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Breakdown: Android G1, iPhone share little in common

T-Mobile's new G1 smartphone based on Google's Android platform has been positioned against Apple's iPhone by the media, but that attempt to set up a dramatic showdown has fizzled as details show the two products aren't very similar.

Even before Google first outlined its Android strategy a year ago, it was clear that the rumored "gPhone" wouldn't be competing against the iPhone, but rather with Microsoft's Windows Mobile, which threatens Google's ability to push its search and information services to smartphone users. Apple's iPhone has served as an outlet for Google's services ever since it was released.

At the same time with the iPhone being the most talked about phone on the planet right now, T-Mobile is going to have a hard time not making comparisons particularly given the fact that T-Mobile can't sell the iPhone. Google is also contrasting its restriction-free Android Market against the iPhone's App Store. The most obvious comparison between the G1 and iPhone is in their hardware, but the features available on both are related to their software support and service limitations. Here, we'll take a look at all three areas to underline that the G1 is aiming at a very different audience than the iPhone crowd.

An intersection of partners' features

Apple designs its own hardware in conjunction with its in-house software development. The iPhone also shares a tight software platform with the iPod touch and integrates into Apple's iTunes. The iPhone's biggest limiting factor is its connection with AT&T, which Apple has worked to smooth over by making itself the retailer and supporter of iPhone sales and service. Still, certain limits posed by AT&T impact Apple, including its 3G coverage and inability to offer tethering.

On the G1, Google's Android software is paired with a hardware design by HTC, a Windows Mobile manufacturer. Media options come from Amazon's music store (the phone isn't designed to sync with a PC, but rather only over the air with Google), and T-Mobile is providing the telephone service. This spreads around the responsibility for managing the G1 experience in usability, sales, support, features, and coverage.

That puts the G1 at the intersection of features supported by all of its vendor partners. For example, Android currently lacks software support for multitouch and advanced Bluetooth capabilities. Other HTC phones support advanced Bluetooth features, but often sport curious omissions, such as the G1's lack of a headphone jack and its paltry 1GB of storage memory.

That adds up to a product with no multitouch, limited Bluetooth features, limited memory that must be augmented at extra cost, and needing a clumsy workaround to use it as a music player. Add in the limitations posed by T-Mobile, the weakest 3G provider in the US with tethering limits of its own, and the G1 begins to look like the worst bits of all its partners.

The other side of the same coin is partner commitment. While Apple is only selling the iPhone, AT&T has other partners' phones to market, although nobody visiting an Apple Store would know that. With the G1 however, Google plans to offer competing Android hardware from other manufacturers; HTC builds Windows Mobile phones; T-Mobile has other devices to sell; and Amazon is working to sell MP3s to every platform. Nobody is backing the G1 exclusively in the way that Apple is putting all its muscle behind the iPhone and its advancement.

Hardware: G1 vs. the iPhone 3G

In raw hardware features, the G1 is $20 cheaper than the 8GB iPhone but only supplies 1GB of internal storage. Apple has pioneered offering a sizable amount of Flash RAM as standard on the iPhone and does not offer any expansion route. The G1, like most Windows Mobile and other smartphones, supplies very little memory to hit a lower price point, but offers a microSD slot so users can add more. HTC hasn't published the maximum size of the SD card [apparently it is limited to 8GB] the G1 can accommodate, but adding a basic 8GB card makes it $40 more, erasing any price advantage and making it slightly more expensive than the iPhone.

The G1 is significantly larger and heavier than the iPhone, in large part to its reliance on a sliding physical keyboard that makes it a half centimeter thicker. It lacks the iPhone 3G's curves and beveled edges, which will result in a bulkier feel. The keyboard should appeal to T-Mobile's SideKick users and people who like HTC's other Windows Mobile phones with sliding keyboards and an interface that relies upon six hardware buttons [the six buttons are a black menu button, a green phone button, a black home button, the trackball button, a black back button, and a red end call button] and a mouse pointer trackball rather than centering exclusively on consistent touch gestures. In fact, the G1 presently has no virtual keyboard option at all, so all text entry will require sliding the screen up and taping directly on its mini keypad.

G1 vs iPhone

Anyone interested in the iPhone 3G's interface will be disappointed to find that the G1 doesn't offer 'pinch to zoom,' two finger twirl, and other multitouch direct manipulations because Android is aiming to target the cheaper non-multitouch touch screen market. This is both a hardware limitation of the G1 and a current software limitation of the Android platform, so no software update will add this to the G1 later. Additionally, because software support for multitouch is missing, developers will have to roll their own for any subsequent Android phones that might support this in hardware, making that software incompatible with the G1.

As a mobile device, both phones support worldwide GSM/EDGE operation. However, due to the fact that the US didn't have the same radio bands available for UMTS 3G service as the rest of the world, US providers have had to build their own networks using what radio spectrum they could acquire. The iPhone exclusively supports AT&T's version of UMTS/HSPA 3G service in the US, while the G1 only supports T-Mobile's version of UMTS/HSPA in the US. Again, both support worldwide standards for GSM/EDGE and standard UMTS/HSPA 3G service outside of the US.

While complaints abound about AT&T's 3G service because it is only available in around 200 mostly urban markets in the US, T-Moble plans to have 3G service up in just 21 markets by the release of the G1, and 27 by the end of the year. Other 3G providers in the US, principally Verizon Wireless and Sprint, use Qualcomm EVDO 3G technology that is entirely incompatible with both American and international UMTS/HSPA service, although EVDO offers wider coverage within the US. The bottom line is that the G1 will have far less 3G service coverage than the iPhone 3G, even completely excluding significant markets such as Washington, D.C. and Houston, Texas.

Both the iPhone and the G1 say they offer 5 hours of talk time, but the G1 is only rated for 130 hours of standby, compared to 300 on the iPhone. Apple also outlines battery lifespan times for WiFi and audio and video use. Part of the reason the iPhone can claim longer life is its 1400mAh battery is larger than the 1150mAh in the G1, but Apple also has a better reputation in power management than HTC.

For external connectivity, both the G1 and iPhone 3G support WiFi and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR, although neither currently takes much advantage of the Bluetooth capabilities. The G1 also lacks a headphone jack, providing a single 11-pin port designed by HTC that instead breaks out into USB and audio (both stereo headphones and a mic). The iPhone 3G, like all iPods, has a 30-pin Dock connector which provides USB, audio in and out, remote features, as well as composite and component video output. In addition to this connector, the iPhone also has a standard audio headphone jack with mic support so you don't have to carry around a dongle just to use it as an iPod.

Both devices provide accelerometer support for sensing motion, GPS, and a simple fixed focus camera, although the G1 provides a 3.2 MP sensor (2048x1536 pixels) compared to the iPhone's 2 MP camera (1600x1200). The G1 also provides a digital compass, which enables it to present your direction as you move it, making the accelerometer controls smarter. The primary application for this is being able to hold up the phone in orbit around yourself to navigate Street Views. It could also be applied for intelligent maps that present North automatically so you don't get turned around.

In hardware, the G1 is clearly aiming at people who might be interested in a Windows Mobile phone, not a slick integrated product like the iPhone. It caters to people who buy hardware based on specification numbers and feature checklists rather than overall suitability for a task, elegant usability, and strong industrial design.

G1 vs iPhone

On page 2 of 2: Software: G1 vs. the iPhone 3G; Service: G1 vs. the iPhone 3G; and Not the Android many were looking for?