Stranger in a strange land

An unusual set of circumstances had me making some additions to my technology surroundings the last couple of days. My OS X computing serenity was disturbed by the need of running a Windows version of an app (looking at you Powerpoint Mac and your inability to embed fonts) caused me to run Windows 10 in Bootcamp. To compound that horror, today I went out and bought an Android phone.

Readers of this site and those who know me, know about how I gave up the world of Google a couple of years ago after I was locked out of my Google account. What’s surprising to me was also the ease with which I bought this device.

I actually have a very rational reason for getting this device. One which even I as a die-hard iPhone user couldn’t discount. I tend to spend a lot of my time, reading, discussing and practising the science of user experience for my interest and for clients. I could not in good faith ignore the single largest mobile OS and UX platform out there.

So last night taking advantage of the availability of affordable android devices and a bunch of affordable deals I bought an Intex Cloud 4G Smart. Surprisingly well specced (and well packaged) ; the clincher was the Rs 1350 price tag (after discounts and vouchers and cashbacks.) The retail price of the device is about Rs 5000 ($72). The device has a 4G dual sim stack. 1.5Ghz quad core processor and runs Lollipop. The screen is a FWVGA display but I’m not complaining. This is not a primary device for me.

However once I had popped in a New 4G SIM,  the surreal experience started. First boot, I was accosted with a bunch of OEM software and crape-ware. I was expecting OEM layers (to their credit, there didn’t seem to be too much customisation), but I was not expecting the amount of installed crap-ware. I removed 18 apps. I haven’t had to do this on any device since my last HP laptop in 2007.

I understand that the Android platform is open, but I did not feel this was a joyous chaos. This felt almost like anarchy. The settings are confusing and the ability to get from one setting to another jumping between screens is not easy.

Stranger still to me are some of the design choices for UI under material design. For example one of the most basic functions during a phone call – hold – is represented by a pause button. The back button is ridiculous to use beyond a couple of screens.

Having bought an Android device, I do intend to use it and give it its due; but I do feel that it is not the most friendly platform for a new user. That honour in my opinion goes to Windows Phone. But since it seems that Microsoft has pretty much decided to kill it through lack of interest, maybe the time is ripe for a simpler Android Interface, with a few restrictions, borrowed from iOS.

The book by Robert Heinlein (the namesake to this post title) focuses on the story of a human (Valentine Smith) raised on Mars who visits Earth to get an understanding of humans and their culture. It is a post war world with very powerful organised religions – big and small (I hope you see the analogy). At one stage Smith starts his own church mixing in elements from two different ones.

And maybe because I wanted to reconnect with  my internal Valentine Smith, I decided to write this post on my mobile platform of choice, on my iPhone 6s Plus, though not back on Mars

P.S: Do read Stranger in a Strange land if you haven’t. It is available on the Google Play Store. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Stranger in a strange land

  1. You’re going to have so much fun (pun intended) 🙂 To be honest, I feel Android with Material design is a pretty good compromise between usability and customisability. If you have a google account then onboarding is pretty much just adding your account to the system. That’s what I did the last time I activated an android phone.

    You did select the wrong phone though IMO. Anything other than a Nexus device or possibly a higher end Motorola or one plus is going to frustrate you. That’s my only takeaway. With something like a one plus for example, the experience of using Android is pretty nice. Only problem with going with those phones then is that they’re not that much cheaper than an iPhone. Maybe not this year’s model but a 5s for example can be had for about the same price as a OP2. So …. I think it all comes down to personal preference and comfort with using a familiar system.

    • I agree with the point that I did not pick the best device. I’m not even debating that point. But that is my concern in a manner of speaking about the design. The growth of Android is due to the sub $150 (~Rs. 10k) devices. This was a $75 (~Rs 5k) device. As an UX designer, I have to ensure that the experiences I build work for these devices too.

      Now if to get a pure experience, I have to shell upwards of 20k ($300) my options change from hardware manufacturer to platform? And anecdotally, I do believe that when that option comes, people do tend to sway from Android. An iPhones swag factor is much higher.

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