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!

Blackberry 8830 versus iPhone (and most other smartphones)

My company gave me a Blackberry 8830 (thank you!).  Despite my pleas, my company is Blackberry only.  However, I thought that since the Blackberry 8830 was a smartphone (and a popular one at that), I would be able to customize it to my heart’s content.  I was wrong.  

As a gadget loving tinkerer, I enjoy finding great new programs for my electronic  toys (i.e. phone and computer).  By great, I almost always mean easy to use, useful, and, most important, free.  Sadly for all the developers out there, I have found almost no reason to purchase most pieces of software.  A legal, free alternative is usually viable and available.  If there is no alternative, I pay but it is rare that I actually need said software enough to buy it.  I just do without.  

Back to the berry — I started finding great programs for my phone.  Many seemed useful and fun.  Of course, the options for the Blackberry 8830 are not as easily found or as good as those for the iPhone.  Despite this fact, I was able to find many things that interested me.  I downloaded them.

I quickly ran into a problem that many Blackberry owners have found — lack of memory = messed up Blackberry.  I soon ran out of memory.  Suddenly, most of my messages, past call history, and other important items were deleted.  My berry took forever to open up programs.  I did not get it.  I added a memory card.  At least in the 8830, memory cards do not actually help in the memory department unless you only want to store photos or music.  All programs are stored on the internal memory.  

What did this mean?  Simple — my smartphone is a lot less smart than the competitors (i.e. iphone).   Besides the normal bberry programs, I have Gmail, Google Maps, Viigo, Beyond411, Wall Street Journal program, and an icon for the New York Times and WashingtonPost.  Anything more and my memory would run out.  

I can somewhat forgive RIM for shipping my phone with such a minimal amount of memory.  However, it is unforgivable on the newer Berrys (such as the Bold and new Curve).  On the new phones, memory cards can store programs but this is still ridiculous.  Memory is very cheap.  For the same price as an 8GB iPhone, you can purchase a Bold.  From a memory and program option perspective, the choice is clear (iPhone).  Obviously, some people love BlackBerrys but if you want programs that make your phone truly smart – an iPhone or any phone with real internal memory is the winner.

iPod Touch Apps & Apple App Store

For my study break tonight, I installed Apple’s version 2.0 software update for my iPod Touch.

Put simply, it makes my iPod the best pda in the business.  Now I really want an iPhone since I hate being tethered to wifi but might dislike ATT and their iPhone ripoff just as much.

I am tired so I will keep this brief (and try not to regurgitate too much of what other’s have already said) — the iPhone is a great piece of hardware but the software + the app store = an amazing piece of equipment.

In a manner similar to computer makers who are stuck with Windows (see my previous post), phone manufacturers are going to have difficulty replicating the iPhone/iPod Touch’s software and app store.  Hardware is easily replicated (see Sprint’s Samsung Instinct) but software legions of fans (and businesses) wanting to create programs for your software is not.  Apple’s App store is the “hot” place right now.  That could change (especially when Google’s Android is released) but Apple has a big head start, which is growing by the day.

Quick review: The App store is already good and will only get better as more software is released.  However,  not all of this new software is up to Apple quality and my Touch has already frozen on me once.  How long until people begin to blame Apple for 3rd party software problems (see Windows for an example of how this happens)?

Even still, RIM, Nokia, Samsung, LG, you have major work to do and I hope you do it asap!

What happens when Apple is no longer cool?

With the launch of the new iPhone rapibly approaching, a thought has popped into my head — what happens to Apple when they are no longer as cool or counter-culture as they used to be?  Will its legions of hardcore fans, the ones who stuck by Apple through all of those tough years (and the new people who are joining the train now), want to continue to eat every scrap Apple throws their way without complaint?

People are lining up throughout the world to be the first to get their hands on the new iPhone.  From everything I have read, it is a great phone but if you already have an iPhone version 1, version 2 isnt so much better.  The most important part of this launch is the App Store and that is available on iPhone 1, as well as 2. Why are people lining up?  Why so much hype (in every newspaper in the world)?  Because it is Apple.  What happens when they stop being the golden Apple?

I loved my Apple when it was only one of a few around town.  I was part of the Apple crew and I bonded with people over my Mac.  Sure, it is a great computer with great software but it stood out because it was an Apple.  Heck, just today someone asked me questions about it and whether they should buy one.  This person came to me because he saw I had a Mac.  I can’t imagine someone doing the same if I was using a Dell.  My problem was this — I didn’t want to tell him to buy a Mac.  I wanted to say, “no, dont buy a Mac.”  I didn’t want the people not already in the Apple group to join.  I wanted my Mac to be exclusive.

Apple no longer is exclusive.  It has gone mainstream.  I still love my Mac but it is no longer the same sort of love and devotion that I used to have for it.  “Everyone” has a Mac.  It simply is not special.  Will this hurt or help Apple’s business?  What happens when Apple’s every move is not as closely tracked and people don’t care.  I don’t see people lining up for any other product launches (except video game systems and that only happens once every five or so years).

Too many apples too much of the time makes one sick of Apples.

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).

M:Metrics iPhone survey

Today, research firm M:Metrics released a January survey of 10,000 adults.  The survey’s findings are somewhat dramatic and the survey’s title, “iPhone Hype Holds Up” is apt.

The most dramatic findings of the report are that 84.8% of users go online and that 30.9% use their iPhone to watch mobile TV and/or video.  However, the most interesting nugget of information is that nearly 50% of iPhone users used their iPhone to access a social networking site or blog.  This compares to 19.4% of smartphone users who do the same.  20% of those iPhone users were going to Facebook (compared to 2% of smartphone users).  Interestingly, Facebook was one of the first web properties to customize its interface for the iPhone ans has been featured in iPhone commercials.

Since the official demographics of iPhone users are similar to those of smartphone users (i.e. ale, aged 25-34, earn more that $100,000 and have a college degree), a question arises — why are iPhone users so much more likely to use the internet?

There are several potential answers: 1. all iPhone plans come with unlimited internet use.  Once you have it, you begin to use it.  As I can attest to from experience, the internet on your phone might not be something you are willing to pay for up front.  However, once you taste its sweet nectar, you can’t go back to a life without it.  Unfortunately, I do not believe that this answer fully explains the disparities discussed above.  The fact is that many smartphone users (although not 100% like the iPhone) have free internet included in their plan.

A second potential answer is that iPhone users are not as similar a demographic as M:Metrics would have you believe.  On the surface, they are similar (i.e. age, education and earning power).  However, iPhone users may differ on one key component — net/tech savvy.  The current crop of iPhone users include many early adopters.  These are the people who buy the “cool” new product. They are the people who already live the digital lifestyle (and find it fun). They spend a large portion of their day online; the iPhone only makes it that much easier to stay connected.  The average smartphone user, on the other hand, may be more business focused, less interested in Facebook, and less likely to spend time going online with their phone because they are already receiving their email through a push mechanism.   I am making broad assertions but their are greater differences between the iPhone and smartphone group than initially shown.

A third option is that the iPhone is simply a much better internet device than any smartphone before it.  I have used and played with many smartphones and I can compare them to my iPod Touch (same internet surfing experience, albeit slightly faster over wifi, as the iPhone).  The iPhone is a better internet device.  It was designed with the internet in mind.  A finger is a better navigation device than a blackberry ball, a scrollwheel, or any other interface device (except for a mouse, which needs a computer).  The iPhone makes it easy and fun to go online.  It is a harbringer of things to come and I ardently hope for some strong competition.