17 May 2014

Back on Android

I got an iPhone 4s some time late last year. I wanted the experience. Then development purpose - if I eventually get to it. For a couple of months, the phone was my secondary device; I used it occasionally for the apps. Then, for some two months now, I have had it as my only device. It has been a great experience. But now I have had to switch back to Android.

This is not one of the Android is better than iPhone posts. I do have my preferred platforms, technologies and tools but I am not a fanboy. The post is an objective view of why I had to switch back.

The iPhone is a solid device. You only have to hold it to be convinced. Great camera! (My new Moto G camera is poor by the way). And the iPhone just works. The app experience is superb. You hardly ever encounter the popular ARN (Application Not Responding) you get on Android. For a regular user (which unfortunately I am not), it is the perfect phone. It gives you just what you want. Distracting options are removed wherever possible. For example, the camera doesn’t have a settings button. So things like adjusting white balance or setting photo resolution are out of it, leaving you fewer distractions to fiddle with. But even this strong point of simplicity links to the other factors that makes the iPhone too limiting for me.

Android - everything as an app

On Android, everything is an app. Your camera, SMS, keyboard, dialer, even power button. This means you can easily change core things on the phone. That gives you a different level of flexibility - like using the awesome Swype or Swiftkey keyboard for example.

Sometimes you may have more than one of these apps performing the same function. That is where default apps come in. If besides my Android’s native web browser, I have Chrome, Firefox and Opera mini, I can set Firefox as my default web browser so that every time I click a link within an app, it opens with Firefox. It is just the same way you can set your default web browser or media player on PC (at least Windows). On the iPhone I don’t have that. Every link I open (well except in Gmail) opens in Safari. I can’t set another browser as my default.

In general, Android offers a more flexible and open development platform to allow creative play with core device features and a whole different level of customization. Themes, launchers, live wallpapers and amazing taskers are a result of this. IFTTT for Android, for example, can consequently access things like phone calls, Wifi and SMS for triggers; ringtone, volume and wallpaper for actions.

Intents

Android allows apps share data via intents. From my gallery for example, I can share a picture to any other image related app (remember, everything on Android is an app) - IM apps (WhatsApp, Hangouts), social networking apps (Twitter, Facebook), email clients, communication apps (Bluetooth, NFC), etc. It works that way across every app. The Twitter app, as another example, can share a tweet to email, SMS, Tumblr, etc.

This makes app use and sharing very easy. Once done writing this on Simplenote on my Android, I can easily send to the Gmail app in a click and post to this blog (via Tinypress). This would be a long one on the iPhone.

Sharing, Sync, iTunes

I don’t like that I can’t easily share things from my phone with others. “Easily” here means I want to share with someone beside me and not through the internet - not using Dropbox or BBM or Whatsapp or whatever. Simple bluetooth. To non-iOS devices. And it is pretty much the same with receiving as well.

I don’t like that I can’t easily “install” an app on my iPhone directly from the iTunes website. I would have imagined a login, download button on an app page and a push of the app to my device. I shouldn’t have to install iTunes for this. Same with transferring music or videos. I literally messed up and overwrote the stuffs on my phone the second time I used the iTunes to sync music and videos to the device.

Android’s visible and accessibile file system makes it easy to manage files and content in a familiar way. If I want to copy to or from the device, I just plug in to my computer and know where to look. Strike that. In truth, to copy to, I just need to dump my media files in any folder on the device. It shouldn’t be any complex than that.

Those are the core limitations for me. There are many other tiny details here and there. Like the non-standard cord/port of the iPhone, a better notification system on Android, Android’s Back button, missing photo details (time/date) on the iPhone, among others. These things seem irrelevant to many average users. I have heard iPhone users reply me “why not email it”, “send it via BBM” when I complained about sharing photos via bluetooth. Just yesterday, I mentioned the friction in transfering songs from my laptop to the iPhone to a friend and he went, “Do people still do that? Why not just use Spotify?”. To someone like me however, device flexibility is of great importance.

My new droid is a Moto G. Lovely, cheap phone. It runs on Android’s latest OS (Kitkat - 4.4.2) which besides the improved experience (that’s a whole different discussion) answers most of Android’s cons. Performance for example. This has greatly improved. Everything runs smoothly and I am yet to see the famours ANR. UI/UX is another. It is interesting to see that most apps now follow the standard design pattern, offering a consistent and good design and experience.

I should get back at discovering new interesting apps already. Or probably try build something little when I have the free time.

My name is Opeyemi Obembe. I build things for web and mobile. You should follow me on Twitter (@kehers).