What the Google phone stole from the iPhone.

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Nov. 17 2008 4:41 PM

Second Bite at the Apple

What the Google phone stole from the iPhone.

Farhad Manjoo chatted online with readers about this article. Read the transcript

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In several ways, though, the G1's interface still lags behind that of Apple's phone. Though it has a touch screen, Android lacks Apple's language of finger gestures. To zoom in on text in Android's Web browser, you click an on-screen magnifying glass icon; on the iPhone, you simply double-tap on the area you want to expand. The iPhone lists all of your apps on its main menu; you don't need to navigate any deeper menus to get to them. But the G1 hides its many preloaded apps behind another on-screen interface—a slider that you've got to pull out every time you want to run that program. (There is a way to add a favorite application to the phone's home screen, but you'll have to click around to figure out how.)

Google's best Android idea is filched directly from Apple: Android Market, a store for third-party developers to sell apps for Google's phones, is a worthy imitation of Apple's iPhone App Store. Google promises to be more inclusive in its app-selection process than Apple, which has arbitrarily banned a number of programs from the App Store. But Google also recognizes that Apple has hit on the best way to distribute programs for a mobile device: put all the apps in one place.

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The G1 is just the first of many new phones that will feature the Android OS; in the face of consumer demand for more iPhone-like devices, handset manufacturers across the globe are clamoring to bring out their Android devices. (Google's OS is open-source, so handset manufacturers can include it on their devices for free.) Motorola, which saw such enormous success with the RAZR, reportedly plans to ditch many of its own OSes in favor of Android.

In a similar vein, Verizon will begin to sell the BlackBerry Storm on Friday. It's the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard—like the iPhone, it uses a touch screen. Anticipation is running high; Apple recently surpassed BlackBerry's manufacturer, Research in Motion, in smartphone sales, and RIM is itching for a blockbuster. Its strategy is much like Google's: pay close attention to Apple. The BlackBerry Storm's interface uses gestures similar to those found on Apple's phone—tap to load an app, flick to scroll down a menu, hit on-screen keys to enter text. (See a Web-based demo of the Storm's interface here.) RIM is also building an Apple-like app store, the BlackBerry Application Storefront.

Steve Jobs eschews focus groups. He likes to say that he doesn't believe in asking customers what they want; he prefers to build stuff in order to show customers what they want. That's what happened with the Mac: He showed us we wanted a graphical computer, and then we all went out and bought one (even if we didn't buy one from Apple). The same thing is happening in the phone market, too. Jobs showed us that we all want a phone with a touch screen and an app store. Google and RIM are happy to oblige.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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