NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This is a sore subject, I know. I will try to make the case that for some people, getting up and running on a Google (GOOG) - Get Report device such as Android is easier than on an iOS device such as the iPhone.
I can feel the blowback from the armies of
fans already. People get bent out of shape when you dare suggest that their favorite gadget isn't the best at everything.
I am focusing this "ease of use" analysis on one thing in particular, for reasons that will be obvious a little later in this article. This focus is account management and synchronization.
What do I mean by account management? Regardless of which mobile platform you use -- Android, iOS,
-- we have now moved to a cloud-centric world where your settings, app store and other functions are tied to a cloud account. You basically need one in order to operate your mobile gadget in any meaningful way, or even at all.
Another word for account management is identity, which in turn is represented by an email account. Once upon a time -- say, 1996-97 -- you got a Hotmail account. Then you switched to Yahoo!, say around 1998-99. By 2005 you started graduating to Gmail. At 425 million accounts and growing fast, Gmail is what most computer-savvy people in the Western world are using more and more.
Therefore, for most relevant people, they are now Gmail users and are confronted with which smartphone to buy. Let's examine the two scenarios of getting up and running on Google/Android vs. Apple/iPhone:
1. Apple: What to do about iCloud?
When you first get your iPhone and fire it up, you are asked to enter or create an iCloud account. Here is where the confusion begins.
It is not immediately obvious what an iCloud account is, or what it could be from an identity perspective. Do I have to create a new email address? What can my login be?
Nobody who isn't yet an Apple customer has an @iCloud.com email address, and even those who do, don't (want to) use it as an actual email address. There are at least two reasons for this:
I already have an email address that I want to continue to use, thank you. I'm just looking to set up a new phone; not set up a new email address.
Having your email address with Apple basically makes you suspect that you might get locked into Apple. What would happen if you want to switch to Android or Windows Phone later? What about your PC, switching to Windows or Google's Chrome OS? Consumers are reluctant to lock-ins. In contrast, you already have Gmail and it is obvious that it's available to use on every kind of computer, large and small.
Perhaps you could still create an iCloud email account, but use some other account such as Gmail for your Apple ID? Who knows? The point here is that this first step in your interaction with the iPhone has already brought you great confusion and uncertainty.
What is the advantage of having an iCloud email address as your iCloud ID, compared to having some other email address such as Gmail? Perhaps there is an answer somewhere but it sure isn't anywhere near self-evident as to what that answer might be.
2. In contrast, Google: Setting up your Android.
Turn on the Android for the first time. Enter your Gmail address and password. Done. Everything has now been synchronized. End of story.
Notice the difference? With your new Apple device, you are induced to create a plan for how your online ID and account management should be set up. How are you going to deal with cross-platform issues such as using numerous products from Google, Microsoft and Apple as applicable now or in the unknown future? Should you create a new email address? Which existing one to use?
With Google? No such question at all. You already have an obvious ID and you're in -- all done.
I would argue that this extends even further to things such as documents. iCloud creates fine documents to be sure -- a worthy competitor to Microsoft Office in most respects. Likewise, you can argue that Google Docs is a bit simple and unsophisticated with respect to the richness of the features inside the app itself.
However, there is never any confusion about Google Docs synchronizing to your account and it being available on every platform. Need it on your iPhone or iPad? No problem -- the Google Docs are eminently available.
In contrast, what about accessing and editing iCloud documents on your Android smartphone or tablet? Whoops. Good luck on an elegant solution to that one.
Apple's comparative problem doesn't end with the initial account setup. Depending on how many iCloud accounts you set up -- using the new iCloud email address, plus something based on your Gmail address, perhaps something else as well -- you could get them mixed up between all of your Apple devices over time.
For example, you may have signed in under one iCloud account on your Mac PC. Then under another iCloud account when you set up your iPhone, and on another when you set up your iPad. I hear these kinds of scenarios from iCloud users all the time.
I think most people would agree that these kinds of scenarios almost never happen with Android devices. The reason for this is that you're not creating one (or more) new account IDs, and you're not confused which is which. You sign in with your existing Gmail account everywhere and you're not induced to try something else. No confusion.
I can hear the cries from the Apple back-benchers already: I have never had this problem! And you may be right.
Clearly, some Apple users "just pick" one iCloud ID, stick to it or only use Apple devices and never look back. Some would refer to these people as the most loyal of iSheep; others perhaps don't rely on the Apple devices for everything they do.
Yet, others have encountered a problem of conflicting or suboptimal Apple IDs chosen, go to the Apple Store and find some help in changing or consolidating these accounts. And that's great. In the end, they get it to work -- after some technical support.
But it's not a matter of it working or not. The issue was ease of use. Whatever other issues there are with these devices, at the core is account management -- your choice of user identity and email address, and on this point it seems Google leaves almost no source for confusion.
In this aspect, Google does have a somewhat "unfair" advantage over Apple: The issue of ID management is greatly enhanced when you already are using that company's email as your primary email to begin with. At over 425 million users, Google easily trumps Apple in this regard.
Google's email ID advantage then translates into the less-confusing device setup and synchronization experience on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
The problem I describe is perhaps not easily seen by someone who has only had one or two iOS devices, set them up once and have been happy campers since. They're going to ask, "What the heck is he talking about?" It is true this problem exposes itself more clearly the more devices you use, including more devices on more platforms -- so you can compare setting up new devices every day on Android, iOS, Mac, Chrome OS and more.
With that, I buckle up and brace for the worst.
At the time of publication the author was long AAPL and GOOG.
This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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