Are You on Team iPhone or Team Droid?

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Form vs. function -- it's a classic challenge in the design world. When it comes to developing mobile devices, many designers would agree that consistency and an efficient user experience matter most.   Smart phones like Apple iPhone reign supreme because the devices are easy to use, have tons of applications, and are developer friendly. Now that Motorola's Droid is on the market, developers and technologists (myself included) are saying that the Apple iPhone has formidable competition. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. After all, team Droid (Motorola/Google/Verizon) will have to endure some growing pains before it wins the smart phone smackdown.

Over the next two years, I suspect consumers will show less loyalty to the iPhone (sorry, Apple). In fact, I would even predict that in two years, the number of Android based smartphones sold monthly will be nearly equal to the number of iPhones sold monthly. I would like to give Android the stronger position, but two missteps on the part of team Android will plague its popularity -- weak developer's tools (when compared to iPhone) and a few marketing missteps.

Granted, the Droid gets a few nods for its Google-backed operating system. However, the open source platform could prove to be both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, open source will allow developers to make applications without strict standards. On the other, the learning curve is significant and developers will have to consider the physical capabilities of each device as well as individually test them -- a costly headache for team Droid.

Not surprisingly, the iPhone development environment is easier to pick-up than the Droid's. Motorola should have learned from Apple's last bout with Microsoft that developers do matter and lowering the technical bar is a good thing. Clearly, team Droid missed the boat on that one.  

The Droid's less polished interface leaves something to be desired. Speed is key when it comes to user experience ... consumers want their data fast and a slower browser won't help that. Finally, the Droid hardware is only comparable to the iPhone -- which isn't a compelling enough reason for consumers to switch.  

How can team Droid beef up for battle? Well, first off, they need to spend more money on R&D to learn what resources developers need to make robust applications. Secondly, they need to do some usability testing and streamline the interfaces. Finally, aside from the developer and design features, Verizon also needs to develop smarter, less alienating ad campaigns and not just target male video-game players (the seeming target of the Droid).

Don't get me wrong, Android, and therefore the Verizon Droid series, has undoubtedly emerged as the most viable competitor to the iPhone in 3 years and could become a bona fide competitor in the next few years. But that's only if team Droid pays closer attention to what developers are saying in terms of design and if Verizon steps its marketing efforts up a notch. That's a lot of ifs.

As President and CTO, Tim sets the vision and overall direction for new product development and partner strategy at Siteworx, an interactive agency.

This story, "Are You on Team iPhone or Team Droid?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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