In his “take” on the new Galaxy Nexus phone (An iPhone Lover’s Take On The Galaxy Nexus), MG Siegler compared its Google Android operating system to a Honda, and Apple’s iOS to a Mercedes. That’s not quite accurate.
In the realm of automotive analogies, I consider the iOS the Honda, and Android a Ford.
It’s become a common conceit over the years to compare Apple’s products to Mercedes, partially because they used to be so much more expensive than competitors, but mainly because they’re supposedly that much better simply as a result of their design.
The cost factor is no longer a relevant element of the analogy; Apple’s products are no longer any more expensive than its competitors’, and in many cases they’re cheaper. The iPhone wouldn’t be selling so well were it priced at a cost factor of a Mercedes over a Honda.
And to my mind, while the iPhone is designed to a degree for beauty, it’s designed more for utility. That is, it’s built to be easy to understand and use by pretty much anyone. The iPhone is beautiful, just in a respectful, subdued manner.
This concept doesn’t apply to the Mercedes, but it does apply to the Honda, which is similarly a utilitarian driver’s vehicle. Any Honda has just enough features, and just enough horsepower for the average driver. And the product is designed and constructed in just such a way as to make it easy to understand and control while at the same time being reasonably attractive to behold, but not flashy.
I bought a Honda Fit a couple of years ago because, upon my initial glance at the dashboard, it all made sense. It was easy to understand and operate. There were just enough buttons and knobs, and they were all pretty much where I expected them to be. I really didn’t care about too much else; it just looked easy to operate. I didn’t have to read any documentation to work that car. Like my iPhone, I turned it on and used it intuitively.
So why is Android like Ford? As with the Android and iOS, the the difference between Honda and Ford lies in the way the products are designed and put together.
Earlier this year I rented one of the new Ford Fiestas. I was actually quite excited to drive one because I liked the new approach Ford seemed to be taking as it struggled to regain financial stability. Well, okay, I was really just attracted by the bold exterior body colours Ford was using on them.
But I was sorely disappointed immediately after settling in behind the wheel: there was a vomit of buttons and knobs on the dashboard. Not even the basic interactive elements were where I expected them to be.
Ford had literally jam-packed this vehicle with functionality, down to a kitschy neon floor light system, but it was nearly impossible to understand how any of it worked. I actually had to pull over one day and read the manual to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers.
And that, to me, is Android: as much functionality as the device will bear, damn its usable nature. But, still, make it look really, really, really pretty – like Ford colours the Fiestas – so there’s a significant wow factor when you just behold device. But if you want to actually use it, prepare to put some effort into it, read some documentation, and, worst of all, prepare for a very inconsistent and frustrating experience.
There is nobody making consumer technology in what might be considered a Mercedes class. It’s all base-level, consumer-oriented fare. Apple is designing for the masses, not the elite. It just happens to be a company that believes you should feel special when you use their devices. Google designs for the masses, too, but with an emphasis on making its users feel like accredited geeks; they believe it shouldn’t be so easy to use as it should make you feel rewarded for having worked hard to learn how to use it.
That’s not Mercedes vs. Honda. That’s Honda vs. Ford.