On the iPhone 4S launch day, I lined up with about 14 other people outside our Verizon store, my Motorola Droid in hand, checking the time until the store opened. I had never owned an iPhone before, which might come as a surprise from an Apple blogger. When I got the Droid in October of 2009, AT&T was the only carrier to have the 3GS, and rumors of the iPhone coming to Verizon were still just rumors. Two years later, almost to the day, the iPhone 4S came out on my network of choice, and here we are.
Since there are likely a lot of Android users who are considering making the leap thanks to Apple’s new iPhone 4S hardware and the improvements that come with iOS 5, I thought I’d list the things I miss and don’t miss about the Android experience after making the switch to help others determine if this is the right move for them.
Things I miss about Android
Android proponents are big on pointing out the degree to which the user can customize the OS. You can use different keyboards, lock screens, launchers, even install different ROMs, right from the device. The geek in me loved tinkering around with Android, and that part of me will miss it a lot. Sure, you can jailbreak iOS and get some of the same customizations, but not to the same extent, and it requires going against Apple policies.
On nearly all Android phones, there’s an LED that blinks when you have unread notifications. This came in handy since if I got a new notification, I could tell immediately. With the iPhone, I have to press a button to make sure there aren’t any new notifications. It’s a small difference, but the added convenience of the notification light really makes its effects felt over time.
Global sharing menu
In Android, you can share something with any service that has its app installed. I could upload a picture from the Gallery app to any Twitter client, not just the official app. Apple has made headway into making sharing better by integrating Twitter into iOS, but it’s not as good as the Android share menu. I’d be happy if Apple just added Facebook integration, though.
Free turn-by-turn navigation
Google’s free navigation app is a big advantage for Android. I’ve used it often to find obscure restaurants and other destinations while I’m driving. I have yet to find any consistently reliable, free or cheap alternatives in the App Store (but feel free to suggest something in the comments).
File system and downloads
Being able to download a file to my SD card and manipulate it with a file manager was useful. The inability to do this on my iPhone annoyed me when I wanted to download a wallpaper that only came in a ZIP archive, which of course I couldn’t download or open. I ended up transferring it over from my Mac via Photo Stream.
Things I don’t miss about Android
The first thing I noticed coming to iOS from Android is just how smooth and fluid iOS is in comparison. It tracks my taps and swipes without any noticeable lag, lending to the feeling that you’re actually manipulating an object. Android has never felt the same way. Scrolling isn’t as smooth; pinch to zoom lags and stutters; and sometimes, taps take longer than they should to register. This could all be attributed to the Droid’s old hardware, of course, but reviews of even current gen devices sometimes cite similar problems.
I feel about Android widgets the same way I feel about OS X’s Dashboard widgets: They’re a neat novelty, but not very practical. If I want to read the news, I don’t want to just stare at a news widget while headlines go by, one at a time. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather just launch an app.
In Android, apps can run in the background when you’re not using them, like on a PC. In iOS, apps are suspended when they aren’t active, but are allowed to do certain things in the background. Android’s approach uses more RAM and battery life. Apple’s uses less of both while providing nearly the same experience. I’m just fine with “fake” multitasking if it uses fewer resources to accomplish the same thing.
The Android market
There’s no arguing that iOS has a wider and better selection of apps. There isn’t a single third-party Android app I’ve used that doesn’t have a better iOS alternative. Couple that with the increased presence of malware on the Android Market, and I feel pretty good about living in a walled garden.
With iCloud, I don’t need Google integration anymore. iCloud takes care of everything important that Google did, and does it without forcing me to use a clunky web app (except in the case of uploading documents from the Mac). This is why iCloud is such a huge deal for Apple: It takes away one of Android’s core advantages and improves on it in a way that Google can’t.
One of the strongest assets Apple has is its ecosystem, and that’s more apparant to me now than ever. All my mobile devices — my computer, my tablet, and my phone — are made by Apple. The tight integration between them is all part of the design: The more Apple products I use, the better my experience becomes. With my Android phone, I couldn’t really use Apple’s ecosystem to its full potential. But with my new trifecta, I can play games on my Apple TV via mirroring, take a photo and have it appear instantly on my iPad and Mac, sync with iTunes without ever having to touch a cable, and easily locate any of my devices if I ever lose one.
Sure, I could do some of those things on Android, but the experience just wasn’t as good. Some will argue that that’s representative of Apple bullying users into buying only its devices, but for me it just represents greater convenience.
Have you recently made the switch from Android to iOS? Tell us about your experience in the comments.