After four years with an Android phone, I switched back to iPhone this month. I liked my Android phone, but the smartphone experience is very much a matter of details, and diving into today’s iPhone makes me realize how great a job Apple has done, and how strong its franchise truly is.
Details: I had three Android phones from January 2010 to March 2014, a NexusOne, a Galaxy Nexus, and a Galaxy S4, running Android 2.3 (Froyo) at first and 4.3 (Jelly Bean) at the end. The first two phones ran Google-experience Android, and the S4 had Samsung’s user interface overlay. My new iPhone is a 5c running iOS 7.1. I originally moved to Android because I was professionally curious about it, and I decided to switch back when I bought a new car and discovered that the interoperability of my near-new Galaxy S4 with the car was miserable (more). Research indicated an iPhone would be much better, and in fact it is.
The switch itself was surprisingly easy. My Verizon contract ties to a phone number (a “line” in telco-think), not a phone, so I bought a good used 5c on Amazon, had Verizon substitute it on the line at no cost, and sold my S4 on eBay: round trip cost about $150. My Exchange and Google accounts downloaded to the phone, and I had a back-up of my old iPhone that restored and updated most of my apps.
The key differences I notice between iPhone and Android:
• The iPhone user interface is much more polished. Google worked hard to make Jelly Bean quicker and smoother, making substantial improvements, but iPhone is still better. For example, when I type on the iPhone, it shows the letter I am trying to type more often, even though the screen is smaller. I’m guessing this is better software at work.
• The iPhone app ecosystem is markedly better. Google play and the Apple App Store both have about 1 million apps, and most major apps are available for both platforms, but, again, the devil lurks in the details. New apps and updates come out first on iPhone. iPhone apps are more feature-complete, e.g., the BMW Connect app that allows me to operate select smartphone apps from the car’s control screen supports Pandora and Stitcher on iOS and not on Android, and it just works better on iOS.
• iOS is stronger at the technical detail level: e.g., when you use an iPhone with a car, Bluetooth streaming audio works properly, you can control which contacts get synced to the car over Bluetooth, and if you have both Bluetooth and a wired connection to the car active, the iPhone smartly sends phone audio over Bluetooth and streaming-media audio over the wire, so both work. (In fact, Google-experience Android gets this right, too, but the Samsung user interface breaks it.) This might be fixed by an upgrade, but then you have the Android update fubar: six months post release, Verizon Galaxy S4 users are waiting for Kit Kat with no news from Verizon, and the update is buggy when you get it.
• The iPhone camera is just the best: beautiful pictures, and great features like high dynamic range, which both compensates for some limitations of simple cameras, and can create attractive images that remind me of a painting (more).
• I miss some Android strengths. The Google apps have more features on Android, e.g. Google Voice can make itself the default option for international calls. Android apps can access more of the system information. This enables, for example, a great signal strength application that shows the details for the voice, data, and wifi connections separately, which I have used to diagnose problems. And a few apps are better on Android: AirWx, a nicely functional weather app that displays the FAA weather information airline pilots use, has gotten me home on a few stormy nights by telling me which connection was likely to work. iPhone has a dumbed-down free version and an expensive pro version.
• Fundamentally, the iPhone is more of a phone, and the top tier Android phones, like the S4, are a phone/tablet fusion: “phablets”. The iPhone 5 is slimmer and fits the hand a bit better, but the extra screen size has important benefits. The Android calendar has a nice “week” view that iOS lacks on the iPhone but offers on the iPad. The Android key-pad has an extra line of suggested spellings below the text that I find useful. And the map and web-browsing experience is simply better with a bigger screen area. I spend 3-4x more time looking at my phone than holding it to my ear, so the screen experience matters much more than the “talking to toast” objection some have to phablets.
So, I’m looking forward to iPhone 6 with a ~5” screen. It will bring together the strengths of iOS with the one Android phone feature I miss most.
With that gap closed, I’m struck by what a superior product the iPhone actually is. Android has developed fast, shown Apple that (screen) size matters, made the market competitive, and expanded it, particularly in Asia and at the low end, which is great. Apple has built and nurtured the advantages with which it launched the smartphone era: user experience, hardware design and performance, and its app and media ecosystem. It’s developed into a top-10 global consumer brand, and most important, it has a large set of loyal and affluent customers who pay up for phones and software, keeping its ecosystem on top.
We are early in the smartphone era. As long as Apple can stay significantly better and take care of its customers, it has a long way to run.