Current Instapaper and former Tumblr developer Marco Arment wonders out loud if Google Android phones can ever achieve the levels of usability and polish Apple's iPhone has arguably had since day one:
Android will continue to exhibit what Google does best: great low-level engineering and tight integration with Google’s other services. But it’s never going to be Apple-like in user experience, polish, or design.
Attention to detail, like most facets of truly good design, can’t be (and never is) added later. It’s an entire development philosophy, methodology, and culture.
Armant argues that users waiting for Android to get iPhone-like fit and finish "any day now" shouldn't hold their breath. (Probably any more than iPhone users should hold their breath for Google-like features, such as a less curated market open to system-wide enhancers.)
Smartphone platforms as reflections of the corporate cultures is an interesting idea that doesn't stop with consistent UI or tightly integrated hardware. HP/Palm's webOS, is both slick and far more "open" when it comes to end user than open-source alternatives. Apple has wrested almost all control away from carriers, as they rest almost all control away from users as well. Google has let carriers run roughshod over Android's user experience, writing fringe blog posts about the problem but not withholding Gmail or Android Market from user-hostile handsets. (The way Apple would withhold the entire iPhone for years -- see Verizon.)
If that's the case, can those corporate cultures be transcended? Could Android 3.0 Honeycomb come out with a UI as consistent and delightful as anything from Apple? Could iOS 5 packs as much power and as many features as Google throws at their phones? I think they can, though it requires Keyser Sose (or Steve Jobs) level "single act of will" to achieve. I'm betting there's no C-level drive at Google to go iPhone's last usability mile and Steve Jobs has no interest in being more like Android.
So Android probably won't ever achieve iPhone's level of polish and usability, and that probably doesn't matter to anyone who isn't already using an iPhone for those very reasons. We're left in a world where each platform has its strengths and weaknesses and we have the luxury to move between them as best suits our needs at the time.