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Android, The Experience - an update

They say experience is the best teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its students!

It's 2011, and I started with Android 16 months ago. I'd been a long-time PalmOS user, medium time BlackBerry user and short time WebOS user.

Time flies! I've had quite a few different Android devices since my original trusty EVO 4G, and my enthusiasm is undaunted. These are really very powerful, capable, functional productivity tools. Lots of comparisons are made between various Android phones and the iPhone.

Notice the plural vs. the singular.

The iPhone is pretty much the iPhone. Android is not an "it" it's a "them". There are many, many different flavors of Android phone, as the manufacturers (Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, Sony) and the carriers (Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Cricket) add their own unique spin to each phone. And Android itself exists in several different flavors: Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb. With Ice Cream Sandwich on the horizon. 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 = 625 is a dizzying upper bound on the different theoretical pairings of the choices above. That's a lot of choices!

Just as the lack of diversity can be an issue on the iPhone ("just too limited"), so can the tremendous diversity of Android be a problem ("just too complicated"). The limitations of the iPhone can be frustrating if one is trying to do something Apple doesn't think one should do. Those same limitations, however, make the iPhone experience very predictable in a way that makes them easy to form the center of a community of users, and also makes them easy to support.

The extensive diversity of offerings labeled "Android" can reverse this situation, expanding limits but allowing an at-times to some bewildering array of choices and ways of doing things that make community difficult, and support sometimes a challenge.

Take music as an example. On the iPhone, music syncs from iTunes and can be purchased from the iTunes music store. That's it. That's the only way. It's simple, reliable, predictable. It's limited, for now: sync by cable only, sync only to iTunes and to the built-in music player, whether you like them or not.

Photos, ditto. And maps, and calendar, and contacts, and tasks and notes, and . . . you get the idea.

Further, the Android ecosystem of apps is expanding at an amazing rate. Where there was one way to do something on the iPhone and 5 ways on Android, now there are 10 on Android. And then 12, and 15. It's expanding faster than anyone can keep up with!

The challenge is to make things simple, predictable, accessible, reliable at first, and then allow for the expansion into an almost infinite apps ecosystem as the user wants to and can.

Remember, there are literally hundreds of possible combinations of Android level, Carrier and Manufacturer. Add to that hundreds of thousands of apps and you have a recipe for chaos. Or a fun playground, depending on one's perspective. Add to that all this "cloud" stuff, with all the choices available there (even on the iPhone) and one couldn't be faulted for crawling back under the blankey and calling for mommie!

Never fear, Interconnected Technologies is here.

Remember the goal: make it simple at first, and then allow for the gradual expansion out into the big scary world. That's the challenge; the point; the goal.

The topic: How to set up an Android phone to do the basics well before branching out. One might think that this would be a focus of the carriers and the manufacturers, but one need only look at what are arguably the best Androids phones currently for sale (the Samsung Galaxy S II) to see that this isn't the case. Add in the way the Photon and the Atrix get configured right out of the box and you'll see that these folks are more interested in showing off than in handing you something that works as a base.

So, let's start.

Widgets. Forget them. They are sexy, flashy, useful, productive, complicated.

Icons. Everybody understands icons. Tap an icon and something comes up. Simple.

SO, step 1: delete the widgets. I know they are shiny and flashy. You can add 'em back later when you've got your bearings.

Also delete icons that don't do what you need to do. NASCAR on Sprint comes to mind. Get rid of the icon. Unless NASCAR is your big deal.

All Android phones have a "long press and drag" concept on the home screen. Touch and hold an icon that you want to move or get rid of, and drag it, still pressing on it, either to the trash can that will appear, or to another screen if that's the goal.

So to set things up so you can quickly ACCESS most of the things you need most:

On the main home screen, put icons (not widgets) that take you to the applications you use most often. Now, I don't know what those are for you, but I'll bet this list includes most of them:

  1. Phone
  2. Email
  3. Text messaging
  4. Contacts
  5. Voicemail
  6. Calendar
  7. Internet
  8. Camera

Remember, this isn't supposed to be comprehensive, it's supposed to be a simple starting point. Cover the bases. If you have another that's vitally important to you, or don't use one of these that I think is most important, change the list, a little, to fit. Some devices have 3 or 4 or 5 of what THEY think are the most important semi-permanently pinned to the bottom of the home screens. Use those for now if they fit.

Remember, get rid of all those widgets for calendar and email and Facebook and news and weather, and . . . They're gone now, right?

Just checking.

You can add them back in later.

Now, maybe on a second home screen (depending on your device you'll have 3 or 5 or 7 home screens), just a swipe to the left or the right away, you put some secondary stuff you use often, but slightly less often. Again, not widgets, but simple icons that open applications:

  1. Pictures
  2. Music
  3. Facebook
  4. Twitter
  5. Maps
  6. Market
  7. Weather
  8. Clock
  9. Calculator
  10. News

(N.B. some Android phones come with, for example, Facebook installed. Some don't. If you need/want Facebook, go to the Market (#6, above) and search for Facebook, and install the Facebook app that's provided in the Market by Facebook. Same goes for Twitter, and so on).

Again, not everything, and not flashy, but functional. NOW you have two screens with icons that represent most of what you do with the device.

NOW, you can branch out. Yes, there's a very nice widget on every HTC phone that shows weather and time. That can take the place of a couple of the icons above, which you can delete. There's usually a  widget for music that shows which piece is playing and has pause/play forward/reverse and volume controls. THERE IS MORE STUFF ON ANY GIVEN PHONE THAN YOU WILL EVER USE, and more in the Market than humanity will ever need.

Go slow; get and keep your feet under you.

Now we shift from ACCESSING stuff on the device to DOING stuff with the device.

One of the iPhone's great strengths and greatest weaknesses is iTunes. Focusing on the strengths: it automatically allows you to sync your music, podcasts, etc. down to the iPhone, and also backs up all your iPhone's settings and pictures.

With Android, you don't have this, unless you do. Motorola has started putting software on its Android devices that mimics much of what iTunes does (as described above), which makes things easier. If you have one of these devices (Atrix, Photon, possibly others). If you don't have one of those devices, then we need to have a conversation. Remember, there are multiple ways to do almost everything on an Android phone. Which one you pick depends on what your needs are. That's where Interconnected Technologies and I come in.

The scope of this is vast, and includes syncing music, syncing pictures, sharing documents, securing information,  and a dozen other things that one might want to do with/on a mobile device. The choices are too vast and the usage too personal to document it all here.

I will continue to try to document as much "standard" stuff as time and products permit.

In the mean time, call me. . .




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