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.