Droid Drawbacks: Further Along the Wonderful Road

I've been using theMotorola Droid smartphone for about a month now. As I mentioned in my previous post, my initial reactions to the Droid have been quite positive. However, there are a few little things worth noting that could certainly stand to be improved about this device. 

The Buttons

Motorola Droid front view with buttons across the bottomIf you've seen the Droid, you might be familiar with the row of four "buttons" along the bottom or right side (depending on whether you're viewing the screen vertically or horizontally). They're not buttons in the traditional sense, but rather an extension of the touch screen itself. From left to right (vertical view), the buttons are:
  • Back: Moves you back a screen. If you're in the browser, it works just like the Back button on any browser. If you're in other apps, it just scrolls backward through the various screens you've viewed, even skipping to other apps; when you hit the last one, Back exits the app and returns you to the home screen.
  • Menu: Pops up a menu of additional options specific to the app you're currently in. From the home screen, Menu gives you options such as adding widgets, changing your wallpaper, and getting into the general settings for the device.
  • Home: Takes you directly to the home screen if you tap it; if you hold it, you'll get a choice of the six most recent apps you've used to select from—handy for switching quickly between your running apps.
  • Search: Opens a search box.

These are all useful functions, of course. But the buttons are extremely sensitive, and their placement often leads to them getting touched by accident—at least by my clumsy fingers. An example:  I wrote before about using the built-in camera to take pictures at a concert. What I didn't mention was how many shots I missed completely because the on-screen camera button is right next to the Back button. So, instead of getting the shot I wanted, I would touch the Back button by mistake and exit the camera application. By the time I'd get the camera back up again, the moment was lost.

Part of the problem there was just unfamiliarity with the device, sure. And the Droid also has a dedicated button for the camera so you don't have to use the touch screen to snap a pic, although the dedicated button is placed on the side just above the Search key, which could still lead to unintended results. Although I count this button sensitivity as a drawback, I think it really comes down to just getting used to where they are and how you're holding the device for any given application. Certainly, the ease of access these buttons provide to various functions is worth a bit of self-training, I believe. 

Adding Apps without Asking

The next drawback I'll mention is also wrapped up in something that's largely for the good. When I got my Droid, it had Android OS 2.0 installed. But a couple of weeks ago, I had a message on the phone that an update was available, which brought it up to 2.1. The update process itself went smoothly, and the new OS version brought with it the coveted (by some) multitouch functionality. That's the good part.

However, a couple days later when I next opened the Applications Tab, I noticed a couple of apps that hadn't been there before. Specifically, the OS update added  Google Goggles (try saying that one ten times fast) and News and Weather. A little reading online told me these apps were part of Android 2.1, so I wasn't too worried about where they'd come from. But I didn't think it was too good an idea to add apps to the device that I wasn't prepared for.

Of course, if I'd read the small print in the update notice, maybe there was something in there about these apps getting added. But I think I'm a fairly typical user in this regard: The update looked official (as, indeed, it was), so I just let it run. In an enterprise that wants or needs to lock down what's being run on mobile devices, you probably don't want new apps showing up as part of an OS upgrade. 

Device Security

And that leads to perhaps the biggest problem with the Droid and any Android phone being used in the enterprise, which is simply that you don't have the controls to lock down the device as snugly as you do, say, with a BlackBerry or even a Windows Mobile phone. Although Android supports Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) so you can easily connect to your Exchange mail accounts, it doesn't have full support for the Exchange policies that let administrators secure mobile devices.

As the iPhone has gained a foothold in the enterprise, it has also moved toward a more secure implementation of EAS; I suspect the story is likely to be much the same with Android. In fact, Android devices could also more quickly benefit from third-party products to provide enterprise security because it's an open source development platform. Nonetheless, at the moment, there's little an organization can do to stop users putting anything they want on their Android phones and risking adding malware that could infect the company servers—apart from simply not allowing those Android devices to connect in the first place. And there's no ability to perform remote wipe should the device be lost or stolen. 

An Exciting Toy or an Up-and-Comer?

There are a few other things that make the Droid perhaps not ideal as a smartphone for business use, most notably centering around calendaring. The Corporate Calendar app itself is pretty basic, but you can use it to set up appointments and send out meeting requests that will be synched with your Exchange calendar. However, you aren't able to respond to meeting requests that you receive in the mail app; you can reply to the message, but the organizer receives it as an email reply, not a meeting response. For anyone who uses their mobile device as their primary means of communicating over email, this limitation is a severe drawback.

For my purposes, the Droid does everything—and more—that I could ask for. I don't do a ton of traveling, and the email and other messaging functions I get through the Droid are really just a backup to my desktop Outlook. Although I recognize the Droid—and, more broadly, the Android OS—certainly has its limitations for use in the enterprise, I believe these will mostly be solved over time through future development or simply learning more about how to use the dang thing.

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