Smartphone Switchers: Mobile users on the move

Pros and cons: Why I switched from iPhone to Android, Part 3

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Yep, I’m An Android User

As I said at the very beginning, this isn’t the story of why Android is Way Totally So Much Better Than iOS. This is the story of this one dude who switched phones. Andy Ihnatko moving to Android isn’t a pivotal moment in the history of mobile computing. I just thought that a detailed piece of my observations, concerns, and experiences would be of interest to anybody who’s curious about Android. And given the revolutionary improvements in the platform over the past year, I thought it was timely.

Nonetheless, I held on to this article for a few weeks. I kept rereading and rewriting, and along the way I expanded it from a newspaper column to a multipart web series. I just wanted to be extra-sure that I had expressed my opinions and my intentions clearly.

I anticipated that many would find value in what I wrote, that many others would find fault with it, and that both would make solid points when they shared those opinions. I was proven correct.

I was also correct when I anticipated that a small percentage of Android and Apple fans would unite in misreading this series as a merciless takedown that slams Apple for being a doomed, stuck-in-the-mud company whose smug pride allowed better companies to innovate their way past the iPhone. Android and Windows fans who have descended to tribalism want to see Apple die. They want it as badly as Gollum wants the Ring, and they express that sentiment with just as much dignity. Apple tribalists see the corporate logo as a tattered but proud flag that cries out for brave men and women to rally round, link arms and defend it; even praise for a competing product is seen as an attack.

The members of both of these tribes need to hear something important: it’s time to stop talking about “iOS versus Android.” That stage of mobile device development is done. From this point onward, we should to talk about “iOS and Android.”

We should all be thrilled that consumers can choose between these two highly-polished platforms. They’re being produced with creativity and pride by two companies with sharply different philosophies that target different audiences. We should also be intrigued by Windows Phone, and curious about Blackberry 10, and hopeful that the Ubuntu On Phones project evolves into something great.

I can sense that this isn’t getting through to a few of these folks, so I’ll be blunt: If you give half a damn about which multi-billion-dollar corporation “wins” a totally made-up contest, then you need to drop acid and spend some time in an ashram.

I switched for a wonderful reason: because Apple and Google and Blackberry and other makers are all competing with each other to produce a phone and an operating system that I, personally, will love. Has there ever been a better time to be a tech consumer?

I didn’t switch because Apple has in any way dropped the ball. Apple is in fine shape. The iPhone, and iOS, are terrific products that continue to speak to people on a direct, compelling level. The iPhone, and iOS, improve and impress with each iteration, despite some well-documented wobbles along the way.

Claiming that Apple has fallen behind is nonsense. Besides the evidence of their entire product line, it denies proper credit to Google and the makers of Android handsets. Android has received so much traction and attention because it’s had a hell of a great year. Google finally delivered a version of the OS that combined power, stability, and even sophistication. Samsung, HTC, and other makers finally shipped some phones that in their own individual ways were just as well-made and feature-rich as the iPhone.

And while nothing can equal the style of an iPhone 5, a good Android phone no longer looks like the remote control to a DVD player that you threw away nine years ago.

As late as 2011, the iPhone was the phone you wanted if you wanted the most powerful and sophisticated smartphone on the market. Android was the phone you wound up with if your company refused to approve the iPhone you wanted. I look at the marketplace today and I insist that these two platforms are absolutely on equal footing. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s just a matter of figuring out which device suits you best.

The iPhone simply no longer suits me, that’s all.

I’ve always admired Apple for avoiding tunnel vision while still not distracting itself from a clear, simple definition of what the company is supposed to be doing. It adds new things to the product line the same way an architect adds new buildings to a property.

(“A trampoline park would be awesome. But how does it further the objectives of an assisted-living facility for the elderly?”)

Over the past ten years, Apple’s been transitioning further away from the user of 1977, who delights to discover that their new computer came with a complete schematic and a disassembly of its boot ROMs. It’s been focusing more aggressively on the kind of user who doesn’t particularly care that they just bought a $1300 desktop whose RAM and hard drive can’t be upgraded.

With every move and every update, Apple increases the appeal of its products to mall consumers. These consumers want the document they created on their notebooks to miraculously show up on their desktops and their phones as well. They don’t care about sharing it with others. They want desktops that are sleek and beautiful. They’ll probably buy new ones before they’ll consider upgrading the desktops they already own. They don’t want to have to figure out why a feature that works with 29 of the apps they’ve installed doesn’t work with the other six; they’d rather do without that feature entirely, no matter how powerful it is.

These are all just neutral observations, not scathing accusations. Apple’s focus on consumers created iCloud, the 2012 iMac, and a simple mechanism for sharing photos to Facebook and Twitter. These are perfect products for consumers.

I still recommend the iPhone and iOS highly to people who can clearly define the function of their phones. I wouldn’t say “people who don’t expect very much.” The iPhone is ideal if your needs are easy to anticipate. That means Apple is likely to have anticipated them. The iPhone ecosystem tends to fray when you’re looking for a custom fit and a flexible tool.

The iPhone is still my go-to recommendation for people who want as few surprises as possible and the easiest phone to use and maintain. An iPhone is a delight fresh out of the box and for the life of the device. An Android phone is a delight starting around…week two, after you’ve made a bunch of minor adjustments that change it from “Good for the majority of users” to “great for you, personally.”

That said, you should keep in mind that “easy to use” comes in two forms. The iPhone is superior to a flagship Android phone at “easy to use on day one.” But it plateaus after a month. Android, I suggest, keeps getting easier to use as it continues to adjust to you and you keep learning new ways to get better performance.

The damnedest thing about my six months with the Samsung Galaxy S III—and the one line from this whole series most likely to be quoted out of context by Apple-bashers—is that my Samsung is easier to use than my iPhone.

In my experience, that is. Your needs aren’t my needs, your relationship with a phone is different mine, and maybe you can even stomach the flavor of cooked broccoli.

Choice, choice, choice. Ain’t it grand?

And that’s the story about how and why I switched from an iPhone to an Android phone.

And in the end…

I will end this the same way I’ve often ended so many discussions of Apple products:

I’ve switched from the iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy S III because it’s the best there is at the kind of things I need my phone to do. And as soon as something comes along that’s better, I’ll switch again.

I bet the first device that makes me think about switching from Android is something made by Apple. I still love my MacBook and haven’t even considered switching, despite liking a lot of the features and concepts in Windows 8. And though I like Android as a phone OS, on tablets it’s still mostly hopeless. My iPad is still the blue flannel security blanket that I must carry with me everywhere I go and it remains an indispensable part of my workflow.

I’m still an Apple fan and still glad to be an Apple user. It’s a relief to know that if I’d gone through with that idea to get an Apple tattoo in 2003, I wouldn’t need to get it lasered off today.

This story, "Pros and cons: Why I switched from iPhone to Android, Part 3" was originally published by TechHive.

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