G1 will have hard job competing with iPhone user experience

12 Nov 2008

The T-Mobile G1 smart phone, the first wireless handset to be based on Google’s Android mobile operating system (OS), still has a gap to close in terms of user experience and music downloading, an analyst firm has said.

In an analyst note comparing both the user experience and price of putting together the G1, analyst firm iSuppli said that overall the G1 stacks up well against the iPhone and is ahead in a few respects.

Many observers have lauded the user interface of the G1. Tina Teng, senior analyst, wireless communications for iSuppli believes it is well above the industry average, but still has a gap to close with the Apple device’s interface.

On the G1, consumers can navigate through playlists and albums with the flick of a finger and can access other intuitive features in this way. For a Google fanatic, the device is well integrated with many Google services, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Google Maps.

Teng also observed that the industrial design and finish of the G1 lacks the wow factor of some of its slicker competitors.

Also, like the iPhone, the G1 supports the downloading of music, but unlike the iPhone, G1 users must employ Wi-Fi to take advantage of this feature.

“This is a negative for G1 users when there’s no Wi-Fi coverage,” Teng said. “Apple really makes the music download experience transparent; everything is integrated smoothly and seamlessly.”

Teng also noted that the G1’s lack of enterprise friendliness is a downside of the product compared to the iPhone and other platforms such as the BlackBerry Bold.

“The G1 presently supports only Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3) mail, which doesn’t work with many corporate email systems,” Teng said. “However, this problem can be solved if Google licenses Microsoft’s ActiveSync synchronisation system, as Apple did to make the iPhone more suitable for corporate use.

“This will allow the G1 to receive pushed mails from Microsoft Exchange Servers or manually synchronise emails through a connector.”

The real differentiation and advantage of the G1 relative to the competition is the availability of free open source applications.

“Each day there are about five or six new G1 applications for download,” Teng said. “Eventually, the G1 will have its own software community, much like the Linux applications in the wired world or the Sun OS has for workstations. This will produce a rich suite of free software for a variety of purposes that anyone can access.”

The G1 carries a bill-of-materials (BOM) cost of US$143.89, according to a virtual teardown conducted by iSuppli.

Part of the new generation of so-called ‘iPhone killers’, the HTC-manufactured G1 combines voice communications with a host of other capabilities, including email, internet access, camera and music playback. Along with many fellow phones of its generation, the G1 includes a high-resolution display and a QWERTY keyboard. Like the iPhone, the G1 includes a touchscreen interface.

“The G1’s differentiation resides in its use of the Android OS, which has won praise for its ease of use, but whose major advantage is its integration with Google internet services and its capability to accommodate the flood of free applications that are becoming available,” said Teng.

On the feature front, the G1 supports the HSDPA air interface at the 1700/2100 bands for 3G, which limits its US end users to T-Mobile subscribers. However, the G1 is suitable for markets outside the US using the 2100 frequency band.

In contrast, the iPhone 3G supports the HSDPA air standard operating at the 850/1900/2100 bands. The 850/1900 bands are designed for the AT&T network. As such, an unlocked G1 phone using an AT&T network can only achieve EDGE download speed.

The G1 comes with a full QWERTY keyboard, which comes in handy for texters. The iPhone 3G eschews a physical keyboard and instead employs a touchscreen for input.

Like the iPhone, the G1 includes Wi-Fi, which allows subscribers to take advantage of T-Mobile’s hotspots.

As for the touchscreen, the G1 employs projective touch technology, while the iPhone 3G uses a capacitive multi-touch glass touchscreen. The G1’s screen doesn’t support multi-touch capability.

iSuppli determined the US$143.89 BOM based on information from its Mobile Handset Cost Model (MHCM), which provides detailed analysis of present and future expenses to build mobile phones with any possible feature set.

This estimate includes only the component and material costs for the G1, and doesn’t account for other expenses including software, R&D, manufacturing and accessories.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the HTC-manufactured T-Mobile G1 smart phone

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years