Today, I had an epiphany.

I’ve had my new HTC Desire for about two weeks. It’s a very nice Android phone, looks awesome, and for the most part it’s a delight to use. I have, however, been cursing the difficulty of text input. I’ve been using Nokia smartphones and communicators for ages, with solid and usable physical keyboards or numpads, and getting used to the touchscreen is not very easy. What made things worse is that the virtual keyboard on the Desire was not localized, and typing characters such as Ä and Ö was not very fast. (English speakers would call them ‘accented characters’ and bury them behind tricky UI maneuvers, but they are in fact very common vowels in the beautiful Finnish language.)

I had no idea what to do except try and learn to type even just a little bit, and accept the idea that this is not a very good device for text input. Oh well, I can always use the netbook if I need to write a long email or notes. It never even dawned on me to complain to fellow Android users about this, or ask for survival tips and tricks. They were probably just trying to cope and enjoying YouTube and the marvelous Web browser.

Only today, after two weeks of usage, I learned something that blew me away. Browsing the web, I stumbled upon a Finnish Android forum discussion about the relative merits of different options for Finnish typists on Android. Turns out there’s an app called ‘Scandinavian Keyboard‘, and it’s Free Software and all.

I launched the Android Market on my phone, and downloaded this new keyboard.

I downloaded a keyboard.

I also downloaded a Finnish dictionary for it, so that predictive text works both in Finnish and English (unlike before).

So then it dawned on me. The Nokia Way that I have learned since getting my first Communicator, working through all my life with Nokia devices, is the paradigm of shipping a very powerful ESeries smartphone to you that does everything out of the box that most people ever need. You only download a few special apps that geeks need like PuTTY.

The iPhone Way (and the Android way) is all about shipping a nice, lean system (and don’t forget to make it pretty!) and making everything available as apps.

And when I say “everything available as apps,” i mean everything! When I got my Desire it certainly looked good, and it paid due attention to importing my Facebook friends, but I had no SIP calling. I had no password manager. I had no system task manager (worth mentioning). The RSS reader sucked. I didn’t even have a damn task list to go with the calendar! And worst of all, no Finnish keyboard layout or dictionary.

But there sure was an app for all that.

P.S. I have no idea which way is better. I always enjoyed a new Nokia device, because it was so powerful right from day one. But the way of the Android might be a good idea as well: just try and ship a nice, lean base system and let users add their own bloat.

P.P.S. In case you’re wondering, I fixed SIP with Sipdroid, passwords with KeePassDroid (yay!), processes with Advaced Task Killer, RSS with … nothing! the iPhone version of Google Reader rocks. For a Task list I use Astrid, which has very nice Remember The Milk sync and a friendly and funny nagging feature. Feel free to suggest better/more!


12 Responses to “There’s an app for that”

  1. Dmitrijs Ledkovs on June 14th, 2010 23:17

    There is an app for that =)))))) makes me consider switching from nokia. I’m a long time nokia user as well but I’m drooling over iPhone 4 & Desire/Incredible.

    My biggest concern: email, contacts & calendar (i.e. push&sync)

    Is it 10 times better than on Symbian?

    ps. Meego N8 looks hot…. but it’s not finalised / released yet. I’m kind of old-fashioned and want to stay on nokia =) S#!Y#

  2. topyli on June 14th, 2010 23:24

    No, it’s not necessarily any better. It’s just an entirely different paradigm. Nokia users will want to download only a few apps, everything is already there. Android will build their device from apps.

  3. Dmitrijs Ledkovs on June 14th, 2010 23:27

    Alright – then are there good apps (or default) for IMAP email & caldav/syncml calendar & syncml contacts?

    Also exchange/activesync support on nokias is great, have you used exchange with desire? s

  4. topyli on June 14th, 2010 23:35

    There probably is an app for that: )

    The HTC default email client does seem to support exchange, but I don’t use it. I use Google’s stuff, which is of course awesomely integrated.

  5. crashsystems on June 15th, 2010 00:01

    By the way, using a task manager in Android is a bad idea (see link below). The only time you should ever manually kill a task is when a poorly designed program is killing battery life. For that, you can simply go into Android settings and kill it there.

  6. topyli on June 15th, 2010 00:10

    Thanks for this link crash, looks like i keep forgetting this is a Linux system.

  7. Janne on June 15th, 2010 03:20

    If you use Google Reader, take a look at NewsRob in the market. It’s a good news reader that syncs with your Reader account, so you can have offline access to your newsfeeds at all times. My most used app.

    My only current gripe is the calendar. Namely, the calendar views aren’t very good. the one-day and one-week views don’t actually show you the whole day, but only about eight hours around your current time. If it’s morning, you don’t see any appointments in the late afternoon. Also, there’s no way to easily manually sync the calendar with Google Calendar.

    So I’m on the lookout for a replacement that lets me set the time period I want to see, and that still syncs with Google Calendar, preferably with a nice, friendly “sync now” button in the UI.

    Agree on task managers – other than for the occasional misbehaving app it’s simply not needed at all. I suspect their effect is strongly expectation based – a perfomance placebo.

    I also tried the “Juice Defender” app, that’s supposed to help you conserve battery life by only turning on the 3G radio on occasional intervals. Good idea in theory, but after I did a semi-rigorous test I found that the battery savings was about nil. Waking up and turn on, wait, then turn off the radio apparently drains as much as you save by having it off in the first place.

  8. David Torrejón on June 15th, 2010 10:19

    “PuTTY” … mmm… better try “PAC Manager” for Ubuntu!! ;)

  9. Ian on June 15th, 2010 20:08

    It’s worth nothing that there isn’t an ‘app for that’ if Apple have decide that ‘that’ isn’t what they want you to use your iPhone for.

  10. Eetu Huisman on June 15th, 2010 22:07

    It’s worth noting that the Maemo devices were probably the first mobile devices where most of the “customer value” came from third party software. While N900 is a much more complete product than the earlier internet tablets, it is still much closer to the “there’s an app for that” model than the old-fashioned “feature phone” model.

  11. topyli on June 16th, 2010 15:46

    @Ian: that’s right, which makes Android the better platform. All I was trying to say is the “apps” approach is common to iPhone and Android, and it’s different from Nokia’s.

  12. Daniel on June 29th, 2010 23:53

    For the calendar I bought CalendarPad. It displays days, weeks, and months much better, and uses the built-in calendar data. But, accessing the calendar is still much slower on my HTC Desire than it was on the Palm which I’ve had before. May come from the amount of data in my calendar, but still…

    For RSS feeds, I’m using FeedR. I tried NewsRob, but it somehow wasn’t that much better than the built-in feed reader.

    I’m using no task manager.

    For battery life, I tuned all app settings (e.g. how often to fetch email, …) and I installed “Y5 – Battery Saver”, which only enables WiFi in known Network Cells. So WiFi is only on if needed.

    For tasks I started out with Astrid, but run into too many sync issues with RTM. So I upgraded to a RTM pro account and use the RTM Android app now. Much better, although Astrid was funnier.