31 days with the iPhone 6

The iPhone 6I’ve been an Android user for the last five years. While my first attempt with the My Touch 3G in the fall of 2009 only lasted two weeks, I haven’t looked back since getting a Nexus One at the beginning of 2010. I’ve had numerous Android devices since then and have been happier with each new device I’ve owned.

However, for testing purposes, we needed to purchase an iPhone 6 for the office. I decided this would be a good time to try out the iPhone and see what all the fuss was about. For years now, loyal Apple users told me I was missing out no matter how much I protested. I was told the iPhone experience was amazing and that it just worked better than an Android phone. If I used one, I’d never go back to Android, or so I was told. It was time to find out for myself.

After spending a frustrating, albeit entertaining, evening trying to buy one, I was excited to receive the device on launch day, September 19. After playing with it for a few days, I figured the best way to try the device would be to go cold turkey and use it as my primary mobile phone for the month of October. Here’s how my month with the iPhone went.

First impressions and setup

I documented my first impressions after receiving the phone here. Below are a few of the highlights from that article:

  • Packaging is well done. It’s clear that Apple spends a lot of effort making sure the first impression is positive.
  • The hardware is top notch. The fit and finish screams luxury. It’s one of the best phones I’ve used from an aesthetic perspective. I can why people are drawn to the device based upon looks.
  • Setup is easy, and transitioning from my Android was dead simple. I was able to install all of my go-to apps like Evernote, Dropbox, Runkeeper, Starbucks, Gmail, Play Music and Youtube. After entering my username and password, all of my data was instantly available. Let me just say that the cloud rocks!
  • From a functionality perspective, the two platforms are virtually identical. Everything that I could do on the iPhone could be done on my Android device. I liken it to having someone come in and rearrange your house. You can still live in it, it just takes some time to find everything you’re looking for, but once you do, it all works the same.

iPhone Likes

I want to reiterate again that the hardware is awesome. The iPhone 6 is the biggest phone I’ve used on a regular basis, but its design makes it feel smaller. The rounded edges, thickness (or lack thereof), and weight make it feel just right. It also helps that Apple has added some nice touches to deal with the increased size. A feature called “reachability” lets you lightly double-tap (not depress) the home button and the top half of the screen slides down. It allows you to reach the top of the screen without having to adjust your hold on the device. Those Apple engineers think of everything!

The screen is also amazing. It’s vibrant and extremely crisp. It’s the best screen I’ve experienced on a mobile device.

Apps, while generally the same as Android, feel a little more polished on the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s real or psychological, but they just seem better thought out. It also helps that Apple stringently curates apps to insure adherence to their design recommendations and guidelines. Therefore, the user experience is very similar when moving between various apps. On Android, the user experience between apps can feel more disjointed.

From a look and feel perspective, I now understand why people are passionate about their iDevices. Apple has done a great job connecting with people emotionally through design.

iPhone Dislikes

There were a few things that I wasn’t able to get comfortable with over my month with the phone.

  1. Notifications
    I know that Apple has made a lot of improvements here over the years, but even after using iOS 8, I like the Android way better. iOS notifications try too hard to get your attention. Android notifications are simpler, less intrusive, and easier for me to digest. Throughout the month of October, I longed for the notification center of my Android device.
  2. Google service integration
    The Google apps are good on iOS, but not the same as Android. They just work better on Android and have a few extra features that I’m used to and like better. Again, it’s not that they don’t work on an iPhone, but you can tell that Google is able to do a little more with the apps on Android given their control over the OS.
  3. The hardware button
    The Nexus One was the last phone I owned with a hardware button. I thought I would miss it when I upgraded to a Galaxy Nexus, but I got used to it fast. In fact, I don’t like hardware buttons, particularly on the face of the screen. It takes up room and feels odd. It’s the only part of the iPhone that has a cheap feel in my opinion. I worry about pressing it too many times for fear it will break. Again, it’s probably a psychological thing.

The jury’s out

Unfortunately, there were a couple of features that I didn’t get to spend much time with. One was the camera. I’ve heard many good things about it, but I didn’t spend enough time with it to tell if it was better than the Android alternatives. If I were to believe what I’ve heard, I would have been impressed.

Another feature I would have liked to try was Apple Pay. I believe that we should be spending more effort using our mobile phones as a way to combat credit card fraud. Unfortunately, Apple Pay wasn’t available until the tail end of my trial, so I wasn’t able to formulate an opinion one way or the other.

The force was strong, but not strong enough

Since finishing my trial, I’ve returned to the comfort and familiarity of my Moto X. It’s not that I didn’t like the iPhone, but there wasn’t enough compelling reasons to switch. It’s possible I didn’t give completely in, as I didn’t use the Apple Mail app, iMessage, FaceTime, or the other Apple services. Had I decided to buy all the way in, I may have come away with a different opinion. On the other hand, that’s my biggest beef with Apple. In order to get the most from the experience, you have to completely give in to the Apple way of doing things.

The more things change…

This experience just reinforced what I already thought about choosing between iPhone and Android. Both are great platforms, and the choice between them is a personal one based upon your own preferences. Here’s what I suggest if you’re torn:

  • If you are already using one and are comfortable with it, don’t change. You should anticipate 2-4 weeks of decreased productivity switching platforms spent setting the phone up the way you want, resinstalling and repurchasing apps, and getting used to the new settings. So unless you’re just entirely fed up with the platform you are using, it’s not worth changing for the sake of change. There are better ways to spend your time, trust me.
  • If you’re life revolves around Apple products and services, you use a Mac and/or an iPad, and you have a heavy investment in iTunes content, then an iPhone is the best choice. The integration with all of your other iDevices is much smoother, more straight forward, and will give you access to some nice features integrated between the iOS and desktop operating systems.
  • If you’re life revolves around Google services (like Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts, Contacts, Docs, etc.) and you primarily use a PC, then an Android device is the best choice. It’s not that these things don’t work on an iPhone, they just work better on an Android device.

My final words of wisdom are to be careful listening to extremists on either side of the iPhone-Android debate. They will lead you to believe that everyone in the world should use an iPhone or vice-versa. As I mentioned above, both are great platforms no matter what anyone tells you.

While my 31-day iPhone trial was great, it just wasn’t right for me. I use a PC and lots of Google services, so an Android device suits me better. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the right answer for everyone.

 

How to choose: iPhone or Android?

Anytime I talk to people about mobile phones, I always get  the question – “which is better, an iPhone or an Android device?” I could evade the question and say, “it depends” (because it does), but that’s taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer for this question, but here’s what I generally tell people.

Coke vs Pepsi

The sad truth of the matter is that despite what loyal fans of each platform will tell you, it doesn’t really matter. Over the last five years, Apple and Google have copied so many features from each other that the platforms are nearly identical. Sure, there are differences in the design elements, the user interface, and hardware options, but the overall functionality is virtually identical. It’s much like the debate between drinkers of Coke vs Pepsi. Serious fans of each soda will tell you that their favorite is much better than the other, but most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two in a blind taste test. (Anyone remember the Pepsi Challenge of the eighties?)

The same can be said when comparing the iPhone with Android. Serious fans of each side will be quick to point out what features makes their choice superior, but at the end of the day, both will get the job done for you. It’s really a matter of personal preference and how important branding is to you. As with Coke, Apple has the more iconic brand with the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that Android isn’t as good.

Recommendations on making a choice

There comes a time when you need to decide which type of phone you will choose, or if you want to make the switch from one platform to the other. Here’s what I tell people when I get pressed for an answer:

You should use an iPhone if…

  • You already use a lot of Apple products
    iPhone 5s
    If the inside of your house looks like a miniature replica of an Apple store with Macs, Apple TV, iPads, and iPods lying around, then using the iPhone is the smart thing to do. It will seamlessly integrate with all of your other Apple products as well as with your iTunes account. Consider yourself locked into the Apple ecosystem as switching to Android would not be the smartest thing to do.
  • You’re easily overwhelmed by too many choices
    The nice thing about the iPhone is that Apple take more of a one size fits all approach to their phone design and features. You don’t need to spend a lot of time stressing over device features. The biggest decision you’ll need to make is what color you want the phone to be, the rest has already been decided for you.
  • You just want something that works and don’t want to tinker with technology
    Another great feature of Apple products is that they just work, at least most of the time. There is usually very little tinkering you need to do with an iPhone outside of the basic settings that they walk you through on startup.
  • You don’t plan or want to do much customization to the phone
    Outside of some background and ringtone choices, there isn’t a whole lot of customization options available for the iPhone. If you’re good with that, then you’ll get along fine with an iPhone.
  • Your network of family, friends, and colleagues use the iPhone
    While it’s always fun to be different, inevitably you will run into problems with your phone. If you’re immediate circle is made up of iPhone users, then they can offer a helping hand or share tips and tricks to get the phone to do what you want. Plus, you get to share back and impress them with your technical skills and knowledge!

You should use an Android phone if…

  • You’re heavily vested in the Google ecosystem
    Nexus 5If you use lots of Google tools such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Hangouts, and Google Docs, then an Android device will provide better integration. Sure, you can access all of these tools on your iPhone, but there is a noticeable difference in the integration with an Android device.
  • Handset choice is important to you
    One of the beauties of the Android ecosystem is that you can change from a wide variety of handsets. You can choose large, over-sized phones or small ones. Phones are available in every price range from free (on contract) to over $700 (unlocked). Basically, there’s a lot of choice so you can get exactly the type of phone that you want that fits your budget.
  • You’re not afraid of technology and like to tinker
    While it’s gotten a lot better over the last five years, there are still some nuances with Android that may require you to look under the hood and adjust a setting or two to get something to work the way you want it to.
  • You want to be able to customize your phone
    With Android, there are all kinds of wallpapers and widgets that you can choose from to customize your phone.
  • You don’t mind the occasional “crap-app”
    Since Google’s app approval standards aren’t as rigorous as Apple’s, more low quality apps exist in the Google Play store than in Apple’s App Store. If you don’t mind having to weed through an occasional bad apple to get to the good stuff, then you’ll be fine.

The bottom line

If you’ve already selected a platform, the best and easiest thing to do is to stick with what you know, unless there is a compelling reason to change. For example, you might want an iPhone for a particular application, or you may want an Android device in order to get a bigger screen. Otherwise, switching platforms will just create friction in your daily workflow as you adjust to the subtle differences between them, which can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get used to. On other hand, if you’re making the choice for the first time, the best thing you can do is to use each platform for a week or so, take advantage of the carrier return policies, and then choose the phone that you like best.

Above all, don’t get caught up listening to the extremists on either side, as my favorite animated GIF illustrates. Either platform will get the job done, so choose the one that you like best.

iPhone vs Android

Full disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, my daily driver is currently an Android device – the Moto X. I switched from a BlackBerry to the Nexus One in 2010 and haven’t looked back. While I’ve also used iPhones at times over the years, I enjoy the stock Android experience and have chosen to stick with the Nexus line of Android devices, or those that run as close to a “stock” version of Android as possible. In my opinion, there are very few differences in the user interface between a stock version of Android and the iPhone.

(For more information on the “stock” version of Android, see this article I wrote last year – What is stock Android?)

BlackBerry: There’s no going back

BlackBerry Z10Back in January of 2010, I purchased a Nexus One to see if an Android device could replace my trusty BlackBerry Pearl.

It did.

I’ve been using an Android device for over 3 years now, but with the new BlackBerry 10 OS, I figured it was worth giving BlackBerry a second chance. I’ve spent the last two weeks using a BlackBerry Z10 to see if it was possible to extract myself from the clutches of Google and its Android OS.

Unfortunately, there’s no going back.

I’ve been unable to find one compelling reason to switch back to BlackBerry. In fact, I can’t identify any reason why anybody who already has an iPhone or Android device should switch to a BlackBerry device.

Sure, the Z10 hardware is head and shoulders above any consumer-oriented touch device that BlackBerry has produced. The hardware is solid, but not exceptional. It’s not the lightest or thinnest phone on the market, but the build quality has just the right amount of weight and balance to make it feel great in the hand. The touchscreen display is responsive, clear and vibrant. The OS is pleasant to use. I especially like how you can navigate throughout the operating system using only one thumb and swiping from the edges of the screen, whether its from the top to access the Settings, left or right to access apps, running processes, or the “Hub” where all of your messages are stored, or from the bottom to dismiss active apps. The user interface is so good that the latest and greatest versions of many popular apps have copied the user interface gestures from the BlackBerry UI.

BlackBerry HubAlas, that is where the love affair ends.

My biggest problem is that I’ve become accustomed and used to the integration of Google’s services with Android. I’m reliant on Gmail and Google Voice, and these do not play well with the BlackBerry. Sure, you can make it work, which I did for the last two weeks, but it isn’t as seamless as it is with my Galaxy Nexus. Even the integration with Google Calendar is just enough off to cause minor irritations in my daily use.

Additionally, the lack of app support is extremely noticeable, and this is coming from a person who doesn’t rely on many apps. Outside of the Google apps, which include Gmail, Voice, Music, Maps and Authenticator, my only other “go-to” apps are Evernote, RunKeeper, Starbucks and Mileage – an app I use to track my car’s gas mileage. Outside of Evernote, which integrates into the included Remember app, I wasn’t able to find suitable alternatives for the others. I’m sure I could, but the problem is that I’ve amassed quite a bit of data in these other apps that is not easily portable to the Z10. In other words, in order to maintain my productivity, I’ve had to carry out both the Z10 and the Galaxy Nexus – not an ideal solution.

Bottom line, I couldn’t make the switch, even on a temporary basis, without taking a serious productivity hit. So after two weeks, I’m calling it quits and switching back to the Galaxy Nexus.

So who should get the phone? Well, if you’re still using a BlackBerry, both the Z10 and Q10 will be welcome hardware upgrades that I would unconditionally recommend. It’s also worth looking at if you’re moving up from a feature phone, although I would recommend trying an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone device first.

As I said back in January, BlackBerry is making every effort to become relevant, but it’s too little, too late. If they aren’t able to provide a compelling reason for existing iPhone or Android users to switch, their share of the smartphone market will continue its decline as they fade away into the sunset.

What is “stock” Android?

Android robotEven though Android is the most popular operating system in the market, you may not know that not all Android phones run the same software. I’m not just referring to the different dessert names that Google assigns to the releases like Froyo, Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. There are also different dessert revisions running on different phones in the market.

Why?

Google released Android as open source software, meaning a device manufacturer does not pay to license it, and they are free to make modifications to it with one key stipulation. If you want to include Google services on the phone, such as Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Search, there are certain things you cannot change. For this reason, most manufacturers create simple “skins” where they add their own spice and flavor to the OS, but the underlying functionality is more or less the same. Samsung’s skin is called TouchWiz, HTC’s skin is called Sense, and Motorola’s skin is called Motoblur.

(A notable exception is the Kindle Fire, which runs a heavily modified version of Android. In fact, Amazon has modified Android to the point where you can hardly tell it is using it at all. That’s also why it doesn’t include the generic Google services out of the box.)

The problem with these skins is that they handicap the Android experience.

First, it causes devices from different manufacturers, and sometimes the same manufacturer, to have different settings and options. It makes it very difficult for Android users to help and provide support for each other unless they are using the exact same device.

Second, because of the skins, it is very difficult for the manufacturers to validate the latest versions of the Android software against the skin they’ve placed on a particular device. This leads to fragmentation in the market, where devices can fall one, two, or even three major revisions behind the latest and greatest software. The fragmentation is a headache for developers who have to support multiple versions of the OS with their apps, and a letdown for users who are denied access to the latest and greatest Android features.

For this reason, Google created their Nexus line of Android devices. The benefit of the Nexus line is that they run a “stock” version of Android. In other words, it is a pure Android experience. There are no skins and no custom modifications. All Android features are available. There isn’t any carrier modification or “bloatware”.

Best of all, updates to the software come directly from Google and are applied days (worst case a couple of weeks) after they are released to the public. Having owned two Nexus devices, this is a huge advantage.

Samsung Galaxy NexusWhen I purchased the Nexus One in January 2010, it was the first device running Android 2.0, code named Eclair. When Froyo (version 2.2) and Gingerbread (version 2.3) were released, my Nexus One was the first device to receive it. For the two years that I used the device, I never felt like I had an old phone because I was always running the latest and greatest software. I started using a Galaxy Nexus last year, another in Google’s Nexus family of phones, and feel the same way. I have already had the device updated from Ice Cream Sandwich to Jelly Bean, well before other devices in the market, some of which will never be updated.

In short, stock Android is the way Android was meant to be. I know the phone manufacturers think they can differentiate via software, but I wish they would focus their effort on hardware differentiation and leave Android alone. There are many areas in the hardware where they can differentiate – camera quality, screen resolution, form factor, colors, build quality, price points and more.

I’m convinced that if more manufacturers went to a stock Android build, they would end up with happier customers and a lot less headaches supporting multiple versions of the operating system. Sure, they’d have to give up some of their secret sauce, but I don’t think anyone’s really buying the phone based on the subtle software features they’ve added. I bet they buy it primarily based on form factor and price. In fact, building devices using only stock Android could be another way a device manufacturer could differentiate themselves from the crowd.

As I mentioned, I’ve owned two stock Android devices and have purchased Nexus devices for family members. I don’t ever plan on going back to a skinned version.

So if you ask me , “what is stock Android?” My reply is that it’s the only way to go.

Mobile + The Cloud: A Match made in Heaven

Last month, I had to exchange my Nexus One due to an issue I was having with connecting to wifi networks. I had lived with it for about a month, but it had finally become too painful to handle. I was dragging my feet about returning the device, because I didn’t want to have to transfer contacts, email, settings and all of the other things I had customized on my device. The pain of my last transition from a BlackBerry Pearl to a Nexus One was still lingering.

After trying a few things with the HTC support folks (who, by the way, were very easy to deal with), they suggested I return the device. Reluctantly, I agreed, and within a couple of days I had my replacement device.

Little did I realize how far things have come in the smartphone world in the last year, particularly with Android. I inserted and installed my old SIM and SD cards into the device, powered it up, entered my google account name and password, and within 10 minutes, my new phone was setup nearly identical to my old phone. All of my contacts, emails, wifi and network settings (including hotspots and encryption keys), and applications were on the new phone. Outside of a few miscellaneous settings and icons that needed to be arranged on the home screen, everything was just like I had it on the old phone. Best of all, it was all done over the air. No need to find any cables, hook up the phone to a computer, sync with an App Store or desktop application, or any other extra steps. In short, I was blown away!

I then realized that with Android, you are storing all of your data in the cloud. So when you change phones, all of your important data moves with you. Given the advances that are occurring in smartphone hardware these days, this is an absolutely liberating feeling to know that I can go out, pick up the latest Android device (like a Nexus S or G2), and within minutes be up and running just like before. No longer am I locked into a device, manufacturer or carrier. Without a doubt, there is serious power in the marriage of mobile computing and the cloud.

By the way, to make sure this works, you need to have checked the “Back up my data” and “Automatic restore” boxes under the Privacy Settings in Android (Go to Settings -> Privacy). Yes, I know it is a little unsettling knowing that all of your data is being stored on someone else’s servers, but I’d say the convenience is worth it.

For anyone out there who has went through the upgrade process lately with an iPhone or BlackBerry, is it as simple as what I went through with Android, or is it painful and complex?