17 months ago I abandoned my iPhone and embraced Android. At the time, iOS was a much different operating system than it is today, and I had grown increasingly frustrated with its limitations. Now, I might be ready to move back to an iPhone. Should I?
Why I Switched From iOS to Android
The primary reason that I made the switch from Android to iOS had to do with the limitations of iOS. Those limitations fell into two camps:
Apple-imposed App Limitations
First, I was very frustrated with Apple’s erratic behavior when it came to approving apps. I wanted an official Google Voice app on my iPhone, and, at the time, couldn’t get it because Apple had rejected it. I also wanted a good podcasting client, but the pickings were slim because Apple was rejecting apps that supposedly duplicated the functionality of apps that came with the iPhone.
When I switched to Android, I was happy to be able to install whatever apps I wanted on my phone. Carriers sometimes try to limit access to apps, by making them not appear in Google Play (formerly the Android Market). To get around that, all you need to do is remove your SIM card, and connect to Google Play via WiFi.
Apple’s tighter control over the App Store does give it one huge advantage over Android. Security isn’t as tight in Google Play as it is in the App Store, but most advanced users can live with that.
Sandboxing and Lack of a File System
The limited way that iOS apps can talk to each still makes me bash my head against the wall when using my iPhone. Apple introduced iCloud as a file system of sorts, and many app developers use Dropbox in the same way, but these are incomplete solutions.
I understand Apple’s reasons for not including a file system. It keeps iOS simple, which is what most users want. But for power users, being stuck on an island when using an app can be maddening. If an app doesn’t support Dropbox, good luck trying to work on a document in one app, and continue it in another. Yes, there are workarounds, but they’re just that – workarounds.
Working with files you want to bring into iOS is equaly maddening. Check out the article I’ve written concerning how to get video onto the iPad, if it isn’t named exactly the way that iOS wants it to be named, as well as the other ways to get video or photos onto the iPad.
Android makes it much easier to perform many tasks, thanks to the existence of a user-accessible file system, and thanks to the lack of strict sandboxing. That does bring with it more security concerns, but it is a price that most advanced users are willing to pay.
The most obvious example of Android’s superiority in this regard can be seen in the Share menu. Any app can tie into that. This means, for example, that you don’t have to wait for an app developer to tie its app into Evernote or Instapaper. Actions for Evernote and Instapaper are in the Share menu once those two apps are installed, meaning that other apps can readily access them.
Getting files into Android is easier, too. Plug your Android device into your computer, and drag the file to the desired location on your phone. I spent an entire Saturday morning trying to get certain video files to show up in my iPad Camera Roll, instead of in the video app. I had to do this because iMovie on the iPad can only access video files located in the Camera Roll. Yet another limitation brought about by the lack of a file system.
Why I Might Switch Back to iOS
If it sounds like I’m venting against iOS, you’re right. There are parts of it that still feel like a Fisher-Price toy. But I’m also not blinded by some strange allegiance to one platform or the other. I’ve never understood the rabid cheerleading for both iOS and Android, and the way that some writers seem blinded by their love of either a platform or a company. A phone is a tool. It’s not part of some holy war. Both Android and iOS have strengths and weaknesses. I just need to decide how the scale tips for me. Here are some reasons I am considering making the switch back, notwithstanding an iPhone’s many limitations.
I can hear some of you cringing already at the words “Apple ecosystem.” It does feel sort of like a deal with the devil, but Apple has made a compelling interplay between its devices. I have an iMac, MacBook Air, and iPad, so I’ve been able to see this interplay at work. My Android phone feels like the odd man out.
iCloud keeps certain documents in sync between iOS and OS X devices, and Photo Stream is a great way to have your photographs automatically sync to all of your devices, without any thought. Many apps also provide syncing of data and settings between iOS devices, such as TweetBot’s use of iCloud to sync your reading position in your Twitter stream (I’ve tried using the TweetMarker integration to sync to my Android phone, and it just doesn’t work reliabily).
More important than Apple’s contribution to the ecosystem, though, is the contribution of developers. It seems like many iOS developers develop companion apps only for the Mac. OmniFocus is a classic example. Although OmniFocus isn’t available on Windows (which I use at the office), it is such a great app that I use it as my main productivity tool. There’s an iOS app and a Mac app that can sync with one another, but no Windows or Android app.
I also use EyeTV, a television app, on my iMac. My EyeTV HD device hooks into my cable box, and gives me television on my iMac via the eyeTV program. I also can stream shows and recordings to the eyeTV app on my iPad, but not to my Android phone. There is no reliable eyeTV option on Android. If I had an iPhone, I’d always have television with me. (I did have a Slingbox at one time,but that died after a year, and research online showed that not to be an uncommon occurrence, so I was in no hurry to rush out and buy another).
If I still used Windows as my main platform, the ecosystem would be less of a concern. But iOS and its apps just work better with a Mac.
Apple’s Loosenign of Restrictions on App Store Apps
As discussed above, Apple had a habit of putting its own interests against the interests of its users in the early days of the App Store. Apple has loosened the reigns since then. There is now a Google Voice app in the App Store, and there are now some excellent podcasting apps on iOS (I do have an iPad, so I try out apps there). The situation isn’t nearly as open as Android, but it has improved.
I still have several months to decide between and iPhone or another Android phone, since my firm’s contract doesn’t expire in the immediate future. I still feel that in many cases the iPhone is for the majority of users who just want something simple, while Android is for the power user. I consider myself a power user, but it’s a close enough call that I’ll have a tough decision.
What would you do?