After years of carrying around Android devices, I've switched back to using iOS heavily and have written a few observations on how it has felt to move back. I was an early adopter of the iPhone, and despite some of the nice things it could do I recall being rather underwhelmed by the whole experience.
As I upgraded through to the 3GS and then to the iPhone 4 I found the experience got worse and worse. Slow, hot phones with tiny screens and terrible call reliability. There was a point where the phone firmware seemed so unreliable that I thought 20% of my calls were dropping. I took the phone to the Apple store, where the staff didn't believe me, but when they connected it up for diagnostics they were able to show me it was dropping a third of calls! I'd swapped phones and SIMs several times, and found the exact same problems each time, in every part of London and whilst abroad in Europe and the States. In the end I was so frustrated with having a couple voicemails left each week when the phone failed to ring that I went to Android.
1/The great under-appreciated miracle of the iPhone -- couldn't make a reliable phone call for ~3 years yet glorious success anyway!— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) May 7, 2014
The move to Android was brilliant: Samsung's Kies did a great job of moving data over and I was a delighted user of the S2, S3 and S4. The devices are nearly faultless. The S2 at the time felt like it was a generation ahead of the iPhone 4. Having the S4 has felt like having an iPhone 9. It is several generations ahead of the current crop of iOS devices.
Exploring a number of other Android devices, I found why some pundits complain about the performance and functionality of Android. Using Google's stock Android makes for a poor experience. I tried out a couple of non-Samsung Android phones, and even bought Google's Nexus tablet. Until recently, stock Android -- short of Samsung's extensive customisation -- has made for a limiting experience.
As we double-down on our software for iOS it has made sense for me to return to the platform and to immerse myself in it. Having steered clear for some years, again I'm hit by the contrast with Android.
Editing text is labourious
With an Android device one can tap exactly where the cursor should be, and it will appear there. On iOS, tapping in text puts the cursor at the start of end of a word. Users have to hold their fingers on the screen and drag to get precise cursor position. This makes it frustratingly to write or edit on the iPhone or iPad. Even text messages feel like hard work compared to Android.
Continual Apple ID sign in
One of the cornerstones of using iOS seems to be the repetitive Apple ID sign-ins. Users are prompted to sign in on installing apps, updating apps, logging in to apps, changing settings. I find my devices prompt me to sign in at least once a day. It is not clear why.
@balajis that's what the fingerprint scanner's for— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) April 30, 2014
Well yes, but why not just fix the root problem? And what about iPad or iPhone 5C users who don't have a fingerprint scanner?
Other than first setting up and Android device, I don't recall ever having to log in. Why would one need to? Perhaps because...
The AppStore does not offer refunds
Within a week of being back on iOS I managed to get scammed with a fraudulent in-app purchase. Apple refused to grant a refund, despite the transaction being with them, and tried to push me off to the fraudulent software's manufacturer. I had to file a chargeback through American Express in the end; fortunately they are rock solid.
I'd got used to the reassurance with Android of knowing that any purchase can be refunded with a single click within 15 minutes (much like Amazon and their eBooks) and after a longer period if one emails in.
Even stock apps crash, often
Having set up the new devices I found the apps would periodically disappear. Safari, Mail, the App Store, Chrome, Maps. It appears that they just crash sometimes. Whilst apps occasionally crash on Android, the device always explains what has happened rather than just silently closing them, and if an app does fail it is usually a third-party app rather than a critical bundled one.
AppStore UX is terrible: curation, crapware, search, international
Google take a lot of flak for providing a poor app store with Google Play, and it has been improved a little over the years. Moving back to Apple I was expecting a much tighter, better curated store than Google's. If anything, with the extra content it has gone backwards.
Browsing through the AppStore for games, I found myself wading through pages and pages of the same rubbish games which were clogging up the store when I was last using it three years ago. Other than the handful of paid promotions on the AppStore, it is very difficult to find any new or original games in amongst the endless crapware and clones.
Perhaps this is not just about the curation of the AppStore and is a broader problem about the signal to noise ratio of good apps being developed. I had expected that Apple's tighter approval process would make this experience better than Android's, rather than worse.
Keen to check out some of the interesting apps emerging from the West Coast, I set about trying to find the anonymous sharing app, Secret. The first problem in doing this is that AppStore search is clearly broken. Searching for "secret" or even "secret.ly" returns thousands of results, sorted in no particular order. The app is not evident in the results, and searching online one runs into the same problem that BusinessInsider did: "it takes about 107 swipes before you finally – FINALLY – get to Secret". Search is, in short, broken.
Finding a direct link to the app on the Secret.ly site takes British users to the AppStore, but only to a white page, as below. After much Googling, it turns out that this white page is what is served to users when an app isn't available in their country. Seven years after the launch of the first iOS devices, there is still no message to explain to international users why they can't install an American app.
(Secret was recently released in the UK and thus the white page no longer appears here. However, it still appears when trying to install any other non-UK apps.)
iCloud is not integrated with my Apple account
Despite having an Apple account and using that for the iCloud and other Apple services, I'm unable to use Notes without setting up an @icloud.com email address, which I don't want. I understand from a technical perspective why the limitation is there, but I don't understand why a workaround isn't used to make this simple for the end user.
Some specifications do matter
I find a lot to agree with in Apple avoiding marketing with device specifications. For the most part, CPU speed and so on are largely irrelevant to consumers. That said, it is noticeable how poor the DPI and screen resolution is on the current batch of iPad and iPhone devices. My S4 is a year old and has a notably better screen than both the latest iPad and iPhone. The previous Samsung devices have all been higher resolution than their generational Apple counterparts. Received wisdom is that visual and screen quality matters more with Apple, but that is not the case.
I'll forebear from commenting too much about iOS 7 as it has been done to death already. There are plenty of nice parts about it, but the quality of the icons is poor.
None of my cables work
After years of the old iOS connector format it seems to be well established in offices, homes and hotels around the world. With an Android I can always get a charge or cables, and with an old iOS device it's pretty easy. But when carrying an iOS device with the new-style connector, one is doomed to be to running low on power and unable to get a convenient charge the world over.
Platform fragmentation: iPhone apps are not iPad apps
Received wisdom is that development for Android is much harder than iOS because of the fragmentation of different Android device specifications. That might be true as a frustration for developers, but for consumers it is iOS fragmentation which is a much bigger problem. Over years of Android use, I'm yet to find a significant app that I can't use natively on any of my Android devices. Despite the trend for iOS first, fragmentation is a frequent user frustration on Apple devices. The only way to use the new Calm.com app on an iPad is to install the legacy iPhone version and run it in stretched mode. It's the same for the Secret app, and even for massively popular apps such as Instagram.
To make matters worse, where developers release paid iPhone and iPad apps separately, one often needs to pay twice to get the full app on both types of device. This does not happen on Android. Fragmentation on iOS is awful and unsolved.
General reliability: hot pockets, low battery and call quality?
I'm yet to fully wean myself off the Samsung phone, but so far I'm not convinced that the old heat generation or call reliability issues have been addressed in the newer iPhones. Whilst the battery life of the iPad Air seems fantastic, the iPhone 5S seems to lose its charge in much less time than the Galaxy S4. I shall see.
There is still no notification light
One of the greatest features of the previous generation of BlackBerry devices was their notification light, and this has been well replicated on many Android devices. I was surprised to find that there is still no option for this on the iPhone: users must choose between a noise, a vibration mode which destroys co-worker's concentration when left on a bank of desks, or a half-implemented and disruptive flickering of the camera's flash. There are a few interesting projects which aim to solve this problem but I don't think there's any good solution as yet.
It's not all bad: there have been some nice surprises going back to iOS
With all this said, the latest iOS devices are a step up from those of a few years ago. Although the iPhone still feels like an unfinished product, the iPad is a lovely device, when using it there are a few nice surprises which Apple have done well with:
- The gestures mechanism is particularly good on the iPad, and is leagues ahead of Android in this regard.
- The GarageBand app which is bundled on the iPad is incredible. The cost to unlock it fully is negligible, and the value of the app outweighs the cost of the iPad itself.
- iTunes performance seems to have been addressed after years of being terribly slow!
- It has Microsoft Office
- There's a Kardashian phone!
- The fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5S works very well and is satisfying to use, although one can't help but wonder whether it would be necessary if Apple fixed the problem with the devices continually asking for Apple ID passwords to be entered!
I'd love to hear other views on the contrast between iOS and Android. Do drop me a note or leave a comment.