Moving from Android to iOS

After using the original Motorola Droid for two years, I just ordered a new phone. I snickered for those couple of years about the limits of iOS and the many purposeful ones Apple imposed. But I ordered an iPhone 4S.

I never would have considered the move if I hadn’t won an iPad. (Thanks, Patch of suburban Virginia!) It quickly replaced my laptop for many of my daily personal computing tasks and got me comfortable with iOS. (iPads and iPod Touches are both great gateways to iOS that Android, Windows Phone 7 and webOS have never been able to replicate or complete effectively with.)

The original iPad (running iOS 4.whatever) and the original Droid (updated to 2.2.something) are the only two real data points playing into my decision. I’ve been mostly happy with my phone; most of the disappointments are related to the fact that it’s a two-year-old phone in area seeing rapid progress. Nowadays, its single slow core and a minuscule amount of RAM feel ancient.

So here’s one Android user’s pro-and-con list.

Things I think I’ll miss

The seamless Google integration. Turn on an Android phone, plug in your Google credentials and you’ve just set up Gmail, Google Calendars, Google Talk, Google Maps and any other Google service whose app you install. iOS isn’t too bad, but if you want to set up, say, Google Voice, you need to give it credentials there, too, even after you’ve plugged then in for Mail and Calendar. And God help you if you want to use multiple Google calendars or sync contacts magically with an iOS device. Now you have to set up the same account as an Exchange account and manage it through Google’s Sync We app.

Google’s built-in apps. Gmail on Android is heads and shoulders above Gmail in Apple’s built-in Mail app (threading, labels, marking as spam or important are all easy and well done on Android). Google Calendars on Android is heads and shoulders above Google Calendars in Apple’s built-in Calendar app (sure hope you didn’t have more than a single calendar to display on your iPhone). Google Maps on Android is heads and shoulders above Google Maps in Apple’s built-in Mail app (turn-by-turn and public transit information on Android are great). Google Voice on Android is heads and shoulders above Google Voice on iOS.

The blinking notification light. Without having to wake the phone up, I know at a glance if I’ve got a new e-mail, Twitter mention or something else waiting for me. Simple, but really nice to have.

Swype. I’ve been using the alternative keyboard for something like a year and it really does work like magic. I can type long messages with a single thumb in bright daylight. iOS’s multitouch keyboard and autocorrect are pretty good, but not magical, and they’ll never be available on iOS.

Single browser field for search and URLs. The single field is my favorite feature of desktop Chrome, and I really like having in on my Android browser as well. Safari and Mobile Safari should adopt it.

No LTE option. I get the tradeoff. 4G LTE eats battery. But I’m not buying a new $200 or $300 phone every six or 12 months. Verizon has been aggressive in rolling out LTE coverage and has it in Iowa City and elsewhere. I worry that I’ll feel stupid when I’m still poking along on 3G in a year.

Things that might be better, might be worse

Notifications. On iOS 4.whatever on my iPad, the notifications suck. They interfere, they pop up and get knocked into oblivion when another comes in immediately after. They aren’t collected in one place, only as little red dots with white numbers scattered across app icons on various home screens. Perhaps the Android-like notifications in iOS 5 will be an improvement. I sure hope so.

The file system. iOS doesn’t have one that’s visible to its users, which I think would be great when I’m poking around, seeing all the cruft from old apps on my Android phone. But other times, when I’m moving a podcast’s audio file from my downloads folder to a special folder for my podcast app, I know that won’t be possible on iOS. (Idea: a podcast player that integrates with Dropbox to allow you to add one-offs and other audio files to a podcast playlist.)

Background tasks. It’s great being able to set my Android podcast app to download new episodes every day at 10 p.m. when I’m home, on Wi-Fi and charging. iOS won’t allow that, so I have to manually open then app to get it downloading. Same with Instapaper. The tradeoff, of course, is random apps aren’t sucking down battery throughout the day.

Design. The iPhone 4S is a sexy piece of hardware, but that glass back scares me.

Things that I’m looking forward to

A better e-mail client. In addition to Gmail and Google Apps accounts, I have my Exchange account for work. While I like having a completely separate app for my work e-mail, Android’s non-Gmail client is atrocious: it can’t be searched, it forwards e-mail as attachments, it occasionally forgets my credentials all together. (I have never gotten the well-regarded K9 mail app to work.)

Better apps. The best apps available for iOS are, without a doubt, better than the best apps for Android. And Google doesn’t seem to be pushing for better itself. Example: on my iPad, I use Reeder all the time to access my Google Reader subscriptions, but on Android, despite the existence of an official Google Reader app, I continue to use the Web app because I find the native app annoying, particularly the way it continues to not indent blockquotes.

Universal apps. I’m looking forward to being able to buy single copies of most apps that will work on my phone and on what has become my primary personal computer.

Better networking. Whether the problem is my employer’s network or Android itself, I’ve never been able to reliably connect to the Wi-Fi there. The same is true of the network at the university. My iPad hasn’t had issues connecting or getting data in either place.

Faster, better camera. I’ve never been the type to carry around a point-and-shoot or a DSLR camera, but I do like having pictures to look at later. Since having a decent camera in my pocket at all times, I’ve started taking many more pictures. The iPhone 4S’s camera takes great looking pictures pretty quick. (Having them show up on my iPad automatically will be great, too.)

Twitter integration. My iPad has had problems with the Twitter for iPad (formerly known as Tweetie) bookmarklet not sending links to the app from Mobile Safari. It seems like a problem only for a small number of users and my complaints were answered with “we’re working on it,” by which Twitter meant the deep integration with iOS 5. Being able to post links to Twitter easily is nice and I do it a lot. Android allows users to share links directly to an installed Twitter client, but only copies over the URL, not the page’s title or other helpful information.

Remote wipe. As far as I know, there is no way to locate, lock or wipe an Android device remotely. I don’t think I’ll need it, but that it’s there on iOS is a relief.

Things I don’t really care about

Siri. Maybe it will be really slick, but I rarely use Android’s built-in voice search for much more than basic queries every few weeks. I really don’t want to be the dork carrying on a conversation with my phone.

My post-PC world requires a PC

I’ve been using an iPad for a few weeks and it has replaced my laptop PC for a lot of things: web surfing, Twitter, reading RSS feeds, watching video.

For these, it’s better than anything else I’ve ever used: my workhorse desktop at work, my personal laptop, my “Internet tablet,” my Android phone. It’s comfortable to use and easier to read on. I don’t have to be plugged in, and it’s battery lasts longer than I need.

But there remains a big gulf between the world in which “post-PC devices” exist and a post-PC world. There are many simple things that I, irritatingly, still need a PC for.

I don’t mean specialized video editing and transcoding, multimedia production, or coding, either. I mean pretty light-weight tasks.

An example: Every week, I take a simple CSV file, open it in a spread sheet, delete some columns, modify the formating of the dates and save it as a plain text file which I e-mail to a weekly newspaper. Every week, I have to turn on my PC for this specific, straight forward task. (My phone can handle the e-mailing of the plain text file more easily than the iPad.)

And, of course, before you can use Apple’s new magical post-PC device, you have to plug it into a PC running iTunes.

Clearly the iPad is a success; with sales of 15 million devices and $9.2 billion, and the spawning of competing tablets (some of which have actually shipped to customers), there can be no argument that Apple has produced a huge hit with the iPad. But the limits Apple places on iOS itself prevent it from taking us all the way to a post-PC world.

Update: This gets at the marketing-buzz-word-iness of “post-PC”:

When it becomes possible for the most studliest of power users to do their work with an iPad or other tablet of their choice, it won’t be because you can no longer run Microsoft Office and Photoshop on your desktop. It’ll be because you can run them or full-featured equivalents on the tablet.

And when you can run them better on the tablet—no compromises—then “post-PC” won’t be a marketing buzzword anymore.

Notes on The Daily

I’ve been reading The Daily, the iPad-native magazine, for the last few weeks, at least flipping through it almost daily. I find it a nice take on tablet news reading, though not without frustrations or room for improvement—it is still version one after all.

Others have shared their thoughts on The Daily. Here are mine. (I also provided these to the staff there.)

  • I love the subtle little animations that appear on some pages. There isn’t too many or too few. Same with the subtle cues for where I can find more (turn for story, arrows down or right, for example).
  • There seems to be no way to turn off the startup sound. It plays even when the tablet is muted.
  • I’m often confused about what a “hot spot” might do or where it might take me. Sometimes more info comes in a pop-over. Other times, one whisks me off to a new place. This extends to links of all types. Is it going to kick me to a browser or iTunes or the App Store?
  • When tweeting a link, it would be helpful if the default text included The Daily‘s Twitter username, since the magazine’s username isn’t consistent across services, and the piece’s title. It would probably lead to more traffic from social, too, than the generic “check it out” text.
  • The app clearly pre-loads the next page of content, which is nice because I can move that way quickly or see the rest of a two-page photo without running into a seam. But I wish the app would leave the last page in its cache so I could just as quickly go back a page.
  • I’d love to see the carousel be more responsive. It remains laggy. The compressed JPGs look too low-resolution, too.
  • When The Daily crashes, it’s frustrating to have to go back to the beginning and find my place again. I wish it would save my place for when I returned. (This is particularly frustrating because of the carousel’s lagginess.)
  • The “viewed” indications on content are very helpful.
  • I haven’t found a way to access old issues. Even just being able to find old tables of contents would be a plus.
  • The stories seem to be the right length for the most part. I could do without the gossip stuff, but generally I feel like I can find and read the pieces I want. I would like to see more smart features, though — maybe one a day — on technology, food, world politics, etc. Something that wouldn’t be out of place in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Economist, etc. Just one would make the whole thing feel less fluffy and more substantial.
  • I wish the timers on the sudoku and the crossword didn’t start right away. I find it bizarrely stressful.
  • I would like to be able to select text for tweeting, quoting, etc. Pages with multiple stories are frustrating to share, too. I’m glad The Daily has made content available online for sharing purposes.
  • I do a lot of my long-form iPad reading through Instapaper. I wish The Daily had either a way to add pieces to Instapaper or an Instapaper/Readability-type reading view.
  • Even if I’ve downloaded the day’s issue, it take a while to get past the loading screen later.

Flash

There is yet another Android device saying the advertised Flash support won’t be available until “after launch.” This is embarrassing.

I like Android. I don’t hate Flash. But both Adobe and mobile hardware makers need to come to terms with the fact that Flash and mobile devices are not friends and may not be friends until it’s too late to make any difference. My Android phone supports Flash, but I have long since uninstalled it and haven’t really missed it. My iPad doesn’t support Flash and I haven’t really missed it. There are millions of devices using the Web that do not support Flash. These people are getting along just fine and are, in fact, buying more devices that do not and will not support Flash. I’m convinced that the only people who see Flash on a mobile device as a something desirable are those that have only used Flash on their PC.

So my totally unsolicited advice to mobile hardware makers: stop using Flash as a selling point against iOS devices. It’s been difficult to deliver on time, with smooth-playing video or playable games. Never mind whatever effect it has on battery life. If you can add it, great, but stop razzing Apple by promising something you can’t deliver. It’s pathetic.

Adobe and some hardware maker may, eventually, build a mobile device that can display Flash well, but by the time they do, the world of content providers (and, along with them, consumers) will have moved on.

iPhone vs Android the way normals see it

Android’s conscientious users are the same people who choose to run Linux on their desktops, said Dan Benjamin in a discussion with John Gruber on the latest episode of The Talk Show.

Now, this is nothing more than total annecdotal evidence that doesn’t prove anything, but this I found it interesting: A discussion on a normal, non-techy friend’s Facebook wall asking “iPhone or Droid. Which way does this current BlackBerry girl go?” (I’ve removed names and some off-topic responses.)

  • DROID
  • I am currently a bb girl too, but when I’m not I’ll be a driod!
  • Droid.
  • iPhone, baby!
  • Love my iPhone, but my ATT service is terrible when I go to IA…so how’s Verizon in your neck of the woods?
  • Droid all the way.
  • Apple blocks Porn in their App store, that should be enough to tell you to stay away.
  • Ummm not that I’d download porn from a App Market, but it’s the point that they block it as if they think they known what people should and shouldn’t have access to.
  • Droid. It is what i upgraded too and I HEART IT! HEART IT!
  • Love my iphone.
  • Droid.
  • Good poll…I was pondering the same thing this week. I’ve been begging for an iphone, but now I think I will wait until this summer to make the switch. I heard there will be a new version of the iphone for Verizon out then and hopefully the bugs will be worked out of the system.
  • Work with people that have both. Even the ones with the iphone wish they had a Droid. I got one too. Love it! Beats the hell out of the blackberry I had.

So 12 answers, only of which are three pro-iPhone. It’s a glimps into the way normals think about Android (which they don’t think of as “Android” but, rather, as Verizon’s “Droid” branding of Android). Also interesting was the comment a non-geek made away from keyboard about being unable to figure out his s0n’s “iTouch,” the term for an iPod Touch that instantly labels the user as a non-geek, while at the same time having no trouble navigating and using his own “Droid” phone.

Android and iOS, better and right, saying and linking

I find John Gruber, when he’s got the snark dialed up to 11, annoying, grating, vial and egotistical. But that’s only when I disagree with him. I, of course, love it when we’re on the same side.

Gruber seems like a smart guy. His analysis and reporting is usually good. He’s willing to point out the iPhone’s and Apple’s flaws, even if he sees the world of technology from a decidedly pro-Apple perspective. That’s why, as someone who as never owned any Apple device, I continue to read his blog.

But I was surprised to see this in his latest piece, ‘First to Do It’ vs. ‘First to Do It Right’ about the way Apple doesn’t rush features to market:

Here’s the test. Take some normal people, where by “normal” I mean people who have never heard of TechCrunch or Daring Fireball. Give them brand new still-in-the-box iPhone 4’s and HTC Evos. Now ask them to make a video call to one another. With the iPhone 4, they’re going to be able to do it. The only thing that’s technically confusing about FaceTime is that it only works via Wi-Fi (I think many people have little understanding of the difference between Wi-Fi and 3G data — at least insofar as why a feature would work over one but not the other). Otherwise, FaceTime is as easy to use as making a regular voice call.

There are many things in Android that feel like technological demos. (Google Goggles, built into Android starting with 2.1, is a perfect example of this; taking a picture of what you want to search for or add to your contacts is a neat idea, but rarely works well in practice.) And it sounds like Gruber’s right: normal people will be able to figure out FaceTime much, much faster than HTC Evo’s “Android Time.”

But “as easy as making a regular voice call”?

Well, as easy as making a regular voice call to someone with the same model of phone connected to WiFi, sure.

Yes, I’m sure normals can probably figure out how to make a FaceTime call pretty quickly, and they may not need another account. But they still need to make sure the person they want to face call has an iPhone 4 and can connect to WiFi. (While Apple says it wants to make FaceTime an open standard, it hasn’t yet and there are no devices in wide use that can makes these calls, at least until next week when the iPhone 4 is shipped.) That’s not hard, but that’s not “as easy to use as a regular phone call.”

Apple’s implementation does sounds vastly superior to anything Android offers, but it gets sticky when we slap the word “right” in there, as if there is a final, correct way to do things. Is Apple’s implementation of this feature “right” or just “better”? Is Apple’s iOS 4 multitasking done “the right way”or just done a different way? Marco Arment, the lead developer at Tumblr and only developer of Instapaper, has some suggestions for improvements for iOS 4 multitasking. (For what it’s worth, my favorite Android app, the podcast app Listen, allows me to have it update and download new episodes in the background when it’s plugged in and on WiFi.)

How did he declare this the “right” implementation? I might find Gruber’s argument more convincing if he, or anyone else outside of Apple, had used FaceTime for more than the demo time alloted at WWDC, or if he could find something to link to backing up that assertion besides Apple’s own product page. It’s sort of like backing up an assertion that the iPad is actually magical by linking to Apple’s iPad page. I’ve come to expect better from Gruber.