165 Comments

Summary:

After several years as a devoted Apple iPhone user, I have been tempted by the dark side — I am considering giving up my beloved iPhone for an Android device, and the main attraction is the openness of the ecosystem that Android takes advantage of.

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If you don’t like personal stories about infidelity, please read no further. After being in love with my iPhone for several years now, my attentions are increasingly being pulled elsewhere — and I’m not fighting it. I’ve been an iPhone fan ever since I first got my hands on one: it instantly made my BlackBerry feel like an ugly brick that was designed by orangutans. All I wanted to do was hold it forever, and that’s almost exactly what I’ve done since I first got one — until, that is, I switched to using an Android phone over the holidays.

I didn’t decide to try an Android phone because I was dissatisfied with Apple or the iPhone — in fact, I still think the iPhone is one of the best-designed and most appealing products of any kind that I’ve ever used. I have a MacBook Air and an iPad that I also love using, and I recommend them whenever I get the chance. But I will confess that I have been looking enviously at Android phones for a little while, after seeing friends like my GigaOM colleague Kevin Tofel using them and then borrowing one last fall for a trip to Amsterdam for our Structure: Europe conference.

Part of what I was interested by was the larger screens on the Nexus and other phones — I like to read webpages and other documents and look at photos on my phone, so more screen real estate was appealing. But I was also interested in the openness of the Android ecosystem, and whether that would be a benefit compared to the walled garden that Apple runs for iOS.

Apple’s garden is beautiful — but the walls aren’t

There’s no question that Apple’s garden is beautiful, as walled gardens go, and it is extremely well-maintained; nasty or disturbing apps are kept out, and everything is checked to make sure it works properly, and that is definitely a big benefit. In other words, the bars are hard to see behind all those beautiful flowers. But in some cases, useful things are kept out as well, whether it’s content or applications — or ways of integrating with other networks and services that maybe don’t meet Apple’s standards (or aren’t willing to pay Apple for the privilege).

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Here’s one anecdote that sums up the differences between the two platforms for me: when I took a photo with the Android phone (a Motorola Razr HD), it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could beam it to my TV somehow — I have a media hub from Western Digital that has all my photos on it, and usually I have to copy the pictures from the iPhone to a computer with iTunes and then share them with the WD hub. But I figured maybe I could beam them from the Android because the hub is a DLNA device (DLNA is kind of the open version of Apple’s AirPlay standard for wireless networking). Within five minutes, I had downloaded an app that beamed my photo to the WD hub, and we were looking at it on the TV. I did the same thing with a YouTube video.

Another light-bulb moment happened when I went to share a webpage from the Motorola: when you do this on the iPhone, you get to choose between Twitter, Facebook, email and printing — but on the Android, the sharing menu is longer than the screen. You can share just about anything with just about anything else, whether it’s a web service or an app, and for me that’s kind of a metaphor for the two platforms.

It’s probably possible to beam your photos to your television with an iPhone or iPad, but to do that you would need an Apple TV and AirPlay and to be hooked into other parts of the Apple ecosystem (like iTunes, which I confess I have always loathed using). If you have a motley crew of non-Apple technology the way I do — like the Western Digital hub and my desktop that runs Ubuntu — then you are a second-class citizen in some ways, since Apple often doesn’t play well with others.

Choice and openness or a nice garden?

For awhile now, I’ve also noticed the same thing I’ve seen others like Liz Gannes at All Things Digital mention: namely, that I’ve gradually been replacing many of Apple’s services and default applications with Google ones — like Maps, and Mail — or those made by others. The iPhone itself, the hardware, is still incredibly appealing because it is so well made and appealing to hold, but for services, Apple has never really been the best, and you can see that in things like iCloud.

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There are things I miss about the iPhone: like Ralf Rottmann, who has written a great post about making a similar switch, I miss iMessage, because a lot of friends and family have iPhones. I also miss Photostream, which was a great way to have pictures I took automatically show up on my iPad and MacBook Air — but I have replicated much of that by using auto-upload with both Google and Facebook, as well as an open-source photo hosting service called OpenPhoto that uses Amazon’s S3 for hosting.

When I try to describe the difference between the two platforms to friends, I put it this way: with iOS, if you want to do something, there are may be one or two apps that will let you, and they work pretty well — but if you want a feature they don’t have, you are out of luck. With Android, if you want to do something with the phone, there are 15 or 20 apps that will help you, and many of them are free — but most of them won’t do everything you want, and only a couple will actually work the way you want them to.

For me it comes down to this: Apple has great design, but it restricts your choice in all kinds of ways. And I have been seeing those restrictive bars more and more, despite all the beautiful flowers. Android offers a kind of “tyranny of choice” — but in the end I think choice and openness are better, even if they seem less attractive at first glance. And that’s why I’m thinking of making the switch permanent. Forgive me, Steve.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Afroboof and Shutterstock / nopporn

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  1. Richard Torcato Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    who gives a crap what OS you use!

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    1. I do, because it’s good to know some people are starting to think before making a purchase rather than accepting whatever already technologically outdated product Apple throws at them. ;-)

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    2. Shouldn’t you be on a bridge somewhere?

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    3. Clear, but our time is about machines fetishism and ultrautilitarianist dogmas of “all free all ads based” for contents …

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  2. Please don’t refer to iPhone as “precious” because that’s ridiculous. Expensive (overpriced) but not precious. :)

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    1. That was a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to The Hobbit, actually :-)

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      1. And right too. Personal stuffs are generally turn out to be precious.

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  3. I carry both. Two networks too (Verizon and T-Mobile). Redundancy is important in mobile OSes as it is in servers and internet connections.

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  4. I switched from AT&T to Verizon when buying my current Android phone, because I didn’t the restrictions AT&T had at the time on what apps I could install. I couldn’t imagine also being shackled by Apple (not to mention other restricted choices, like a no physical keyboard, no removable battery, Bluetooth limitations, etc), so an iPhone was never even in the running.

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    1. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, January 15, 2013

      People forget who was actually restrictive prior to the iPhone. Before this device the US was a wasteland. The dev tools blew. The process was horrible. The networks had to accept your app and it could take years.

      Don’t get me wrong, Apple was instrumental in my start-up’s downfall. We wanted to embed media. But in 2009, I thought it would take Android 6 months to get solid media APIs. Here we are in 2013 and GigaOm recently had an article about how bad the technologies on Android actually are.

      One hand giveth. One hand taketh away. Be aware. Be reasonable. But, the iPhone represents a milestone in usage and usability, which is why the market is thriving. Android will get there, but the question is when.

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      1. That’s a good point, Nicholas — Apple did a lot to create the mobile smartphone market as we know it. But Android is catching up. Thanks for the comment.

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      2. Wait– Windows Mobile dev tools are STILL better than iOS’s. Me thinketh you haveth no ideath whateth youith talketh abouteth.

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      3. I’d you want to create apps without your custom hacks and all that goes beyond provided IDE, I don’t think any other platform is even close to Microsoft offering.

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    2. Bluetooth limitations, ive had android for 4 years and not one iphone has ever come up in a search to exhange music or pictures, NOT 1 and yet every other bluetooth device known to man shows up! riddle me this batman, How big are those walls! i would never own this crap they over the top market from apple

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  5. I hear you. I bought my wife a Nexus 4 for Christmas, yes i was one of the lucky 20 people it seems who was able to actually buy one. I love the screen size, perhaps it my older eyes, but I like not having to enlarge every screen to see things. I also love the customization that the phone offers. My iphone 4 is running great but my son will be inheriting it in a few months. I amy seriously considering a Nexus 4, assuming I can actually buy another one.

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    1. Another great thing about the Nexus 4 (I got one in the initial launch, as was able to get 2 for my wife and son when they became available again towards the end of Nov) is that your carrier does not get to control anything.

      No carrier bloat on the phone, and new Android versions get pushed out to the phone as soon as Google thinks it’s ready.

      I’ve been using T-mobile’s $30 unlimited data with GrooveIP, but I’m getting tired some calling issues. My wife and son are on Straight Talk ($45 a month on the ATT network) I think I’ll change too, even though the data speed is a lot slower. I was getting 22MPS on Tmobile, I’ll likely get 1/4 of that on ATT. But even that’s enough, I’m usually on wifi for data.

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      1. Skipper Kagamaster Thursday, January 17, 2013

        You can do Straight Talk with T-Mobile; you just have to cut down the SIM.

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  6. Another canary in the coal mine?

    First Apple lost market-share to Android, now it seems they are slowly losing mind-share.

    I’m curious why Cupertino doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stem the tide.

    I love Android to bits (“my precious” in Mathew’s parlance) but healthy competition (from iOS and others) will keep Google and Apple’s focus squarely on us (the consumers).

    Wake up Tim Cook :)

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    1. Use whatever you like no one cares but boasting about it is a new low and lame dude.

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  7. Stephen Snares Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    As an early iPhone adopter I’m also starting to sway over to the dark side too, for some of the reason you mention. My iPhone is starting to feel stagnant, boring almost. But I think bigger changes are ahead for iOS with the departure of Scott Forstall. A walled garden it will still remain but I can see it being bigger and prettier in the near future. iOS7 will be the decider for me.

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    1. I agree big changes are head for iOS, I’m just not convinced it’ll happen as soon as iOS 7. The management shake-up happened around 3 months ago and big changes to major platforms take a little time. I definitely expect to see those changes come iOS 8.

      I would rather Apple use 2013 to clean up bugs in its software and lay a strong foundation for big changes the year after.

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      1. It’s time they should change UI of phone now. Screen size is just fine. Also allow more customization like keyboard changing, string default apps, etc.

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  8. Go ahead. You’ll probably be back. I switched back and forth a few times. Had enough of Android.

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    1. @Ziltoid

      I’m curious to hear about your experiences with iOS and Android. Care to elaborate?

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    2. Did that, too. Tried Android, loved the flexibility, sharing, customisation. Than the new iPhone came, I got one and it felt like coming home! Half a year later, I start looking at Android devices again, but I am quite sure, after some time it will be “back home” to the iPhone.

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      1. As pjs_boston asked; what was better in iOS or iPhone 5 than on, say, HTC DNA or another high end Android phone?

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  9. I understand why you are making the switch.
    The thing with ugly apps on android is : there are a lot !
    Because some are only meant for the usefulness : use it once, and let it run ‘forever’.
    Second, because there are a lot of developers for android who didn’t care about the looks. Functionality first. But you can see the trend (since almost a year) that more and more apps are getting more and more beautiful.
    Hence some site who highlight beautiful apps (like holoeverywhere.com) and the possibilies to set your phone to your needs (mycolorscreen.com/)

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    1. Thanks for the links, always looking for great tech sites :)

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  10. iPhone was/is popular and all the rage. Maybe not as much now. It pushed the envelope for what a phone could do. Then competition happened. This is good. Tides go in and out. First world problems. I prefer a phone that just works that I can hand to my Grandma. I want great customer service and a device that fits in my pocket. You want cutting edge excitement. You want the perception of freedom. Apple is like living in the castle. Google is like a whale in the ocean with a radio tracking device attached. It doesn’t matter. Have fun. Call your Mother or someone else that you love and laugh at something funny. We’re all on some band wagon.

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