Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Matt Birchler, “The Shocking State of Passionate Apps on Android”:
I recently commented on Mastodon that I thought iOS was way ahead of Android when it came to third-party apps. My feeling is that you can have the best app in a category on Android, and it will be the third to fifth best app in that category on iOS.
It’s harsh, I know, but I really think this is true for basically every app category I care about.
Someone replied to me saying that there are a bunch of Android apps that are better than their iOS equivalents. I wanted to be open-minded, so I asked what apps they would recommend based on how I see Android ahead of iOS. He recommended a text editor with a UI that looked more like Notepad++ than a modern writing tool.
Birchler’s Mastodon post was in a thread I started with my question about the best Android Mastodon clients, but I didn’t see that he had written this article until today — my take on the same theme. A day later. Birchler reviews an Android RSS reader called RedU, which seems to be the best feed reader on Android. Saying you read you won’t even register on the list of best iOS feed readers is kind. It’s enough to make you wonder if anyone on Android even knows what a feed reader is. Birchler’s review is more than fair. He’s not one to cherry-pick one app in one category—I think it’s fair to say that Read You exemplifies the state of Android, as Birchler calls them, “exciting apps.”
Android enthusiasts may not want to hear it, but from a design perspective, apps on Android suck. Maybe they don’t suck from a feature standpoint (but they often do), but they’re aesthetically unpolished and poorly designed from a “design how it works” standpoint. (For example, Read You doesn’t offer an unread count for folders, it has a weird information-rich layout, and its only supported sync service was deprecated in 2014. It also requires a terrifying number of systems to run, including the ability to launch. And as I wrote yesterday, the cultural gap between the two mobile platforms is growing, not shrinking. Since I bought a Nexus One in 2010, I’ve been dipping my toe into the Android market, and there’s never been a difference in productivity between Android and iOS between the top apps in any category. And that’s just about phone apps. I’m talking, aside from the sorry state of tablet apps on Android.
Michael Tsai found two threads on Hacker News that discussed my piece in short threads yesterday, here and here.1 A representative comment from an Android user who is skeptical of me:
What on earth is he asking these apps for? How do you objectively compare the “panache” of one app to another? If I were a developer, what steps could I follow to program something “comfortable” into my app? These complaints seem too wishy-washy and vague.
Then he goes with a Kubrick quote: “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not in what it thinks, but in how it feels.” We are now completely in the realm of mysticism, this is not an attempt to properly compare or measure anything. […]
I think if he’s going to praise some apps and scorn others, he should compare using a standard of measurement. Otherwise, it’s just one person’s opinion. Simply saying “APX feels better” is like saying “APX has better cycle power.” What does any developer have to do with this feedback? Full article “I personally like these apps and I don’t like them.”
It’s like asking for a “measurable standard” to judge a movie or a novel or a song or a painting. I’ll quote another Kubrick quote: “The test of a work of art, in the end, is our love for it, not our ability to tell why it is good.”
Art is the operative word. Either you know that software can be art, and often should be, or you think that what I’m talking about here is akin to astrology. One thing I learned a long time ago is that people who prioritize design, UI, and UX in their software can empathize with and understand the choices of people who prioritize other factors at the system level. , or software for free). But it doesn’t work the other way around: most people who prioritize other things can’t understand why anyone cares deeply about design/UI/UX. Because they don’t understand it. Thus they build on iOS and native Mac app excitement to hypnotize through marketing, Pied Piper style.
What has happened over the last decade or so, I think, is that instead of the two platforms reaching any kind of equilibrium, the cultural differences have grown as both users and developers have positioned themselves. . Those who see and appreciate the artistic value in software and interface design have been greatly influenced by iOS. People who don’t have Android. Of course there are exceptions. Of course there are iOS users and developers who envy the more open nature of Android. Of course there are Android users and developers who see how crude the UIs are for this platform’s best-of-breed apps. But we’re left with two very different ecosystems with completely different cultural values—nothing like the Coke vs. Pepsi situation (to reuse my example from yesterday) in console gaming platforms. On mobile, cultural differences are as polarized and sharply defined as the politics of our national affairs.
It’s no wonder that Steve Jobs’ last words on stage were his talk about Apple at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. March 2011:
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone isn’t enough – it’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that gives us results that make our hearts sing.
Making your heart sing. That is the difference.