My Tipping Point Between iOS and Android
I’ve had an iPhone 3GS for nearly two years. For a while now, I’ve also had a Nexus One. I’ve mostly used the iPhone, of course, but I took a renewed interest in the Nexus One with the release of Gingerbread. I saw enough “new” and overall refinements in Gingerbread that I considered making the switch to Android as my primary device.
Then a funny thing happened to my 3GS: the battery decided to take a nosedive. My efforts to get the battery replaced made things worse instead of better. The 3GS still works, but the battery won’t last more than a few hours at best now. I have therefore had no choice but to make the switch to Android, unless I wanted to buy a new phone, which I am thinking about, but the choice is no longer as clear cut as it once was.
So, of course, now I’m looking at new handsets, both an iPhone 4 and at various Android handsets. The main problem I have is that I have very exacting standards for a handset, which are:
- Handset must be GSM (this limits me to AT&T and possibly T-Mobile)
- Handset must be unlocked (I violated this rule with the 3GS, and given the issues I’ve had with unlocking, the only way I would entertain an iPhone again is if I could buy it factory unlocked)
- Handset must be free of operator crapware (This is easy on iPhone, I would prefer a handset that only has stock Android firmware, but I’ll settle for one without operator customizations)
- Handset must be have enough “new” compared to either my iPhone 3GS and/or Nexus One to warrant purchase (e.g. difference between Nexus One and Nexus S is minimal, same for iPhone 3GS and 4).
Unfortunately, finding a handset in the US that meets all these requirements (and has a US Warranty) is proving to be difficult. The Samsung Galaxy S II looks really nice, but it’s not available in the US yet and will most likely only be available in an operator crapware-infested version unless I buy an imported one.
Setting the handset issue aside for a moment, I’d like to take a holistic look at the differences between iPhone and Android in terms of the OS and the ecosystem. As I tell people that ask me about these things, you’re not just buying a handset any longer.
The Gingerbread OS Itself
First let’s talk about some of the refinements in the OS. They seem to have removed a lot of the lagginess that I experienced in Froyo. They’ve generally made the notification bar and other things look nicer. When you scroll too far, you get this weird glowing orange effect at the edge. That’s kinda cool.
But for me, the thing that they’ve fixed is the on-screen keyboard. It’s now on-par with the iOS on-screen keyboard, but a little better because you can hold down the letters in the top row to get numbers without having to switch to the number and symbol part of the keyboard. And if you don’t like their keyboard, you can always replace it with a third party one–also a bonus.
Being a Mac person, I’m used to the whole iTunes experience and needing that to Sync. On Android, there isn’t really a “solution” for that–especially on the Mac. Actually there is, and it’s called Missing Sync. Unlike iTunes, you can sync wirelessly–either over WiFi or Bluetooth. I can’t get WiFi to work consistently (sure that’s related to my VPN software), so I just use Bluetooth. You can also sync media (e.g. pictures, audio, and video) over USB. You have to load Missing Sync specific apps for the Calendar, but I don’t find that a huge problem.
But also, unlike iTunes, Missing Sync is far from free–$40! I have to do this this way because I am not connecting my phone to our corporate Exchange server.
With the recent addition of Google Music, the need to sync music via a USB cable goes away almost entirely. I can now stream (and store locally) music from my iTunes collection that has already been uploaded into the Google cloud. Any time I buy new tracks in iTunes on my Mac, it automatically uploads to Google’s cloud a couple minutes later.
Email and PIM
Apple’s email program is ok. On Android, I am using the Gmail app. It obviously supports more of Gmail’s feature more directly, which results in a better experience for things like deleting emails (which of course I do a lot). It also supports “undo” if I delete something accidentally. Score one for Android
Contacts and Calendar are about the same. Unfortunately, Missing Sync requires a separate calendar app to view entries synced from my Mac. On the other hand, I don’t actually use Google’s calendar, so that’s not a big deal. Something I will need to do on my Android device: join a bunch of contacts. There are some duplicates being synced to the device from different locations. I suspect it’s because there are duplicates on the computer. I will need to sort this out someday.
I’m personally have not been happy with just about any Twitter app, with the possible exception of Gravity on my Nokia E71. On iOS, I use an app called Tweetbot, which does just about everything I want it to. The closest thing I’ve found to perfection on Android is Tweetcaster, which I have also used on iOS as well.
The Facebook apps are very different on iOS and Android. I can see groups on iOS, I cannot on Android. I do like the photo stream that shows up in Android now. They are both a wash as far as experience goes.
iPhone wins here easily. There are so many different camera apps on iOS (as well as apps that do other useful photography apps) that if you’re into that kind of thing, iOS is the way to go. Android has a few different camera/photography apps, but they are nowhere near the quality, or the level of functionality, that is available on iOS.
While I am not a huge game player, every once in a while, I like to play a game. iOS definitely has more, possibly better games at least in the categories I’ve looked at. Given that there is only a few models of iOS devices versus the endless possibilities on Android, it’s much easier to make compelling games that take full advantage of the hardware.
With Apple, you only have the one app store–the one that Apple provides. On Android, if you don’t like Google’s app store, there is always Amazon and a number of other choices, including buying from the vendor directly. This makes it more complex to restore your purchased applications if you need to wipe your device for some reason, but there is something nice about the flexibility of being able to get applications from anyone–not just ones Apple approves of selling you. Amazon’s “Free app of the day” promotion is also fantastic. Can’t tell you how many cool apps I’ve picked up that way.
Apple’s recent announcements about iCloud are, no doubt, compelling. Document sharing between Apple devices, the iTunes Match service, among other things, would be very nice to have on an Android-type device. Google Music for Android (as is Amazon’s Cloud offering on Android) is a nice start, but it’s only for music and doesn’t give you the ability to buy music.
It’s a Push
At least for my usage, there’s enough pros and cons on both sides that I could easily be happy with either the iPhone or Android, with the right hardware of course. These days I pretty much exclusively use my Nexus One and other than the occasional game, I rarely go for my iPhone 3GS. Would an unlocked iPhone 4 change that? I’m not 100% sure of that.
That said, Apple hardware is becoming less desirable to me. The fact they have switched to MicroSIMs on the iPhone 4 is problematic since I like to use my SIM card in other phones (yes, I am aware of adapters). The current rumors say that Apple either wants to do a Software SIM or a new SIM card format that is completely different from any other SIM cards in use.
As much as I enjoy the Apple hardware, I really don’t want my phone service to be permanently tied to an iPhone, which a unique SIM card will do for better or worse. That alone may be the tipping point for me to go with Android instead.