Recently, Andy Ihnatko announced that he had switched from an iPhone 4S to a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. He wrote a multi-part article about his experiences, "Why I switched from iPhone to Android.." It's great reading - an assessment of the competing technologies and why the Galaxy S3 suited him better. What does his decision mean for those of us using iPhones?
First and foremost, Andy is absolutely right in that he did what was best for his own technical needs. Recently, I have also been heavily exposed to some Android products, and I couldn't have written such an article better myself -- if my needs were the same as his. His multi-part series is balanced, insightful and written with seasoned passion, honesty and integrity. And so we must resist the simple notion that this is treason. Rather, it is selecting what's right for one person. Every Apple customer should read it.
What stood out for me is that what an expert user needs and wants and what Apple elects to deliver to its average user are two entirely different things. Let me say that again. The technical needs of seasoned technical observers is not necessarily the best thing for the vast majority of Apple customers. Anyone who's ever spoken in front of a user group, written how-to articles or done tech support is painfully aware of the gulf between experts who live and breathe Apple and those typical, casual customers who just want to get something done, from young students to busy executives to grandmas.
That creates friction between tech writers and Apple if they believe that their needs should hold sway in the design of Apple products. Good writers should focus on what the readers need, not what they want. But perhaps with a taste of charming expertise to challenge and inspire the reader.
In that sense, what Andy wrote is a personal, technical travelogue, brimming with insights, not a call for action to the Apple community.
Another factor here is the personality of the two corporations, Google and Apple. Google's design philosophy is more open, more aggressively geeky and more focused on OEMs. By choosing that path, Android will naturally appeal to a different market segment, including many technical writers. Apple wants to make sure that everything just works, and that requires both finesse and a more conservative approach.
Why I'm Still in the Apple Camp
Given that there's room in the world for both philosophies, some of you may be wondering why yours truly, the ultimate geek, hasn't also switched to an Android phone. I think the reasons will be helpful.
- Before 2007, all mobile phones were terrible, even my Motorola RAZR from 2006. I have a particular affection for iOS, an original creation, derived from OS X. The fact that a lot of competing smartphone designs have been lifted from Apple, subject to the assessment of the courts, doesn't sit well with me. It has generated extreme loyalty to Apple.
- I believe that Apple is more fanatic about my privacy and security than Google, at the expense of some geekier capabilities.
- I write for an Apple focused publication, and I have to know the iPhone well. To do that, it has to be my daily smartphone.
- I love the industrial design of my iPhone 5, its look and the feel in my hand. I've seen videos of what happens to a Samsung phone when dropped on a hard surface, and it isn't pretty. The iPhone is a crisp, awesomely beautiful device whose display size is, so far, perfect for me.
- When I enter an important contact or calendar item at home into my iPhone, in a few minutes, it propagates to my wife's iPhone, via iCloud, where she works. That's important to us as a family, and if I used a Samsung phone as my everyday phone, I couldn't do that. Yes, for the glass half-full crowd, iCloud does indeed provide lock-in. I've chosen my poison.
- I appreciate refinement, elegance, and reliability in a smartphone more than I appreciate tinkerability. On the other hand, it's the exact opposite for me with OS X.
- Perhaps most important, as the leader in modern smartphones, Apple has been particularly wise in its implementation of technology. The company makes sure that everything just works. Other companies, eager to play catchup may rush half-baked features into their smartphones for competitive reasons, and I'm not interested in playing along with that game.
My Own Android Testing
That said, I have been keen to evaluate Android devices without adopting them full-time. In August of 2012, I asked Samsung if I could review a Galaxy Note, but they never responded. Three other American companies were much smarter. Confident in the quality and design of their products, I was sent a Barnes & Noble Nook HD, an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, and a Google Nexus. I was pleasantly surprised with these devices and wrote about them:
- Google Nexus 10 Tablet: First Impressions
- An iPad Veteran Evaluates an Amazon Kindle Fire HD
- A six part (so far) series on eBook readers and tablets that had considerable discussion of those three products compared to the iPad.
What I learned is that Android 4.x, from a purely technical standpoint, is a very good mobile OS. I especially liked its look and feel, flexibility and keyboard. If our timeline had been altered in some twisted way, and my only choice were the Google Nexus 10 as my primary tablet, I could live with it, be happy and have fun. It's a good product.
What Swayed Mr. Ihnatko
The #2 article cited just above, I had similar thoughts on the Android keyboard. It is indeed superior to that in iOS as Mr. Ihnatko noted. I am also, in principle, behind the idea of Mr. Ihnatko's insistence on "collaboration between apps," but I don't need it so much on a smartphone. Someday soon, when iOS devices with large displays are involved in heavy-duty content creation, that will be a necessity, and so I've ranted about it. It'll be something for Apple to deal with. But not today.
As for customization, Mr. Ihnatko has a great point:
At times, however, the iPhone and iOS feel like the clothing styles available to me at Walmart. They’re designed to be Good, or even just Acceptable, for a very wide range of consumers. I want something that’s going to be Excellent, for me.
Android has a consistent core philosophy that I find instinctively compelling: why wouldn’t a phone give its sole user a vote on how their device works?"
Again, I agree with Mr. Ihnatko. Some of the design decisions Apple has made don't suit me. However, I think I see why they were made that way. On the whole, I wish Apple sometimes took a more technical, geekier approach, but I also realize the benefits of simplicity for Apple's vast audience. I don't always want to feel that the device challenges me to understand it and tune it. Rather, I'd rather have it serve me out of the box. It's a trade-off.
The verdict is still out with me on larger smartphone displays. I think Apple's move to the iPhone 5's 4.0-inch display was smart, but I need to play with a smartphone with a larger display -- or a phablet --to see how I feel. I doubt that a larger display, say, 4.7-inches, would sway me from the fundamental reasons I use an iPhone listed above.
In the final analysis, Andy Ihnatko did exactly what was right for him and articulated it beautifully. It's a great story telling experience. It's also a sign that there is much competition out there, and there are many different kinds of people with different needs. Neither camp seems to be going wrong with its current approach.