The Grand Experiment or An Android User in an iOS World

 

I remember when I got my first camera phone. It was a flip phone. It was grey. And I put it through the wash the first week (it dried out and worked fine, aside from my voice sounding distant at times – note that was the only phone incident I had until someone ran into me so hard my phone fell down and shatter a decade later. I learned well after that first mistake.).

It didn’t seem necessary. What would a little camera do? What it could do was change my world. Growing up I had always had cameras – little AA powered or crank contraptions that took either 35mm or that really weird looking 110mm film. One of those cameras looked like a Ninja Turtle.

It introduced me to the concept of the watermark.

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(The era of printed dictionaries and the Trapper Keeper.)

A couple feature phones later and those camera phones had become indispensable. And then, after a niche group of business and government employees used phones running Windows CE and the BlackBerry OS, the iPhone made pocket computers an industry.

As a Verizon subscriber, I waited, And waited some more. Was intrigued by Android and the Nexus One (GSM only) but not really the Droid (DROID!) phones. And with the Nexus S I joined T-Mobile and the smartphone revolution. Google has been a big part of my life since finding it in what must have been 1999 (the search the convinced me was for “super mario borthers” – yes, misspelled – but Google found what I wanted anyway).

The Nexus S, Android, and Ice Cream Sandwich introduced me to smartphones. And it was great. Internet wherever I was. Apps. Short battery life. Well, nothing is perfect. And through early 2016 Android was all I ever knew for my phone experience.

I’d set up my parents with iPhones. I’d had an iPad loaded with textbooks during law school. Tip: don’t scan textbooks. I’ve had Macs. I’m not anti-Apple. But being on the bleeding edge with Android, with a  Nexus or Cyanogen rom, always felt like I was a step ahead. Mobile payments, NFC, QR codes, multi-tasking, sharing from app to app, keyboards that let you swipe type. All things that Android was the first mover for.

iOS had a major color scheme rethink and Android moved to Material Design. And the two became more similar.

And I kept swapping phones as a hobby. Nexus S to Galaxy Nexus to Moto X to Nexus 5 to OnePlus One to Nexus 6 to Nexus 6P. Honestly, huge props to Swappa for making it possible for gadget geeks to buy and sell phones easily. I’ve used eBay and met people from Craigslist and it always came with a “hold your breath” moment because someone might flake out or just get angry about a small detail. So have a plug on the house Swappa.

With every Android phone, every OS release, I felt renewed. I was wowed. I was believing that this time  things would work perfectly. The camera got better. Stutters became a thing of the past. Battery life…would have its moments. With the Galaxy Nexus there were times when navigating, while plugged into my car, that the phone would actually use more power than it was taking in.

All the while, Apple, slowly but surely added features to iOS. Multitasking, keyboards, a robust notifications system, widgets (almost). And the iPhone was treated to a large screen, although the top and bottom bezels make that phone itself larger than something like the Nexus 6P despite comparable screen sizes. Yes, they keep making the phone thinner instead of adding more battery. Yes, it defaults at 16GB of memory and Apple remains stingy with RAM too. But designing the phone top to bottom seems to give the iPhone an edge even when the hardware advantage isn’t clearly in Apple’s court.

So at the end of March I set out on an experiment: I picked up an iPhone 6S Plus and planned to use it for a month to see what it was like on the other side. I thought I’d take notes, record all the difficulties switching between OS and phone worlds. But that never happened. Essentially every app I used on Android was available for iOS except for Sleep as Android but Sleep Cycle was a fine replacement.

Getting credit cards to work in Android Pay took a loophole with my bank but Apple Wallet loaded them straight away. Not that the 6P had lots of failures with tap-to-pay, but I’ve had zero so far with the iPhone.

I’m not really using any Apple apps either – aside from the Wallet and Messages. Gmail, Chrome, Inbox, Keep, Maps, Hangouts – all my favorites from Google are available. Plus the indispensable Slack and Twitter apps. It’s almost the dream that the early iPhones hinted at: Apple hardware and Google software. Heck, with the Motion Stills app Google makes the neat-but-hard-to-share Live Photos universally accessible by exporting them as GIFs. Seriously Apple? That was an easy one.

The rumors are that the next iPhone will drop the headphone jack. As a non-audiophile who only uses cheap headphones and cares about battery life and being able to charge and listen at the same time, there’s a chance the 6S is my first and last foray into the world of iPhone. Needing a separate pair for my phone and laptop would pretty much be a non-starter for me, but we’ll see what actually happens.

In the meantime, the grand experiment had an unexpected result: it sold me on the iPhone the same way Google sold me on Chrome. The browser is the primary app these days on laptops and  desktops. For phones and tablets, it’s the browser and apps. When those are cross platform, it doesn’t matter what operating system you use, everything can follow you from one to the next.

Sundar Pichai Solves Microsoft’s PR Problem

With Google I/O coming up later this week, Google OS chief Sundar Pichai sat down for a short interview with Wired’s Steven Levy. For the most part, it’s what you would expect, no huge storylines before the company’s biggest conference of the year. The head of Chrome and Android lowers expectations a bit by saying I/O is “not a time when we have much in the way of launches or new products or a new operating system” but he does provide some clarity to Google’s two-operating system initiative.

Users care about applications and services they use, not operating systems. Very few people will ask you, “Hey, how come MacBooks are on Mac OS-X and iPhone and iPad are on iOS? Why is this?”

This really struck me. It was the first time I recall Google going right to a comparison with iOS and OS X to explain the existence of both Android and ChromeOS. In the past, the theory was that Android was for touch interfaces and Chrome was meant for traditional mouse/keyboard/trackpad users. While it’s a bit of a dodge, the message is clear: the operating systems have different purposes, although the touchscreen-equipped Chromebook Pixel blurs that line a tad. Many words have been typed by others about what those purposes are and how they might be better served, but the point stands: different tools for different uses.

ChromeOS is a hands-off operating system that is maintained from afar. Chromebooks store everything in the cloud and can be wiped and replaced at will. Android devices behave like traditional computers: you install software written for the device, it gets backed up in a more traditional manner rather than syncing the entire phone online (although that does occur to a lesser extent). iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system, powering iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. Like ChromeOS it can be synced to the cloud and restored onto a new device without a hitch. iOS is touch based but built on the same underpinnings as big brother OS X.

Why didn’t Microsoft learn from these two examples when rolling out Windows 8 and Windows RT? RT, like Windows Phone could be the touch-first operating system out of Redmond. It could lack legacy support for older Windows programs. It could skip the traditional desktop for the ModernUI interface. Windows 8, on desktop PCs would look a lot like Windows 7. No ModernUI or using that as an alternative application interface only, similar to the widget screen on OS X. Something that is sitting out of the way until you need it. The Surface tablets could still exist. RT wouldn’t have the traditional desktop at all. Windows 8 on the Surface Pro could even be set to boot to ModernUI instead of the desktop because that’s the hybrid device, like the Chromebook Pixel, pointing the way towards Microsoft’s version of the future of computing.

Why two interfaces? All Microsoft would have to say is “Users care about applications and services they use, not operations systems.” One is for touch interface, the other for the traditional desktop experience.