Android vs. Symbian Round 2

Android vs. Symbian Round 2

Almost a year ago, I posted the article Mobile Phone OS Battle: Symbian vs Android. Android has evolved pretty fast and some of the points I had on that post have become null and void. Back then, there was a lot of hype surrounding Android devices. There were relatively few out there. That’s now changed and simply having some old version of Android is not going to be welcomed at all – quite the contrary.

Symbian has been rejected by some of its biggest advocates, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. For the time being it’s just a Nokia affair. Given the size of Nokia, that’s not such a horrific thing but in general things are not looking very good. They’ve even been rumours of a possible Android or Windows Phone 7 move for Nokia, but so far that’s all they’ve been, rumours.

Before, there wasn’t a lot of innovation in Android, but as giants like Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Motorola start getting more serious with the platform, we’re starting to see a bucket loads of it. Just look at the Motorola Atrix for instance – the pinnacle of mobile innovation right now and it’s an Android phone. I will write an article about that beast soon.

Android has evolved to a point where stock Android is not so bad anymore; in fact it is desired. Still on desire, my HTC Desire HD has the Sense UI on top of Android 2.2.1 and in my opinion it’s the best way to experience Android. As for Symbian, there’s really not much to say. It’s a Nokia only affair and they’ve done a fair bit to keep it up to par. The gallery is improved, there’s multi-touch support and that works pretty well etc. As a follow up to my last article, the Symbian UI lacks emotion. That’s what’s wrong with it. It has more raw power than many devices out there but no heart, no consistency, not many animations and lag. That amounts to a bad user experience.

The N8 and other phones on Symbian^3 (or just Symbian) are packed with features and that’s OK for some people. In the long run, people like me who break away from Symbian don’t feel anything for the platform. I don’t miss it because Android has quickly and efficiently filled that void. Everything I could do on my Symbian phone, I can do on my Android phone – only it’s less painful because I get to see little unicorns fly by as I do it. By “little unicorns” I mean a more pleasant experience with more animations and beautiful graphics. Even then I’m still more attached to my iOS devices especially my iPad because it’s just more pleasant to use and look at as it does its things.

Symbian was first to a lot of things, HD video recording, 12Mega pixel cameras, Bluetooth 3.0 and all, but that doesn’t mean it will be the best at it. Look at cut, copy and paste implementation on Android compared to Symbian. On my Desire HD, the experience is more intuitive and consistent than ever – on par with the iOS implementation only different.

Android fragmentation is real and it’s still a problem. According to stats, only about 0.4% of Android devices(or just the Nexus S) have the latest version of Android (2.3). That’s insane. 51.8% of Android users are on version 2.2. Here  are the numbers visualised.

Android Fragmentation Visualised

Android Fragmentation Visualised

The situation is sort of different for Symbian. Phones don’t graduate from one version of Symbian to another. If a device is on Symbian^1, it will die on Symbian^1. Updates are more subtle because the underlying software remains the same. Nokia has a great reputation for keeping its devices up-to-date within their Symbian versions. So fragmentation isn’t really an issue in the Symbian camp.

We’re yet to see what kind of changes are coming in the big Symbian update; they better be good. The processor speed and RAM of the N8 may prove to be the limiting factor in producing a great emotional experience – they shouldn’t be though given the hardware in my first gen iPod Touch (128MB RAM, ~400MHz processor, OpenGLES 1.0 support). It’s packing a lot of emotion.

I can’t really conclude the battle just yet. There will surely be another. The tables have turned. Android is better, for now, in terms of hardware variety and user experience. Whether it will remain better is only a matter of time. MWC is coming up and there is bound to be a shake up.