From Android to Apple – why, oh why?

For those who know me, I made what seemed like a big move this week – from Android to iOS.  In the past six years, I’ve been lucky to own and use as my main phone, at various times: Blackberry, Android, iPhone 4, back to Android (HTC One S, HTC One, and Moto X), and just this week, iPhone 5s.  My Android stint lasted over two years.  I came to love many things about the platform, which made it tough to leave but I felt that the move was necessary.

Mobile phones have relatively distinct parts: 1. Software, 2. Hardware.  Apple makes the best hardware, bar none. It’s software (iOS) leaves a lot to be desired.

Apple’s hardware is beautifully crafted using the best materials and technology available.  However, some Android makers (notably HTC, followed creatively by Motorola) have figured out how to make nice hardware.  It’s still not Apple quality but it’s close.  For me, this matters.  Unfortunately for Apple, a large number of people beautiful hardware does not matter.  ~90% of people put a case on their phone, which makes it just a screen.  I cringe every time I see a case on an iPhone but I digress.

Since a majority of people have a case on their phone that makes the phone just a screen.  For many users, if it’s just a screen and you have either big pockets, a purse, or your smartphone is your computer and iPad rolled into one, bigger is better.  Android has followed that market, which means, for my tastes, flagship Android hardware has become too big.  5 inches or more is the new norm (although Motorola did a perfect sizing job with the Moto X at 4.7inches and I would bet Apple will do the same with the iPhone 6).

When you have cases + screens, the only way to differentiate is through software. On that front, Apple has lost its way. iOS 7.1.1 is seemingly identical to the original iOS Steve Jobs debuted.  Sure, the colors are different. Skeumorphism is dramatically reduced. I can add apps but, in the end, I still have a big list of separate apps that stop running when I close them.  For battery life, this is good but for usability, this is embarrassing and messy.  It’s as if beautiful hardware can’t mate with beautiful software.  On Android, I had widgets for my most important information at a glance. No need to open apps. I loved playing with different launchers (Themer is the most fun semi-launcher). Android could automatically sort my apps so I could avoid the hour I spent just doing it on my iPhone. Quality search on both iPhone and Android reduce the need for a list of apps in the first place. Finally, on iPhone, why am I still required to use one keyboard? The security risk of using third party keyboards is one reason but Apple has billions of dollars saved up and a few thousand engineers.  They could buy Swype or SwiftKey or, like Google, develop their own knockoff.

Finally, Android makers have gone one step further – gestures.  Apple developed (or popularized at least) pinch & zoom, etc. However, that’s it and that was a long time ago in the mobile world. On my Moto X, I could shake my wrist to turn on the camera. Using Themer, I could do different gestures to launch my top apps or do an activity. All of this saved time. It seems as if Apple is caught in an Innovator’s Dilemma – changing up iOS may hurt their core user base so they are afraid of making any big changes.

So given that a) some Android makers have decent hardware, and, b) iOS has near zero new innovation (and a lot of catching up to do), why would I ever switch?

Android’s open world, widgets, and customizations make it wonderful.  However, those same customizations drain battery, open up security holes, and potentially break critical functions of the phone.  Second, my one big luxury item is buying the best new phone (I sell my old one on eBay for, generally, a very small loss so it works out cash-wise).  The best new Android phones are now too big for me, which relegates me to buying their mid-range phones.  My Moto X was only 6 months old so I could have kept using it.  However, for reasons I still cannot figure out, it started having issues with its clock.  This meant that, twice, my alarm simply did not go off.  Google Hangouts, which became my default SMS client, took forever to load each message.  My final reason: I took a job at the best Apple accessory maker – Henge Docks.  Since we build the beautiful Gravitas iPhone & iPad docks and I believe in eating one’s own dogfood, not being able to use a Gravitas was frustrating.

So here I am, staunch Android user making more mobile compromises by buying an iPhone. Amazing hardware with the iPhone combined with old, non-innovative software on iOS. The mobile world is still filled with tradeoffs.  I’m hoping someone – Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola or even Nokia (I actually love Windows phone but that’s for another post) will create the perfect device but I have yet to see it.

 

 

iPhone vs Android and Why I am back on Android

In the past two years, I have used every major phone OS except for Windows Mobile and every major carrier.

Two years ago I had a Blackberry.  When I first received it, I thought I had truly arrived heck, someone in the organization thought I was important enough to need to be in touch 24/7!  Wow!  J  My Blackberry service was through Sprint and also Verizon.  Zero issues.  Seriously, I found both services to be pretty comparable (this was in the DC metro area).

One and a half years ago, I got my first Android phone, which was on Verizon.  I loved it.  Part of my excitement stemmed from the fact that it simply seemed modern in comparison to Blackberry.  I could do so much more.  However, I’m a tech nerd at heart and I love modifying the tools I use.  When I receive a new phone, I find all the best apps and test them all.   I start modifying the phone to my liking.

What were some of the top things about Android:

  1. Widgets: the fun little boxes of information that are constantly updating
  2. Apps: these were pretty good and the selection seemed fine (granted, testing out comparative apps on iOS was not a perfect 1:1 since I could only do it on the iPod Touch I owned).  However, coming from Blackberry, Android was a revelation.
    1. Cheap apps: Android apps are much more likely to be free/lower cost than their iPhone brethren.
  3. Phone and carrier options: the wide array of phones at any and every price is great.
  4. Software: The Android OS, while far from perfect (and sometimes pretty buggy) feels modern.  Iterations are rapid (even if the carriers do not always send them out).  Andy Rubin and crew looked at the iPhone and its weaknesses and thought they could do it better.  In many ways, they did.
    1. Swype: Simple the fastest way to sw”type” on a smartphone.  Fast and easy and I think I make fewer errors than even using the iPhones pretty smart typing capability.
  5. Mods: Even as the hardware on my phone aged, with software mods and tweaks, I could keep my phone fresh and new feeling.
  6. Connection to Google, the Cloud, and contact management: I am a big user of Google products (namely Gmail, Greader, maps, and Picasa).  On Android, since it is built by Google, these apps are top and extremely well done.
    1. De-dupe is nearly perfect and, at least on my former HTC Incredible, an impressive unified contact list was built with my friend’s info from gmail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so I could see everything they were doing.  Nice.

Android, like every piece of technology, has its drawbacks, as well:

  1. Battery: With all the widgets and multi-tasking, every Android phone drains its battery fast.  Charging during the day is a must (this is supposedly even more true if you have a 4G phone).
  2. Quality apps: fewer of them but really, with ~500k in both the iPhone and Android market, it’s easy to find a decent app for what you want.
  3. A more challenging developer market: this is more important for the people building what I like to use/test but when you have hundreds (if not thousands) of different configurations of phones, it is tough to build just one perfect and beautiful app.
  4. Security: Android is less secure than the iPhone if for no other reason than that the iTunes store is locked and closed by Apple.  Your app must be approved.  Android’s app store is open (although I believe Amazon’s Android app store does vet apps, which makes it a great alternative).
  5. Software: Because it’s newer and has had less time to mature, Android has bugs.  I had to restart my phone because it froze.
    1. Software 2: because the Android OS is open, carriers are free to install whatever bloatware they want on it and they do (note: Verizon is the worst offender).  You cannot easily delete this bloatware.

Seven months ago, when my old company was acquired, the acquiring company forced all users [who received a phone paid for by the company] to either move to an iPhone or Blackberry.  Given the lack of innovation from RIM in about 24 months, I did not see that as a viable option.  Hence, to the iPhone I went.

Top things I love about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: this is simply the most beautiful piece of phone hardware (any hardware?) on the market today.  I love looking at it.  I love how it feels in my hand. It screams quality, craftsmanship, and a love of design over anything else.  It is pretty much perfect (until the iPhone 5 launches, at least!).
    1. Screen: up until about five months ago, no Android manufacturer could come close to matching the quality of the iPhone 4’s retina display.  It looks great and I quickly became spoiled.  Colors are bright and vibrant.  Pixels are basically nonexistent.
    2. Apps: the newest and best apps are still released on the iPhone.  If you want them, then you need an iPhone.  Simple.  Note that this is beginning to change and may be flipped in 12-24 months due to the simply much larger market represented by Android.
      1. Due to a few reasons: 1. A lot of the app developers are in silicon valley.  This place loves Apple. 2. Easier development environment – one screen (sort of two now with the iPad).  3. Higher payment rates – i.e. iPhone users are much more likely to pay for the app.
      2. Software: in nearly every situation, the iPhone OS simply works.  No questions.  It just does.  Of course, when it breaks or freezes (rare), you don’t know why but you likely didn’t lose anything so it is not a huge deal.
      3. Battery: 95% of the time, I can get through an entire day of use.  This includes a few hours of calls plus moderate email/internet browsing and probably a little GPS map use.

Top things I dislike about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: it feels slow and that slowdown is noticeable (maybe a software issue).  The iPhone4’s processor is now outdated (although, granted, the iPhone 4S has rectified this issue but since I only have a regular iPhone 4, that is what I am comparing).
  2. Software: the iPhone OS simply seems and looks old.  In many ways it is the same OS that Steve Jobs launchedat MacWorld 2007.  Sure, notifications and a version of multitasking were launched.  Both were catchups to Android.  Oh, and I can put my apps in folders! Wee… (sarcasm ensues).  The iPhone OS is functional, secure, and stable.  It works.  However, it is no longer modern.
    1. As a side note: the iOS software sometimes does things I simply cannot figure out like when it beeps like I have new mail or some other notification (despite all sounds for all notifications being turned off) but when nothing worth notifying me about has occurred.  Still not sure what is going on.
  3. Contact management and the Cloud: Apple has iCloud.  It is supposed to backup everything on your iOS devices.  Great idea.  However, in Apple’s drive towards simplicity, this tool doesn’t in fact work well.  With both my iPhone and iPad backing up to the Cloud, iCoud is out of space.  This is much more challenging to manage than it should be.
    1. Contact management is worse: on Android, de-dupe is nearly flawless and connecting y contacts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is easy.  It’s called a unified contact list.   The iPhone doesn’t do this.  It is probably a control thing.  Instead, you have to go through an imperfect workaround to get your friend’s photos in your contact list and these photos do not seem to update regularly without your manual involvement.  I also had contacts on my old computer plus a few other places.  Apple decided to suck all of them into my phone without any de-dupe.  Now I have about 4-5 different contacts for the same people.  There is NO way to de-dupe (although yes, you can link accounts but over a few thousand contacts, this isn’t really an option), which leads me to…
  4. iTunes: Apple, with iCloud, now lets you bypass iTunes, which is a blessing.  However, it is still one of the main ways to get your music, photos, and backups completed/updated, etc.  This is a major problem when you have two different iOS devices (like an iPad and iPhone).  iTunes copies apps that were installed and downloaded for one device onto the other, which means wasted time deleting those apps where they are not wanted.  #Inefficient.
        1. iTunes is also bloated and slow.  Move it all to the Cloud (like Spotify + Netlifx) and you will have solved the problem.  I don’t want this on my computer and your updates and new terms of service (TOS) are annoying.
        2. Closed system: Apple locks you in.  They don’t let you make changes.  You are behind their firewall and you have to go with the choices they make.  This actually is both a positive and negative thing.  Some people love it due to the inherent security and simplicity of this approach.  Others hate or at least dislike it.  Since I am in the latter camp, I’m putting this one here.
        3. AT&T: I’ve never had major dropped call issues with AT&T (rare but it does occur and it never really happened on Verizon or Sprint).  However, I do find their network to be super slow (despite their advertising campaigns stating otherwise).  When you need to start driving somewhere but also need a map of where to go and nothing shows up for minutes, that is a problem.

Since I am starting my own company, I needed a new phone.  Which to choose, iPhone (4S since I was buying new) or Android??  In the end, the choice was simple – Android but that was driven primarily because I choose T-Mobile as my carrier.  TMobile had the best deal around by a lot and they do not carry the iPhone.  However, if I had a choice, it would have been much more challenging.

All the best Android phones are HUGE (i.e. screens that are massive).  I have an iPad and a laptop.  I don’t need a mini iPad in my pocket.  I prefer the smaller iPhone screen.  The iPhone 4S is also much faster than the original 4 (the one I currently have) plus has probably the best camera (plus photo software) on any mobile smart phone.  That is compelling.

Android has a lot of variety and software that I prefer. It also has 4G speeds, which, I actually don’t care that much about – I just want the data plan to work when I need it.  A little slower but greater reliability is fine by me plus, 4G eats battery.

So what should you choose – that depends on a) carrier choice, b) whether screen size matters, c) whether price matters (although this is less so with some type of iPhone being available at just about every price point), d) whether apps matter (this goes both ways…quality (iPhone) vs price (Android) since selection is mostly similar unless you need the best and newest).  Good luck choosing – choice is wonderful to have so enjoy it!

Side note: I think Windows Mobile 7 is the best OS out on the market.  It looks the best and it is the best combination of the iPhone and Android.  It is the most modern.  However, it lacks app and or the killer phone hardware (although the Nokia 900 might change that).  If apps don’t matter too much to you but working on MS office does, then go Windows mobile. 🙂

p.s. Which Android phone did I buy?  Samsung Galaxy SII on T-Mobile.

p.p.s. sorry for the formatting issues.  Wrote this post originally on world while flying.  Too late in the night to deal with HTML.

Android Fail – Battery Issues galore

I have a Droid 2 Global.  It is about three months old.  It is supposedly one of the best Android phones on the market.  Verizon rates it at 500 minutes of use (or nearly 8.5 hrs) of active use battery life or 230 hours in standby.  I am not sure where they come up with these numbers.  If you do anything with your phone, the battery will [quickly] fail.  Or, put another way, Android phones do not seem to understand “standby” or, if they do, Verizon’s definition of standby is a far cry from actual normal use.

My first Android phone was the Droid 2 regular.  I returned it.  Why?  Two reasons: 1. The Droid 2 Global launched with a “better” processor and global abilities.  2. The Droid 2 regular’s battery failed almost right away each day.  All day long (i.e. until the battery died), it would heat up to a nearly burning point in my pocket.  It didn’t matter that no major programs were running or that the screen was off – something was working…working very very hard and draining the battery.  Fail.  Return to Verizon.

I am fairly technical.  I enjoy playing around with my phone.  I dig into the settings.  When I first received the Droid 2 Global, it thankfully did not burn a hole in my pocket (although it becomes oddly warm while completely “off” and just sitting in my pocket) but by noon (starting at 6:30am), the battery was at less than 50% with minimal use.  I dug and dug into settings.

Now, I have my phone set to force quit nearly every program.  Nothing except for my work email is supposed to update in the background (unless on WiFi).  Sadly, despite this setting existing, it does not work.  Some programs do update (such as Facebook (not today though since not logged in), BBC, Pulse, and Google Finance).  Of course, other programs that I do want to update do not – Weather and my Google Voicemail are two key ones.

What happens when this occurs – battery fail! I am now prepared for this outcome and assume it will happen.  I bring a charger with me to work and keep it on me nearly all the time.  I have an extra battery.  Today, however, I forgot the charger, which led me to do a forced test.  How long would my battery last now that I have done everything I can possibly imagine to conserve it?

Answer – 8.5 hours after taking it off the charger, I was at 20% remaining charge.  To reach this point, one would assume I actually used my phone.  Sadly, that was not the case.  Here is my usage: about 20 text messages (10 sent, 10 received).  Exactly 15 minutes on the phone (for work, I should add!).  2 NYTimes articles read while waiting for something….nothing more.  Since I knew I would be hurting for power, I did not look at my work or personal email (Gmail) although they were syncing (until I attempted to turn off sync…and my attempt also failed since the button did not work).

I have looked for the battery culprit but to no avail.  None of the diagnostic programs I have run can point it out perfectly.  The best one, Spare Parts, says that 60% of my battery went to “other” programs.  It does not specify.  6% went to the screen. 3% went to the phone.  The processor was barely used for battery drain.

By comparison, my colleague joined me on the train home.  She has a Droid X.  She took it off the charger this morning.  It is her personal phone so she didn’t use it at all during the work day.  She received a few texts and it is syncing with Gmail (but not work email).  She had about 80% of her battery remaining.

What does mean?  Simply put, a few things:

  1. The Droid line of phones (Droid 2 or Droid 2 Global) have some issue.  All you have to do is read the comments on Verizon about the phone to confirm that.
  2. Motorola, Verizon FAIL (I do not specifically think it is an Android issue).
  3. I believe that some software Motorola (or, less likely, Verizon) installed is at fault.  I’ve seriously contemplated rooting my phone.  I am nearly at the last straw.
  4. Companies like Motorola need to focus on smart, efficient software.  Crapware and MotoBlur do exactly zero for me except to dislike your company’s products more (I should add that my battery life did improve once I got rid of MotoBlur).  Most regular users probably do not know you have a special skin.  They DO know, however, that they have a failure of a phone from Motorola.  Is that a worthwhile tradeoff?
  5. Battery life is key.  See Louis Gray’s blog post.
  6. Finally…fail fail fail.  I know these phones are powerful.  I know they can do a huge amount.  I love smartphones.  I hate phones that are warming up in my pocket when supposedly asleep. Fail.

A few side notes:

  1. My iPad last for days of usage.  While it is not using 3G, it is updating my work email account all day long (via WiFi).  Its screen is on, usually, for at least two hours a day (typing emails, on the Internet, listening to music, reading books, etc).  My Motorola Droid 2 – The screen is actually on for less than an hour each day and yet it cannot do 8 full hours.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.  Moto Fail.
  2. I beat up on Motorola a lot since I think it is mostly their fault – hardware issues plus all the crap they add on top in an inane attempt to differentiate (although I definitely understand why they want to try).  A know a lot of people on various Android devices from HTC, Samsung and more who have similar issue.  Android definitely needs some work on this front.  Multitasking is a culprit but not the only one (at least make the kill task switch work) and there is no reason why a phone that is supposed to be sleeping is in fact heating up my leg.
  3. My Verizon 3G mobile hotspot also died today.  It was fully charged yesterday and off all day today.  Why – poor design.  The “on/off” button: a) is in a place where it is easily knocked, b) doesn’t actually turn off half the time I attempt to turn it off.  A hotspot (and paying for the service) is no use when it doesn’t work.

Verizon iPhone and why I simply do not care

Tomorrow is [supposedly] the big iPhone Verizon announcement.  Verizon is holding a big, fully media covered, event in NYC.  Tech bloggers from the major publications are headed to the Big Apple (Techcrunch, as an example).   This is a major.big.deal….in a post-CES techworld where there is nothing much else going on.

A few facts (as we currently know them): the Verizon iPhone 4 will be essentially identical to its GSM-cousin except that, and this is my guess (i.e. I have not read it anywhere else), it will be a worldphone, which means it will work on essentially any network anywhere (except for 4G/WiMax networks).  Cool.  The iPhone is an amazing piece of hardware.  It is the best hardware on the market (assuming you do not want a keyboard).  Its software (iOS) just works and has ~150,000 more apps than its nearest competitor (the Android market).

I recently purchased a Droid 2 Global on Verizon, which means that I essentially have the “best” smartphone currently available on Verizon.  “Best” is clearly subjective but it has the fastest available processor, a great screen, and is a world phone.  Most importantly, it is running the latest publicly release build of Android (2.2 except for those Nexus S customers on T-Mobile with 2.3).  However, the phone is far from perfect – the software is sometimes sluggish, it tends to reset on me every time I plug it into my computer, and it is heavy (partially due to the keyboard), and battery life is so-so.  Despite years of false rumors, I was fairly confident that the iPhone 4 was going to launch on Verizon in winter 2011.  So why didn’t I wait and why is all this extra hype a bit bothersome?

1. I have bought into the Google ecosystem in most ways (although I try to use Bing here and there).  Outside of work, Gmail is my main email program.  Google maps is my go-to map program on nearly a daily basis.  Google voice is awesome.  Google calendar is my personal calendar system. On the iPhone, these [mostly] work but not nearly as well nor do they receive the fastest updates.  As these are my daily go-to programs, I want the best.

2. Lack of control.  I have an iPad, which is essentially the same iOS running on the iPhone, and while it is great, the lack of control over the system and how I use it, bothers me.  Granted, if you are willing to give up a lot of control over your main computing device (i.e. your smartphone) in exchange for a rock-solid OS, then the iPhone is a good choice.  I like to modify things to suite me so the iPhone is no way to go.  Note that on the iPad, which I really only use to consume media, I care less about control.  My phone is simply a more important device, which means I care more about how it works.

3. Apple hype – I am sort of annoyed by the Apple hype. Don’t get me wrong, I love many Apple products and own four of them (iPad, iPod touch gen 1, Macbook Pro, and MacMini hooked up to my TV).  They almost always tend to work.  However, so do things in the Cloud (see my review of Google CR-48).  No smartphone works really well without a connection to the Internet and the Cloud.  Apple makes beautifully designed gadgets but that does not make them inherently better. The hype is simply overblown.  This is the launch of a phone you have already seen on a network you may already use.  Sure, the network is ten times better than AT&T but this isn’t groundbreaking.  Really, why do you care?  Are you going to break your two year contract with your carrier to upgrade early or switch to Verizon?  Waste of money but go ahead.

4. Apps – Apple has the most apps by a good margin.  However, Android has a huge number of Apps, as well.  Every App I have needed, I can find.  There are a few that I would want that I cannot but this has not bothered me greatly.  The best apps do launch on Apple but, once again, how many apps do you need?  I am a power user and I am happy with Android.  Having the best and most recent apps (except for Google apps) is a big plus but not a game changer.

5. Keyboard & Swype – this isn’t a major reason since plenty of Android phones do not have physical keyboards.  However, slowly typing out messages on a virtual keyboard without any assistance is tough (even on a much larger iPad).  If you are on an Apple device, since Steve Jobs controls the market, you only have one keyboard to choose from — the stock one.  However, if you are on Android, you not only can choose a hardware keyboard (like I have) but you can also use different keyboards like Swype, which makes “typing” on a touchscreen much much faster.

In the end, I am happy that there is more competition in the smartphone market since it simply means better devices for all of us.  The lack of the iPhone on Verizon and other major US carriers has been a huge boon for Android, which, now that it is a viable and stable platform, creates even more competition.  However, remember, the Verizon iPhone, while great, is still just a closed-system beautifully designed Apple device.  It is tempting to want one but Android is at least just as good and offers plenty more hardware options.

Enjoy the insane news coverage tomorrow!

 

A few side notes/edits: 1. Verizon generally does have a slower but much more robust network.  If you prefer fewer dropped calls, go with Verizon. 2. AT&T is faster – I did a simple test this morning.  iPhone 4 with two bars of service vs Verizon Droid 2 Global with full bars of service: AT&T iPhone = 1.5Gbs up and 1Gbps down with a ~300ping.  Verizon Droid: 800Mbps up and 800 Mbps down with ~300 ping.  AT&T is faster.  Plus, I should add that you can talk and use the Internet at the same time on AT&T, which is sort of nice if you don’t really want to pay attention to your conversation!