Why I'm going back to the iPhone
I know this post is titled 'why I'm going back to the iPhone' but let me open by saying I love Android, I really do. From my HTC Desire, to my Samsung S3, to my Nexus 4, 7 and 10, I've tinkered, modded and waited patiently for the platform to find its feet, Android has been a fascinating platform to experiment and grow with. Especially for someone who started this journey as a passionate Gmail user. But my mounting frustrations with what I want out of a smartphone are leading me back to Apple's pastures. Strangely enough, it's not really Google's fault, but it is their problem.
At the height of my Android love affair I would I scratch my head wondering why everyone and their mum has an iPhone, why would anyone choose it over all the great features of Android. I love Android to death—I've been modding my Android phones into unrecognizability for years now. But recent weeks have seen me trying to push the boundaries of the OS to frustration. I mean why should I have to hack the OS to make a desirable experience?
Android's purest and most pleasant experience lies with the Nexus line of devices. A beautiful and simple manifestation of Google's vision for Android which is light years ahead of those presented by the device manufacturers and mobile networks, and dramatically lighter. I use several Google-powered email accounts, even pressed to move all my corporate email over to gmail for stronger more natural integration. The Gmail app on Android has been just about perfect for me, and has been one of the main reasons for my deep connection with Android.
You see when Android was starting out, the Gmail experience of iOS was horrible. But the email app situation has improved: Sparrow lacks native notifications but is fantastic for tackling unread email, and the Gmail app’s 2.0 update looks and behaves fantastic. In iOS 7, Apple fixed a pet hate, native Gmail contact integration. Plus, for Google+, the iOS app is definitely now on par with the Android one. Just because I left Google’s OS doesn’t mean I have to leave my Google services, these bonds are tougher to break. Gmail, Drive, Maps, Calendar and Contacts are all far richer in Google, so they will be staying with Google. Even on non-Nexus devices I've made the effort to install the original google apps, like Calendar. Trust me, if your using Samsung's S Planner today, download and try the Google Calendar app, it will change your life.
So you might be asking, why don't I just own a Nexus 4 or 5? It's a perfectly logical question, given I praise both these devices. Actually I own a Nexus 4. But the challenge with Google's flagship devices come with their uniqueness. Because the Nexus line is predominantly used by the Android core fan base, they lack mainstream scale in sales numbers, which results in them being ignored by the accessory manufacturers. I hunted a running armband for my Nexus 4 for months on end, buying and trying multiple options only to be continuously disappointed. I was tired of seeing iPhone users with all the coolest accessories. Being a fan of the Android platform I love the idea that it can be modified, along with hundreds of configuration options. But what appears to be Android's strength also creates the OS' weakness. With an OS that is so flexible, its inevitable that fragmentation starts to creep in. Which is exactly what has been happening as Android sales globally sky rocket.
Device manufacturers added health apps, pens, camera apps and eye tracking, all of which aren't native to the OS. I am positive that many of these funky new features are pushing the advancement of mobile technologies, but their implementation is half hearted. Now referred to at bloatware, all these additional applications only detract from the devices appeal, not add to it. The fragmentation means that application builders would be faced with prioritising devices during their build. Which resulted in small, but visible bugs on devices that weren't tested. Which usually meant the Nexus line up was ignored. And don't even get me started on the mobile operator specific deployments, what the US carriers do to the S4 is bordering on criminal. They are single handedly driving the demand for rooting devices. The worst ever device experience I've seen, is Verizon's Samsung S3, where the device had so many resources taken by operator applications that the residual of the device was completely uninspiring, bordering on unusable.
So why am I looking at the iPhone? Simplicity.
I love all the flexibility, features and open nature of Android, but these are now the OS' deterrent. Put simply I just want my phone to work. I got tired of waiting 15 minutes to open a contact on my S4, or frustrated when it would take 5 minutes to open the gallery to show someone a photo. Two things I do everyday. So while I love appeal of the Android, having simple things work is a higher priority. Granted Apple has flaws in its approach too. Too many people complain about the closed nature of the iOS ecosystem, which can clash with a open source fan's ethos. But these rules create a sturdy foundation for everyone to work with, minimising the bugs that haunt Android.
To Google, I know you love the idea of open source, but I personally feel that Android's governance is getting beyond you. I understand you want to entertain the hundreds of threads in the platforms development in the pursuit of enabling great innovations. But there needs to be a time where you move to stabilise the core 'mainstream' offering. Think the Nexus experience for all devices, without the need to root. If it were easier, I would remain on my S4 with the pure Google OS. But now it's come a time where I seek that stability. My second phone will remain my Nexus 4, but my primary is about to become the iPhone 5S. Let's hope Android's future has some tightened governance in the future so that I may reconsider my move.