Given that I gravitate towards Android phones and tablets, it’s surprising that I recently sold my Nexus 7 tablet and replaced it with an iPad Air. I did so for a few reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is this: You can be a pretty happy user of Google services on iOS.
Google has long supported iOS with its own apps, so that aspect isn’t new. Since late last year, the company has made a big push to improve the Google experience on Apple devices, however, to the point where I can actually use them effectively without using Android.
Note, that I’m not saying iOS is better than Android — or vice versa, for that matter — I simply explored this option and found it to be beneficial to my needs. I still have a Moto X handset and an old Google Nexus 10 tablet to keep up with Android. And while I really liked my Nexus 7 — I actually sold an iPad mini to buy it — the new iPad Air design tempted me. So I took the bait.
Google’s Gmail for iOS has improved over time and I still have full support for Labels on iOS. I find the the Google+ app better on iOS than on Android, although I can’t put my finger on why; it’s something about the usability that puts it over the top. Google Maps is a downloadable option on iOS, of course, and I still prefer it, even though Apple Maps is far better than when it first launched. Many of Google’s apps can open other Google apps on iOS now as well.
Oh, and that “touchless control” for Google Now that I absolutely love on my Moto X? Google is nearly there with the latest version of Google Search for iOS. You have to have the app open but simply saying “OK Google” offers the exact same Google Now experience. And it’s actually faster on the iPad Air than it is on any of my Android devices; even the Nexus 5.
Of course, there’s an obvious question here: Why bother with iOS if Android provides all of the same Google service support with an experience at least as good as on iOS? I came up with two reasons, and both were instrumental in my choice.
First is the hardware. I’m very impressed with how Apple has matured the iPad since 2010. The new iPad Air is extremely light for having a 9.7-inch display. It’s just 0.25 pounds heavier than the new iPad mini, and for that reason, I chose the Air over the mini, even though I tend to prefer smaller tablets. I feel like I can still take the tablet anywhere — even if it doesn’t fit in my jacket pocket — because of the weight reduction. And I’d rather have the larger screen which makes productivity a smidge easier. Adding a nearly full-sized Bluetooth keyboard helps too.
I can’t say the same about the current Nexus 10; it’s not a tablet I’d take everywhere with me. And while I rarely was without the Nexus 7 wherever I went in the past few months, it was too small for me to be very productive.
The second reason has to do with content. No other major tablet has the content options of an iPad; the rest all have at least one or two limitations, if not more. I used to get around those with multiple devices, but that’s costly and ineffective. So what are the limitations that influenced me?
Google’s done a great job with its Google Play store buildup over time. And because I have a Chromebook, I do purchase movies and television shows from Google. I can’t, however, get Amazon Instant Video on an Android tablet or phone. And that’s a big source of content that we use in our home. My wife has an Amazon Kindle Fire so she obviously gets Amazon video content, but that tablet has its own limitations; namely the full complement of apps that other Android devices have.
For all the valid talk about Apple’s walled garden, there’s something to be said about that garden: It’s filled with everything you could want. Amazon Instant Video? Yup, it’s there. So is Google Play content if you know where to look and don’t mind a streaming-only limitation: All purchased movies and television shows are available in the YouTube app when you sign in. Essentially, by moving to an iPad Air, I have a superset of content that I didn’t have before.
I’ll be the first to admit: If you want a pure Google experience, an Android device — likely a Nexus one at that — is probably your best choice. And I’ll still use the Nexus 10 when I want or need that experience. But Google has actually improved the experience of its services on iOS to a point where it’s a pretty viable option as well. So for now, I’ll live with a foot in both camps when it comes to my tablet experience.