Switching to Android. Or not.
Andy Ihnatko, with whom I have the pleasure of working on MacBreak Weekly, has written a series of three articles for TechHive detailing why he decided to switch from an iPhone 4S to a Samsung Galaxy S3.
This isn't the story about how Apple has lost its way and no longer innovates. It hasn't and it still does. This is merely the story of one dude who got a new phone. Nonetheless, my tale presents a picture of the strengths of modern Android.
I have immense respect for Andy. I learn something from him each and every week, and his passion and integrity are enormous inspirations to me. As someone who's followed his work for a long time, this series didn't really come as a surprise. Andy's appreciation for Android and Android phones has been growing steadily and publicly for a while now. When he writes about his decision to switch, he's not trolling. He's not vamping. He's not doing anything more or less than what he very specifically states at the outset -- explaining why, for him, the Samsung Galaxy S3 better suits his current phone needs than the iPhone does.
And he's certainly not alone. Phil Nickinson and the people at Android Central love their Nexus, HTC, LG, Sony, and Samsung phones, Daniel Rubino and the people at Windows Phone Central love their Nokia, HTC, and Samsung phones, and Kevin Michaluk and the people at CrackBerry love their BlackBerrys. We're lucky to live in a time where every major manufacturer is fielding great devices. No matter who you are or what needs you have, there's a good chance you can find a phone that fits you and them.
What's most remarkable about Andy's series, however, is not just how well defined his arguments are, pro and con. It's how, in reading them, I can see both why Android better fits his needs, but also why iOS is still far and away the better option for me.
Where Andy values the flexibility of Android, I see it as a time sink. Maybe I've just grown lazy. I used to spend hours and days tweaking PalmOS and Windows Mobile, trying to get them as close to perfect as possible, just because I could. But perfection is a constantly moving, always unobtainable target. And within it lies procrastination. Now, like the spoon boy in the Matrix, I've come to understand there is no end to it, so have chosen to end it myself. Now, like the, Watchmen I've learned the value of the consistent 9-panel grid. And yes, these days even my Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 are as stock as the day they were born.
For people who love to tweak and change things up, Android is probably best choice on the market right now. But I'm not looking for a better keyboard. I just want to type. I'm no longer interested in working at my phone, I just want to work. Right out of the box, the default choices made by Apple for the iPhone let me, Captain Default, do that.
The iPhone, rumor has it, was never designed with third-party apps in mind. The App Store, third-party multitasking, folders, fast app switching, non-modal notifications, etc. were all bolted on later. To this day, there's no sharing intents or inter-app communications, no way to re-set defaults, no actionable notifications, no persistent internet connections, no changeable icon states, etc. Third-party apps are still clearly, sometimes painfully, second-class citizens, especially when compared to the power Apple's built-in apps have enjoyed from day one. For Andy, that's annoying enough to be a deal-breaker.
For me, Android's origins as a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile competitor, which to this day leave it's current, full, touch-screen incarnation to struggle with frame rates, overdo screen redraws, botch scrolling, panning, 1-to-1 touch tracking, and other interface issues like nails on a chalk-board. For me, they're the deal-breaker
Apple and Google are both working to overcome the limitations of their past architectural decisions. In the meantime, each of us have different things we're willing to put up. I don't use a fraction of the features on my iPhone anyway, much less the features on my Nexus 4. But the ones I do use, over and over again, day in and day out, I expect to be polished to the point of invisibility. I'd rather put up with doing less better than doing more less enjoyably.
The same thing holds true for apps. While Andy rightly points out that all the major apps and major categories of apps are now available on Android, and that the quantities have evened out, for me the quality still hasn't. To make a poor analogy, the big beer brands are in both stores now, but one store's micro-brewers are still brewing circles around everyone else in the industry.
Part of iOS' advantage is due to Apple's historic strengths. iOS enjoys not only an incredibly mature, phenomenally built set of Objective C frameworks, but an entrenched base of developers and designers who really, truly care about the craft of making great apps, and making them for iOS.
Of all the specific (not types of) apps on my iPhone, I can count on one semi-clenched hand how many are available on other platforms. Right now, only 1Password, Dropbox, Instagram, and Netflix (1Password is so much better on iOS, I'm tempted to only half-count it).
On the other hand, Fantastical, Twitterrific, Tweetbot, Screens, Letterpress, Elements, Drafts, are all iOS only, and that list goes on and on. That's not even counting Apple's App Store-only apps, many of which, like GarageBand, have reset expectations as to what it means to be a mobile app. And let's not forget you can get Google apps on iOS, while the reverse isn't true.
As good as Google is at services, that's how good Apple is at native software.
Of course, Google is upping their game, and DoubleTwist, Shifty Jelly, Dots and Lines, and others are making absolutely gorgeous Android apps these days, so even that difference may even out eventually. Yet where Andy says no iOS app was enough to prevent him from switching, as of right now, over a dozen merge, Voltron-like, to make even the thought of leaving them behind an absolute show-stopper for me.
Andy also points out the value of bigger screens on most Android phones. Personally, I don't think bigger screens are the issue -- I think the choice of screen sizes, or lack there of, is the issue. Some people really do prefer smaller phones that fit in their skinny hipster jeans, while others really do prefer phones so big they're almost tablets. Android phones come in almost every size imaginable, in quarter-inch increments. You can get small or large. With the iPhone, you can't. Andy wanted a bigger screen and Apple simply wouldn't sell him one. Samsung would.
I'd be interested in trying an iPhone with a bigger screen, but the 4-inch screen is fine for me. I have an iPad mini. For me, when it comes to screen size and class of software, a small tablet is far, far better than a big phone. I recognize some people prefer not having to lug around two devices, but I still think it's worth it. Just like a tablet can't yet replace my Mac, a phone can't yet replace my tablet. Not a Galaxy, not even a Note.
As to the rest of the hardware, no one else is fielding anything close to the manufacturing levels Apple is putting out right now. The HTC One might even things up, but for right now, even when I hold a Nexus 4, Lumia 920, or BlackBerry Z10, well manufactured devices all, the difference in palpable, never mind the plastics currently used by Samsung. I hold my phone throughout the day. How it feels matters a great deal to me.
It's a new year, and there'll be new software, services, and phones from Samsung, Apple, and everyone else. We live in interesting times. I'm still delighted by the iPhone and iOS on a daily basis. When and if that stops being the case, maybe I'll consider switching too. (I used to be all-in on Windows, Xbox, and Windows Mobile, after all.) Maybe the opposite will happen and Andy will switch back. Or to Windows Phone. Or to BlackBerry.
There are no more bad choices, only hard ones.
Give Andy's series a read, and you'll see how much thought he put into making his.