Why it’s OK for Android to lag
An opinion by Agnaye Ochani
Are you an Android user? Do you find yourself constantly complaining how your phone is never as smooth and responsive as the iPhone? Even if you have a high-end Android, there’s bound to be some lag, even if it isn’t much. Recently, I gave up my (once) mid-range Android smart phone, a Motorola XT5 XT502, and traded in for the Motorola Razr XT910. I chose this phone because I thought it spec`d just right to run the new generation of Android, Android 4.xx, fairly smoothly. And also because nobody I knew had one.
The very next day I got my Razr, I bumped into two old friends at a Slayer gig, both of whom operated the Google-Samsung Galaxy Nexus Prime; a phone that not only spec`d like my Droid Razr, but used similar components too. At the time, their phones ran some stock build of Jelly Bean, and on comparison with my phone, I was amazed and disappointed at how much smoother the Nexus was. The difference in smoothness was only miniscule, and yet it bothered me.
So far, the question had always been why my phone (or any other Android phone) was not as smooth as the iPhone. Or put another way, why I could not tolerate lag on my Android, no matter how little that lag was.
While roaming the grounds, waiting for the evil-est of the Big Four to take stage, I ran into another old friend who recently turned developer and was given a MacBook by his employer. In the course of our conversation, I instinctively asked him if his MacBook was smoother than his Windows PC, for which he answered in the affirmative. I only asked him because I knew of Apple’s philosophy for simplicity and reliability. And naturally, I was curious to find out firsthand if that philosophy, which was so clear in the iPod, iPhone and iPad, manifested in their computers too.
And then a new question emerged. Not why my Android wasn’t as smooth as the iPhone, but why I didn’t mind as much when my PC lagged. The answer to that was so obvious, I just had to share it.
The Android phone is a phone. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a Java or a feature phone from way back, or even the ones that sell now. But those things are almost always fast. When you open up your call history or dial a number, or even play a song on one of these non-smartphones, you almost never face any lag. For most of us, this is where the cellphone journey began, and in a way it has spoiled us too much to appreciate Android for what it can offer. Put another way, my Android can do a hundred other things, but when I make a call or type a message I want my phone, regardless of whether it is or isn’t running Android, to not lag.
Why we forgive the PC. For many of us, the computer story began with the Windows PC, and for many still, we have never experienced Mac in all its responsive glory. So the idea that our PCs could be a mite faster always never bothered us. Why? Because we are used to the fact that computers sometimes take time to open applications. Because for us, computers have always been that way!
Windows PC vs. Android. The hourglass mouse pointer and the creaking sounds of the CPU on a Windows PC (especially the older, slower ones) help. It’s Microsoft’s way of saying, hey, give us a moment here, the output is going to be worth the wait, trust us. And so we patiently wait for the pointer to turn back to normal before moving on with the task at hand. In Android, there are no indicators to warn us the phone is “reading” or “thinking,” no creaking sounds either. Just us sliding away at the screen waiting for it to respond.
So, Apple gets it, or maybe it’s their all-pervasive philosophy of reliability. Either way, they must have at some point known they didn’t invent the mobile phone like they pioneered personal computing. So it followed Apple had to meet expectations of phone users who wanted a smartphone that could do a lot, but also that was as fast as those users had remembered any phone to be.
Android, like Windows for PC, is built to run on a variety of hardware, and considering how much the Android can offer, it’s only normal that the minor hardware-software mismatch plus the never nearly enough specs can almost never give us the smooth experience we know since our Java/feature-phone days.
So until Android gets it right (if they do) I’m going to remember why I tolerate my PC every time my phone lags.