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.

 

 

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!

Laptop Surgery – installing a new hard drive on my Macbook Pro

My Macbook Pro (~2006 edition) came with a 120GB HD.  At the time, I knew this was likely too small but that I could handle it.  I keep most of my music and video files on an external drive.  Of course, I also have a 34GB Windows Vista partition, which means only ~86GB Mac HD.  Despite careful use of my space, I only have 4GB free.  I cannot clean out any more files but I now no longer even have enough space for automatic updates from Apple.  This is a problem.

Solution = buy a new hard drive and install it on my computer.  This is much easier said than done.  I thought about doing this in the past but decided against it given the potential for error on my part and what that would mean (i.e. broken computer that could become expensive to fix).  The pros of more space did not outweigh the cons.  However, with only 4GB left, the pros have it and my laptop surgery has begun.

Some details about my MacBook Pro: 4GB of RAM (user installed but that was easy), 2.2 Core Duo 2, 128MB GeForce 8600.  Four years of use and it is still fast and runs well.

Installing a new hard drive on these computers is no easy feat.  There are a number of guides out there such as this one from ExtremeTech or this one from iFixit.  Both are pretty detailed but to do a full HD install on my type (i.e. not the newer ones) of MacBook Pro, you are basically taking the computer completely apart.

I write this mini guide to provide an overview of what I did to those who may follow and as a mini-journal.

1. Buy a new HD and a 2.5inch external enclosure – I choose a 250GB 7200 RPM drive.  I think this is already too little space.  Ugh – why didn’t I splurge a bit and buy another 100gigs?  I went for the 7200RPM because I like the idea of making my computer a bit faster wherever possible.  The 2.5 inch external enclosure has dual purposes: 1. use it to copy all of your old HD data to the new drive, 2. put your old drive in it when all is done and you have a new external backup HD.  I purchased both items from Newegg.

2. Download and install SuperDuper and Winclone (for those who have a Windows Partition they would like to keep).  Note: Winclone is a bit confusing (and the developer’s website seems to be down) but here is a decent description and outline.

3. Run SuperDuper to backup all of your data onto your new hard drive (sitting in its external enclosure).  Once backed up fully, reboot your computer and load the computer from your new hard drive (the one that is still external).  If it loads, then you should be in good shape to install the new drive.   Do the same backup with Winclone –> Winclone needs some explanation since there is no FAQ or detailed description of how to use it.  Basics: You create an image of your Bootcamp Windows drive somewhere on your Mac hard drive or an external hard drive (I put it on an external drive but NOT my new hard drive).  Don’t do anything else with the image until after you install your new drive.

4. Install the new hard drive.  Here is the scary part — one wrong move and my computer could be fried.  I carefully followed the instructions from iFixit and, as I had hoped, the installation was easier than expected.  Sure, you always have to be careful opening up a beautiful piece of hardware but there is something beautiful looking at everything that makes it work.  I followed iFixit’s instructions, then reversed them and the entire process took about 20 minutes.  Phew.  Now for the real test: turning my computer back on.  Voila, it worked (although it was a bit slow at first).

5. Reinstalling Windows.  Run Bootcamp Assistant and create a new partition.  If you don’t mind losing everything on your old Window’s partition, then install Windows brand new.  However, if you do want the old information, you can once again use Winclone.  However, this time around, click on the “Restore” tab, select your backup image, and then restore it to your new Bootcamp partition.  If you are lucky, this will work no problem (although Windows may ask you to verify that you have a valid copy).

If all goes well, despite the slight trepidation you may feel about opening up your MacBook Pro, you will have a faster and bigger new hard drive.

A few small things I learned:

1. Opening up my computer was not nearly as scary as it seemed.  Me and my computer lived to tell the tale and we are both better for it.  I can now not only play around with the software (which I already do) but the hardware, as well…anyone know if it is possible to upgrade my graphics card (note…that is rhetorical since I am 99% sure the answer is no).

2. Be careful, go slow and be methodical.  Each screw I took out I laid out in a line, in order of when I took it out.  When I had to put everything back together, it was simple to know which screw to use when.

3. Have fun!

Hope this helps.

iPhone vs. Nintendo DS vs. Playstation Portable (PSP)

I just wrote this long, elegant (not really) post about the above title.  Somehow it was deleted.  I don’t have the energy to re-write it.

Here is a rundown:

  • iPhone’s multi-touch + gyroscope/accelerometer + software version 2.0 (and the download website) make it an amazing gaming platform.  I speak from experience with my “cracked” iPod Touch.
  • The iPhone is what the next DS should have been (and maybe will be):  the iPhone is the mini-Wii.
  • When it comes to portability, would you rather have many devices that do 1 thing really well or one device that does all the things pretty well (and in the Iphones case, maybe better)?  I would rather have one.  My pocket will thank me.
  • What does the future hold?  Nintendo and Sony (and probably Microsoft albeit through a software/zune gaming solution), will launch multi-touch, accelerometered gaming cell phones.  If they are marketed as gaming cell-phones, a-la Nokia’s Ngage, they will fail.  However, the PSP next is just an amazing looking (and working) Sony/Ericsonn phone that also happens to play playstation games, then it could succeed.
  • Microsoft will spend a lot of time making Windows Mobile gaming a reality
  • I might be wrong on Nintendo DS Next’s future — knowing Nintendo, they will keep it just as a gaming platform.
  • One thing is certain, the iPhone is about to steal the portable gaming market’s thunder the same way it stole the smartphone market’s thunder.  Cue the slapping your head “duh” moment from Nintendo/Sony/MS executives and fanboys alike (minus Nokia, they saw it coming although they couldn’t get it really right).

Check out this video from IGN.

Now I wish Randi could finish her work (it is 11:47pm and my twenty minutes of non-bar thought is up.  Time to go to bar dreams…evidence, crimpro, property — snore).