Inside the heads of Android fanboys

Reaction to InfoWorld's iOS vs. Android face-off reveals that Android aficionados like tech that requires secret knowledge

The fanboys are riled up -- the Android fanboys, that is. Earlier this week, InfoWorld ran my "mobile deathmatch" face-off between Google's Android OS and Apple's iOS. I got a bunch of strongly worded emails, some bordering on nasty, for my conclusion that Android is basically harder to use than iOS. Those comments, as well as ones from previous stories, reveal a lot about the psyche of "fandroids": They like intricate tech that requires mastery of secrets and tricks, much like dedicated gamers do.

"Fandroids" treat a smartphone like a game player
These readers didn't take issue with most of my factual assertions, especially my criticisms of Android's poor corporate fit -- though several pointed out some errors that I immediately corrected, such as the Android OS not having a folder capability or being able to reposition the text cursor when editing (more on these later). What really got under their skin was my ongoing complaint about how so many options in Android are hidden from the user, unless you press this button or that button and work your way through several menus.

[ How easily can each major mobile platform fit into your corporate environment? Find out in InfoWorld's "How to say yes to (almost) any smartphone." | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

I wrote, and strongly believe, that iOS does a better job of exposing relevant capabilities when you need them, so you can work more quickly. That's called intuitive interface design.

But the fandroids don't want an easy-to-use OS, and they prefer Android because it requires mastery of arcane usage secrets such as "long presses," a tap-and-hold method that works sort of like a computer's contextual menu. For example, long-tapping on the home screen to get a menu lets you add folders, and then long-tapping the folder's menu bar brings up the editor for the folder name. (Contextual menus are great as time-savers for power users, but when used as the only access means to capabilities, they hide functionality from users -- and that's bad.) These fandroid readers also kept saying that going through a sequence of three or four menu options was no big deal, and they thought my criticism of Android for working that way was simply wrongheaded. That's how an operating system should work, they strongly argued.

Look, there's a place for arcane interfaces -- it does make master users feel superior, and it can be fun to figure out all the hidden tricks, just as it is to find the secret powers, commands, shortcuts, and so on in a computer game. And I can see how Google's young, engineering-oriented, smarter-than-the-average-bear employees would feel the same and thus design an OS for them. I bet they play a lot of computer games, too.

But for the rest of us, a smartphone is a tool, one that is often used in quick breaks or on the go. Not having to figure out the secret sauce is a better paradigm in that context -- or so I believe, and my review reflects that. If you don't agree, then by all means get an Android device; my opinion doesn't determine your purchase options.

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