartphone I've ever owned. I love it, and I think Android is generally an inferior mess. I'm OK with that. But wow, Jelly Bean: the greatest version of Android ever, cold-blooded Apple-killer. Thousands upon thousands of man-hours from one of the largest collections of smart people on the planet, explicitly devoted to winning over jerks like me. Shouldn't that be enough? I gave Jelly Bean an open channel into my heart, using it as my only phone for nearly a month. How'd it do?

Android 4.1, otherwise known as Jelly Bean, is meant to (finally) sweeten Google's mobile software so that it better resembles the grace of iOS. Better resembles, and maybe even beats entirely. The update's two most important features — Project Butter and Google Now — overhaul the way you talk to and feel your Android. They're clear attempts to slay Siri and play catch up with the absolutely flawless touchscreen fluidity of an iPhone. And that's perfect, on paper, because the two worst things about Android are its relative sloppiness and the expertise needed to use it. It's been a first versus third world divide.

Project Butter

As much as Android diehards are loathe to admit it, superficial matters. Superficial is what you're looking at, with your eyes, almost every single day of your life. Superficial is what's going to stimulate the important sensitive zapping parts of your brain. Superficial is why Apple put so much weight in something called Retina Display. Looks matter when you're constantly looking, and Android's ugly duckling software has been a fundamental hindrance since its inception. Superficial is why the iPhone feels more enjoyable to me, on a both a gut-level and the more cerebral planes. It's been a sad gap for Google.

Not anymore. For years now, Android phones and tablets have tended toward being jittery, laggy, and jumbled. Swiping between cluttered screens earned you stutters and slips; even the simplest Google Map pinch made many phones cough. This was awful, and given the state of the art, bizarre. From its birth, the iPhone was able to slide things around on its screen like butter. It required of Google an entire aesthetic Manhattan Project, Project Butter, to get Android to where the iPhone has been all along. Google engineers labored to put a phone's guts in perfect sync with its screen, and ramp up the way a handset's processors render the menus we finger.

The bottom line is this: I can say, for the first time in my life, Android isn't ugly. In fact, it's rather pretty. Android is smooth — incredibly smooth. As smooth as, yes, my iPhone. The work Google has put into unclogging the interfaces and making pixels move at the exact same rate you touch them — a perfect 60 frames per second — is profound. It's as if there are actual little rainbow gems and buttons under your fingertips.

This is a superficial boost, but it's not cosmetic. Building a phone that responds the instant you touch it makes it exponentially more functional — it makes you want to use it. And given that our phones are tiny pedestrian pocket computer tools, being happy while we use them is a great thing. Tools shouldn't feel like tools. With Jelly Bean and Project Butter, Android feels less like a wrench and more like a conductor's wand.

Making everything buttery and luscious pays off, because Android has never given you so many worthwhile things to prod and rub. The beautification efforts that started with Ice Cream Sandwich are consummated with Jelly Bean — Android's base no longer looks like the drunken hookup impregnation of Geocities and Tron, but has taken on an aesthetic of panels, lights, and three dimensionality that's almost as uniquely Google as Metro is Microsoft's and iOS is Apple's. Almost: There's still a whiff of generic computing as you poke around — particularly when it comes to 3rd party apps, which still tend to be ugly thanks to Google's lax software policies. It's jarring when you're used to Apple's fascistically enforced aesthetics. If you are acclimated to an iPhone, apps for Android can still make your head feel like splitting. But the daily grind is at long last more than palatable.

Google Now

Within the OS itself, Android makes clear functional leaps. Pull-down notifications are more informative than ever before, giving you an instant look at which apps have updated, how far along your Facebook photo uploads are, and that your GPS is currently looking for a satellite lock. Each notification can be swiped away easily to make room for what you'd like to hold onto. My iPhone's notification pane seems bare by comparison, merely a list. But touches like new notifications are a garnish. Google Now is the most philosophically important shift in the history of Android.

On the face of it, Google wants to make Siri out to be a plain Jane. Google Now whirls natural language speech queries and general search into one beautifully designed, ostensibly powerful hub — and it is beautiful, the perfect exemplar of Jelly Bean chic. Instead of a series of searches — thai food menu, dark knight tickets, etc — resulting in a big text vomit, you get wonderfully graphic, highly readable, thoroughly helpful cards, which pull together your location and habits. It thinks for you, providing information cues even when you haven't ask for them. Google Now is supposed to be as smart as you — maybe even smarter. This isn't search, it's tell.

"Show me JetBlue flight 892"

"What's the weather in Kazakhstan?"

But in practice it just doesn't work out. Google Now trumps Siri in terms of speech recognition and presentation, sure, but that's not much of a fight: Siri is shit. Google Now is shit with a ribbon. When Google Now works — Who's the President of Israel?, followed by a voice answer and portrait with more information — it's truly impressive. But aside from these unlikely test scenarios, these fun demos, Now never shines as a life-changer. Where's all the creepy-smart magic Google showed off this summer? Google promised that Now would give you "just the right information at just the right time, and all of it happens automatically." Ambitious. But absent.

At very, very few points did my Galaxy Nexus perk up of its own volition and tell me to avoid traffic. At no point did it show me the menu of a restaurant I searched for. At no point did it ever warn me it was going to rain, or prompt me with better directions to a meeting. It never felt smarter than me, better than me, or in any way intelligent. It just doesn't do anything as advertised, and unless you're a daily jetsetter with a sports score addiction, you probably won't know it's there. That's either broken or deceptive on Google's part, depending which way your sympathy swings. The search results are more beautiful than ever, sure, in terms of formatting. But asking the names of presidents and canyon depth with my voice and getting a formatted card in return isn't significantly better than just looking the damn stuff up with any number of better-designed iPhone apps.

And so Android, despite its newest polish, is profoundly confused. Google poured money and effort into matching the iPhone's grace and surpassing its intelligence, but it still feeds into the same dubious Android ethos of the past half-decade: your phone should be messed around with. And that's still a giant appy pain in the ass: Why, in the name of Sergey Brin's cyborg face, does Android not give you a screen alert when you receive a text? And what is the solution to this gaping functional crevasse? Downloading a third-party app. How could that possibly be construed as better than a phone working well out of the box? Android zealots beam about not being spoon-fed tech like iPhone holders; they cherish the ability to tinker with their phones, to swap ROMs, to splatter apps and widgets. And with Jelly Bean, they'll be able to do it better than they ever have before. They'll be able to do it with the software responsiveness and an attention to design detail everyone deserves. But Jelly Bean is a simultaneous declaration that users don't know best, and that a top-down makeover and information IV is a good thing. Project Butter intervened to make Android look and feel good. Google Now serves you data about your life without you asking for it. Jelly Bean tacitly admits you should be fed a diet of technology.

"Give me directions to Mexico City."

The entire conceit of Jelly Bean is a phone that's better without you messing with it. And this is dead on, aligned with an iPhone. A phone should be beautiful when you turn it on for the first time. A phone shouldn't just be intuitive on its own, it should have intuition of its own — it should know what's best and right for you without you having to decide. This is antithetical to the DIY/hacker/dimly-lit workbench mentality Android has used to attract tech's most virulent nerds, who think the solution to bad software is using more software. Jelly Bean steers toward an awkward and tenuous inbetween, and if Google's going to slowly shift toward a Phone-Knows-Best attitude, I'll continue to reside in the iPhone's topiary-filled dictatorship. Because my phone should know best. It should be a tool that makes me smarter than I could ever be on my own, not some pixel erector set. Apple demands this, Google laments it.

And that's just not enough to jump ship if you've been spoiled by Apple. Jelly Bean applied a powder coat of loveliness, overdue speed, and helpful tech mothering to the user experience, but doesn't change it fundamentally. The sprawl of unruly widgets, of over-information, of inexplicably absent features — that's all there. It just looks nice and moves better. Google Now is a quiet failure, Project Butter is a lush success, and so Jelly Bean is a strained schizoid: Google knows Apple's spoon-fed model is virtuous. Jelly Bean didn't make it work yet. The iPhone's been boasting it since 2007. And so Google is posing a massive dilemma to both itself and its zealots: will Android be the rough platform of free-thinking hackers and customisation hawks, or a verdant valley of other people's good idea? It can't be both, and harms itself in the process. Jelly Bean, the best Android ever, is still an operating system in crisis.


Comments

    Apple users and Android users are very different and depending on what you started with when smartphones began, that's what you're going to stick with,

    People who are used to smooth and easy to use aren't going to move to cluttered and laggy

    People who are used to "unlimited" features and customisation aren't going to move to something that is so restricted

    Apple V Android users will eventually build separate religions and in 2000 years we will battle each other.and there's just nothing we can do about it

      All Hail King Jelly Bean IV.I?

        I installed the jelly bean rom over ICS on my nexus s and i honestly prefered ICS. You could get quite clever voice controll (with more functions than now) with apps like voice actions plus, and i can't notice the project butter. Maybe that's because i know how to set it up nicely.

        Cluttered and laggy? Maybe on a $2 dollar android phone... but If your on a decent handset there is LAG or difference.

        Apple make great products. My problem with Apple is more the arrogance and elitism of the users. They really believe that their phone is 'the best'. Its just not true. Its frustrating as hell. There are certain things you can do with an Android handset you can't do by design within Apples walled garden approach.

        I dont have to use another program like itunes to copy music files to my device. Drag and drop. I can play emulators and software that isn't allowed on apples device. If I wanted those types of programs a I'd need to jailbreak it and void my warranty.

        The idea that android handsets are lesser devices compared to an iphone is a myth.

      We said mate! I've had a few mates jump from Apple to Android, because they wanted to be cool like me (yes I'm having a fun dig), but this is pretty much like Holden V Ford.

      This may be what starts World War III.

        and HJ's v Maccas its just another argument that doesnt have much to stand on... if your an Apple Fanboy go for it, if ur a Android Fanboy excellent but then again who isnt a fanboy isnt biased in some obscene way... like me thinking Android is excellent and Apple is you choice :/

        That, or the Stormcloaks v Imperials debacle.

      I cant express how surprised I am at having the first comment be an intelligent one. Its very refreshing to see an objectional point of view. I was expecting to see "OMFG your just a fanboy!!!!1!". I couldnt agree more, the matter of the fact is people have preferences and will stick with what they like.

      I started off on a HTC Magic with Cupcake, then it got a Donut upgrade. I then bought a HTC Desire HD with Gingerbread, wasn't bad. However, I used an iPhone and was seduced by the superior Alien Blue app and general superior polish. I ditched my HTC for a iPhone 4S. I currently run an iPhone for personal life and a Nexus S for work, I love both platforms for different reasons and couldn't tell you which one I liked more.

      while I agree with most of what you said, I believe there are a large group of iphone users sitting back watching and waiting to see the iphone 5. And Whether or not it is as good, better or worse than the Galaxy S3. Because every iphone user has a mate that has one. And so far its better than the 4S by a long shot.
      not long til september now

        I'm doing exactly what you've described but with the galaxy nexus, htc one xl and the future windows 8 phone lumia. I don't consider the Samsung galaxy s3 to be a good phone at all in comparison to the aforementioned phones. I will say this the 'new' iPhone will have to do something pretty special in terms of hardware and software for me to stick around.

      Not true. I had the iphone 3G before android and prefer android. What the author suggest are clutter and failure is subjective. IMO this is where apple fails. Their OS doesn't have that realtime feel. It's boring little icons that haven't changed (and can't). No dynamic widget updates. No saving and editing documents and attachments on your phone. No flash. Just plain old and boring.

    "I’ve never liked Android. It’s an opinion born out of ignorance and bias"

    Atleast you can admit it. Getting into a heated debate with an iPhone 'enthusiast' can be never ending, when the backbone of their argument is based off "ignorance and bias".

    Open up a little. Technology is awesome.

      That is so true. Some friends of mine are diehard Apple fans, and I am an anti Apple fan. We swapped phones for 1 month (I have a S3). In the end, I was starting to like the iPhone4 but my friends ended up signing up on a cotract to get the S3. Now 4 of them have a S3. I cant go 'hey the iphone 4s is pretty good now' :P

        With an opening remark like that, you know the cards are stacked against Android from the start. He only sees it through iPhone eyes, and is unable to be objective. To his credit though , he does say a few good things here and there, but as you read on you get the feeling that if it doesn't have an Apple logo on it, it will never be good enough for him.

        At least he admits his bias and ignorance, not that it makes his review very useful.

          That's what those Apple stickers included in Apple products are used for, eh?

    I remember my iPhone 3G, it lagged like hell all the time and required reboots every day. I also know if a friend that had an iPhone 4 that was similar and an iPad 2 that liked to crash every hour or so. I don't know what Apple products you've used but they've not been any better then cheaper android products thus far.

      dude wtf r u talking about? yea iphone 3G lagged like hell no doubt. but a 4? HELL NO. Its smoother then all of king midas' gold! I just got rid of a 3 year old 3GS and even that was smooth. starting with the 3GS and up^ theyre all free-flowing as hell. android cant do shit in that category.

        Rubbish. My iPhone 4S stutters and lags regularly. Countless wipes/restores/etc. have made no difference.

        The worst offending apps are safari and mail, but it's a platform-wide issue.

          Huh. Mine doesn't have any of those problems. That said, I use it for calls, calendar and music and nothing else.

    I'd personally like to hear a follow up about the transition back to iPhone. Restrictions and all.

    Android has always been jittery and laggy which imho was why iOS has always been a clean winner. The smoothness of iOS will be hard for android to match. They can absolutely do it. But I think android's biggest strength is also it's biggest weakness. It's openness. Anyone can use it, and so they do. But every manufacturer and telco feels the need to pile on a heap of their own crap, written by people who are nowhere near the level of Google's staff. They grab android (which may be a good product) and then change it. They alter it to the point where it simply can't work as well as it's designed. I think that no matter how good google can make it, so long as everyone feels the need to 'customise' android OS, it won't be able to catch up to iOS in the usability department. Also telco's shouldn't be able to limit the ability of devices to upgrade OS. How many people are there with android phones currently, that won't be able to upgrade to ICS because their telco won't let them? Or because their telco hasn't piled on all their bloatware?

    Started out interesting turned into the same old bullshit. An operating system in crisis? Based on the fact that Google Now didn't meet your expectations? If you love iPhone great stick with it, I appreciate why people like iOS, it's not for me as I like the flexibility of Android.

      Exactly..

    "Why, in the name of Sergey Brin’s cyborg face, does Android not give you a screen alert when you receive a text?"

    I'd be so pissed if that became a compulsory standard in Android. The unobtrusive icons in the notification bar are perfect. No Pop ups please!!

    Don't see why installing an app from the store for this if you're so desperate for it is so hard.... why is it OK that for so long to share an image on Facebook from iPhone needed a third party app but not OK that pop-up notifications require an app on Android???

      An app such as Handcent does popups when texts are received. Its good that it doesn't happen automatically.

      Having a pop up when I got a txt on my iPhone was the most annoying thing in the world. I love the way it is handled in Android, it's done right.

      because "The iPhone is the only smartphone I’ve ever owned. I love it, and I think Android is generally an inferior mess. ".

      At least he didn't ever pretend this was going to be an impartial assessment.

    I don't believe your correct when you say that Android must either be the walled garden of Apple or it will always be rough. I agree that it could use a little extra polish (and Google Music for Australia) but absolutely abhor the iPhone's grid of app after app without any live-updating widgets and lack of choice.

    Other than iPhone articles I have never seen anyone complaining about being given choice.

    Your article seems to be looking at Android as though you are still using it like an Apple user. You fail to mention the use of widgets and extreme customisation which is the true difference between the two platforms. to compare Android based on one (very new ) feature and to not compare the differences in operation of all the other features makes me wonder if you actually figured out how to get the most out of your phone.
    Did you actually install and use widgets or did you just fill the screens with app icons and pretend it was an iPhone?

      For someone who works for Gizmodo. You'd think they woud delve deeper into Android yea?
      This is what pisses me off, people write or blog about Android but they don't spend the time getting widgets, skins or mods. They are still thinking purely about apps.

    This isn't really the agnostic perspective you expect from a tech writer... The style and perspective seems like something better suited to partisan American politics and yet the solid focus on aspirational superficiality would be more at home in fashion writing. All in all, very badly suited for this context.
    Sam, perhaps you'd be far better off just being happy with your i-stuff and giving up tech writing altogether? You're not really offering much to the interested reader here.

      It seems that he went into the experiment expecting JB to stink. The editors on The Verge are still producing better Now results seems after the update as it learns more about your habits. I know mine is still improving my automatic travel routes, prompting relevant weather info and adjusting my alarm snooze length. You can't try it for a week then bitch when it doesn't do exactly what you want.

    Not to he negative here.

    But is JB only available on the nexus?

      Its also available for nexus s

      It's only officially available on the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S and Nexus 7 Tablet. But you can get via unofficial ROMs on heaps of other Android devices. I'm running it as we speak on my old Motorola Defy...

    The first line of your article reads "I’ve never liked Android. It’s an opinion born out of ignorance and bias..." which said to me three things. First, ignore the rest of the article. Secondly, the author should find a job to which they are suited. And finally, the author may well be on Apple's payroll.

    The first few sentences are about the only honest thing in this post but it also tells me all I have to know and that I can safely ignore the rest. Also doesn't excuse the other Biddle 'articles' written with the veneer of bipartisanship.

    Apple have probably patented being able to "slide things around on a screen like butter". So I'd imagine Google will be sued as soon as they produce anything like that...

    i didn't think Google Now's functions were all available in Australia just yet. And like much of Google's applications the rest of the world has to wait while the US enjoy 'first dibs'. I'm still waiting for my own Google Voice Number here in Australia!

    "when it comes to 3rd party apps, which still tend to be ugly thanks to Google’s lax software policies." - Erm... Don't download shoddy apps!?! There are plenty of excellent, well designed apps in the play store, just as there are plenty of shoddy apps for iphone.

    The freedom to setup my own phone how i like it will always keep me away from an iPhone. People like to make their own stamp on their phones...Just look at all the crappy iphone covers you see everywehere, even iphone owners want to personalise their own phones :)
    (Out of interest, I own an Android phone, and an iPad)

      You are right. Google Now is not fully configured for use outside of the US. A lot of the features will not work at all if you set the voice to anything but US or if you have location services turned on but are also not within the US. this is why I asked about the other features the author tried out on his Android test. My guess is he used the phone like it was an iPhone without understanding the amazing customisation features Android brings to the table.

    What started off well turn into what you'd typically expect. You cant just be happy. Can you? I don't bag Apple...or its products. But I CAN make a clear distinction of what's important to me and not expect that everyone must do the same to be happy.

    Refining a product and improving and adding features... I just don't see why you have to bag Google. Go back to your iPhone...macbook air....macbook pro...iMac...ipad ... well done. Apple really made you productive in checking Facebook and getting those texts from your mum

      I second that about not downloading dodgy apps (there are previews in play so you don't make that mistake), my desktop looks great with good looking transparent resizeable widgets (with a huge number of skins available, something should tickle your fancy) for everything from stocks to sms.

    Always reminds me of 1984.

    Apple is Big Brother and a lot of people like to conform. Get up at this time, eat at this time, sleep at this time. A lot of people like to live like this.

    But some people are free thinkers and don't want to conform. That's where Android shines like a beacon.

    Some More analogies:
    Apple = Romans, Android = Jesus.
    Apple = US government, Android = Julian Assange
    Apple = Life, Android = Paul Anka (is this one too cryptic?)

    From a totally different perspective of being an Android only user from day one, I was literally astounded whilst helping my Mum set up he iPad2 that iOS can't display lower-case letters in the keyboard!
    To me that single FACT blew the the commonly accepted "iOS is intuitive to use" theory out of the water.
    I also don't know how you can live without a dedicated back button and I'll never understand how you can think that Widgets (and lockscreen widgets) aren't a massive win for Android? Doesn't it frustrate the hell out of you to have to load a weather app for example when I can get the same info (plus time, date, and info on my next appointment) from my lockscreen?
    PS.. My Android is just as smooth and responsive as the iPad2, yet it's 24 months older hardware!
    Each to their own, but for mine, you get more (features and usability) for considerably less ($$) with Android and it'll take a lot to make me change!

      You don't have a back button as it is part of the menu/layout of the UI (depending on where you are). I don't like the menu bar with the back button as I think it takes too much of space on my little nexus 7 and nexus.

      the iphone's lockscreen notifications do exactly the same thing and can swipe you straight into the app in question. just fyi.

    To each his/her own.. i started on the iPhone 3, went to an iPhone 4, then got a HP Touchpad and installed Android on it, since then i have given my iPhone to another guy in the office and got a Galaxy S2 and i don't think i will ever look back.

    Things i miss: The functions of the headphones for the iPhone and free podcasting software.
    Things i don't miss: iTunes (oh how i hate you) , lack of network troubleshooting options, iTunes, Lack of media streaming options and iTunes.

    Your first sentence sums it all up. Just be honest Apple could serve up a dog$h*t sandwich and you would say it`s the best meal ever. Keep squinting into your small screen. Nice troll article btw.

    I read the first two paragraphs then skipped to the end, and surprise iSheep.

    I stopped reading after the first few sentances "I’ve never liked Android. It’s an opinion born out of ignorance and bias: The iPhone is the only smartphone I’ve ever owned. I love it, and I think Android is generally an inferior mess."

    Let me guess..you think Android is getting better but you would never give up darling Apple for this cheap intimidator? Seriously, IOS is so far behind Jelly Bean its not even funny.

    This is such an awful article. So very biased.

    I just don't get this iOS is intuitive babble. If you use a nexus 7, how is it not anymore smooth or intuitive then anything apple is producing? I deploy iphones/ipads at work, and I just don't understand the whole apple is so smooth and has great ui blah. I used an iphone for 2 years, and it hasn't changed beyond a couple of yearly feature updates, that seem to just be copies of Android in recent times.

    In my opinion Widgets are the best thing about Android. I could never go back to an iPhone after using widgets, especially weather, music and news widgets.

    I reckon hes having a lend of us or hes been completely brainwashed by the isheep!

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