The Ways Of the Robot
Just frustrated and...wait for it... humiliated by a 16-year-old.
"You're not that bad, Dad, really. Come on, maybe they have something from Fleetwood Mac you can play."
All those years of pumping this child up with all of that trendy self-esteem, and it all comes back to bite me in the form of "Rock Band" patronization. She knows I suck at this, but she wants accompaniment as she bangs the drum set at Expert level. I thumb the guitar so haltingly at kiddie level it seems plausible to me that I am having a stroke and just don't know it.
Believing stupidly that the cell phone variant would be more satisfying, I gave the new Android App Store a whirl by buying its $9.99 version of "Guitar Hero World Tour." As I mentioned last time, Android comes close to replicating the seamless Apple App Store experience if you have a Google Checkout account. Only a few games like "Guitar Hero" and apps like Quickoffice dare to ask for more than $5 at this early stage, so I tried both to see what value the store offered at the high end.
After a few months of on-and-off use, the G1/Android now leaves me with the same impression I had at the beginning. This is all so Google. The OS is aptly named because it has all the warmth of the Jetsons' robot maid Rosie. You know there is a heart in there somewhere, but the automaton surface is a distraction. The app catalog is so functional and unadorned. Unlike the Apple App Store, with its comforting gray background and generous use of screenshots to sell the goods, Android's on-deck Marketplace is a cold, informative place. No images but user reviews and a direct link to the maker. You never feel as if you quite know what you are getting. The shopping experience really needs an upgrade. This is all so Google.
And the hardware/software combination still feels rough, even after the recent firmware upgrade. Menus move jaggedly, there are a ton of network errors, and some operations are very slow. "Guitar Hero World Tour," for instance, can take a nice while to load as it reaches out to the network for new songs. There is a clear value-add to the pay product over the free "Tap Tap Revenge" on the iPhones. "Guitar Hero," licensed through Activision, has recognizable big band music tracks, although they seem truncated for mobile use. I don't know my Steve Miller Band tracks as well as I should, but I am not sure I got all the choruses of, of... No, wait, I can't recall that track name, nor retrieve it, because THERE IS ANOTHER NETWORK ERROR AND I CAN'T PLAY ANYTHING. I thought downloadable apps were supposed to behave as standalones anywhere. This is all so, so Google.
My head-to-head comparisons of iPhone and Android versions of the same apps is limited. For now, at least, the Android versions have similar functionality but in an uglier frame. "Hot or Not" on iPhone is clearly superior, with a host of functions clustered around each image, while the Android version offers an ugly screen with the simple opportunity to rate the next lad or lass in the meat market.
The last.fm apps are similar in both stores, but the iPhone versions starts the music experience easily, while the Android version give you a menu scroll into too many similar playlist, favorite and recommendation items. Both versions buffer between songs, but the iPhone design uses a minimal animated icon while the Android variant pops up a big honkin' menu that announces it is buffering. Yeah, so damned Google. We're still waiting for video to become consistent. Both GoTV and iCast have video aggregation apps -- but the video playback quality and the versatility of the players themselves don't even approach something like Rhythm New Media's vSnax player or even Truveo's video search engine on iPhone.
The "Guitar Hero" game actually demonstrates one of my fears about the platform. You have to strike the tap screen at just the moment a descending note passes through a narrow zone. Even on the G1, which is the only available hardware for the OS right now, the touch screen didn't seem to be up to the demands of the software. I was booed off the stage even on easy level because I missed too many notes less than a minute into the song. What happens when this level of software meets the moving targets of multiple OEMs? Don't get me wrong. I think Android has tremendous potential. There are wonderful pieces in here, and the level of integration can be impressive. It just feels as if you are urging on, well, an android.
"I wouldn't blame the phone, Dad. You can't even play 'Rock Band' on pre-school level on a 60-inch TV where the notes are as big as your head." Apparently the parental self-esteem program has been abandoned.
So I hand Miss Smartass the G1 and have her try.
It takes her about two minutes to hand it back, limp-wristed and derisive. "Yeah, okay, this is boring."
"Feels like a beta version, right?"
"A beta phone?" she chortles in disbelief. "What is it, like Google or something?"