Note to self: Things to Consider When Switching Back from Android to iOS

Dear Zef,

We both know you will read this note one day — perhaps sooner than later. You being you, you will decide once more that Apple is much cooler than Google, and it’s time to go all-in on Apple products again. More specifically it’s time to buy and iPhone once more and get rid of your current Android phone (Nexus 6P at the time of this writing). I’m writing this letter to you now, so you’ll remember what you’ll be giving up on when this day will come. Just in case I will write and publish this before the September 7th Apple iPhone event.

First, let’s remember how you got where you are today. Your first “real” smart phone was an iPhone 3GS, you then upgraded to an iPhone 4S, then iPhone 5 and later an iPhone 6. Somewhere in between you had a short encounters with a Nexus One (long time ago), and the Samsung Galaxy S2, but it didn’t last long. Then, in May 2016 you decided to once again take the Android plunge — just to see what it’s like some years later.

As I’m writing this, it is September 2016 and life with Android is good. To remind you, here are the reasons you think the Android ecosystem is better than iOS right now (at this time iOS 9 is out, 10 is about to be launched — but doesn’t seem like a huge leap forward):

1. Notifications on Android are more useful. On iOS you only really used them as “in your face” notifications on your lock screen. Once you unlocked your phone they were effectively gone (yes, they were still listed on the notifications list somewhere, but you never looked at those). On Android you’re using notifications like an actual inbox of things to take care of. Notifications don’t disappear unless you either swipe them away, or the app sending them has decided they’ve become irrelevant. Notifications are an inbox you can act on, not just a list of “while you were away” transient messages. Notifications on Android are also richer, there’s more information in them, sometimes with photos, audio/video controls, even for third-party apps. You like this a lot.

2. Like it or not, you live in the Google ecosystem, and Google apps are better on Android — Gmail and Calendar are what you use both for work and personal use. Google’s applications for both of these are much better, and better integrated in the OS than on iOS. On iOS you never found a system to sync your calendars as reliable and instant as you have on Android today. On iOS you used Outlook for email, which was good, but Gmail on Android works great too. And stuff just syncs in the background, always. On iOS you always felt you had to open up each app from time to time, just to make sure stuff synced. On Android you don’t have that urge. You know it will just happen.

4. Google understands cloud. Photos on iOS is pretty good, but it’s not Google Photos in terms of features, performance, cost and transparency. Using Google Photos on iOS was always problematic because things wouldn’t reliably sync without opening up the app, also you now had two collections of photos to manage — your Apple photo library and your Google Photos one. On Android you have no such problem — Google Photos is the default, and it just works, it just syncs when it should. Minor drawback: no native Mac app for viewing and editing and having a local copy of your photos. Second case in point for “Google understands cloud”, consider this: you opened up a couple of .epub ebooks from various locations on your Android phone, it opened it up in “Play Books” (or whatever that Google app) is called, it instantly uploaded the .epubs to your Google account and now they’re available from anywhere and syncs reading position everywhere, including the web. On iOS you just imported these into iBooks, but iBooks didn’t upload them or anything, it just kept a copy in there, treating them as second-rate citizen next to the books bought from Apple’s iBook store.

5. The Android ecosystem (Chromecast, Pebble) is affordable, feature rich and reliable. You watched all your video content on your TV on AppleTV before, pushed there through your iPhone with AirPlay. It worked, but not always reliably — sometimes unreliable to the point of frustrating and reverting to watch things on your Macbook Pro, like an animal. You also owned an Apple Watch, which you liked but you only used a small set of its features. Now, on Android you bought a super cheap Chromecast that’s just never failed. It just works, both from your wife’s iOS phone (for most purposes) and your Android phone. It’s so seamless your wife is using the TV to play music from Spotify from time to time, it’s so much easier to get to work than connecting her phone via bluetooth to your good speaker set. You also bought a Pebble watch which costed a fraction of the Apple Watch, has a 10 day battery life, always-on display and does only the things you expect it to do: tell time, set timers, show notifications, calendar, weather and Wunderlist shopping list. Both Pebble and Chromecast work on iOS, but support is much more limited for Pebble (due to iOS being being more locked).

6. You can set different default apps for certain things, for instance rather than launching Skype to call your parents, you just use the native phone app, which directs the call via some VoIP transparently based on the fact that it’s a foreign phone number. Also, you used Firefox as your main browser for a while, by now you switched back to Chrome, but it was perfectly possible to for most intents and purposes completely switch to a different browser.

7. Google’s Play Store is better and smarter than the Apple App Store. It gives better recommendations and is better organized. Also: automatic app updating just works, you don’t have to have the “Updates” tab open in the app store every few days to make sure updates flow in reliably — because you’re the kind of person that needs every update on day #1.

8. Talking about stores — since Google is less strict about payments, your Kindle and Audible apps actually allow you to buy Kindle and audible books from within the application, without going through the browser like on iOS (because of Apple’s rules). Now when you send yourself a preview of a book, you can actually buy it in-app when you like it. You like this, and unless Apple changes its policies, this won’t happen on iOS.

9. Usability niceties — your Nexus 6P has a huge screens, but I bet now that you decided to switch back to in iPhone you will get the “plus” one. Big screens are cool. Except… when back buttons are appear on the top-left like on iOS. Yes, there’s the swipe from the left on iOS but it doesn’t work in all apps. Android has a persistent back-button at the bottom left of the screen that is always reachable. No “reachability” double tap home button nonsense required. Also, switching between two apps on Android (N) is just double tap of the “home” (circle) button away, accessing the multitask screen (square button) just requires a single tap. Sometimes having more (physical or not) buttons is just a bit better. Another small thing: when you wake up before your alarm goes off, there’s a notification allowing to dismiss it early without turning it off altogether. On iOS what you ended up doing is keep your phone in your hand until the alarm went off, and dismissed it ASAP not to wake up the family — again, like an animal.

10. You’re naive enough to be willing to trade privacy for quality of life, as a result you enabled all the “location broadcasting” features that your Android phone gave you. As a result, your phone now knows where you parked your car, tells you to leave for your next appointment, or warns you about traffic to your son’s school even though you never told it where that is. Google Now just knows, and it’s helpful. You launched the “Google” app on iOS a couple of times, but it never seemed to give you much help on iOS, although your wife told you that her Google Maps on iOS did seem to include more “Now” features recently. Apple is trying to catch up on “intelligence”, but its “on your device only because privacy” stance will never reach the same level as Google’s cloud approach.

11. On-screen keyboards are better — you played with both Swiftkey and Google’s own keyboard. Both support swiping, which you’ve decided is a faster way to enter text. What you like about Swiftkey is that it support mixing languages, which you happen to do a lot. Google’s own keyboard has better predictive text and gives you better alternatives after “swiping” text. Custom keyboards on iOS always seems flimsy and not very useful, so you always stuck to Apple’s native keyboard.

But to be fair, you see faults in Android too:

1. You miss Apple’s attention to detail on Android. Sometimes you scroll a window, and text overlaps weirdly with the top bar, or you switch to the home screen and the keyboard disappears a second or two too late — all things that would never happen on iOS.

2. Hardware is worse — the Nexus 6P is reasonable, but it’s definitely not an iPhone. The build quality is not the same, the feel is not the same, a colleague has a Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge which feels much nicer hardware-wise, but its software… yeah. Also the camera is decent, but again: not as instant and good as an iPhone.

3. Battery life is acceptable, but not awesome. Even with the Nexus’ larger battery not the strong suit of Android phones it seems. Not that iPhones are so great — it seems to be a smartphone problem in general. Your colleague recently bought a cheap Chinese Android phone that seems to last 5 days on a charge, that must be a fluke.

4. You don’t have the Apple apps: iMessage, Facetime — both of these you used to communicate with your parents and “Apple friends”. You replaced these partially with WhatsApp, but your parents still haven’t figured out you only read iMessages on your Mac.

5. Audio quality on VoIP apps is bad for some reason. Not sure why, but people complain about your audio quality when you call them on Skype or some other VoIP application.

6. You wouldn’t give an Android phone to your wife just yet. It was hard enough to convince her that all the advantages of iOS were a reasonable trade-off to make for no longer having the physical keyboard on her blackberry. Then, it was a tough sell to have the 4.7″ screen on the iPhone 6 screen versus the 4″ on her previous iPhone 5 — “it’s just too big!”. She gets frustrated with unpredictable behavior or accidental taps quickly, all of which seem to affect Android more than iOS — but I may be wrong.

7. Third-software appears to be in a “worse” state than iOS. First-party (Google) apps, as discussed, are great, but many third applications you use seem to be in a worse state (uglier, slower, fewer features, fewer updates) than their iOS counter parts. Sometimes the difference is minimal, in cases (see the note about Audible and Kindle) they have features that their iOS version don’t have. But generally Android seems to be a second priority for the authors of the apps you use. I would still the difference is small enough for it not to matter too much, but most of the third-party cool new stuff comes to iOS first and Android second (note: third-party, this is not the case for e.g. Google).

8. This is a nerdy one — you feel that the “Android way” to solve performance problems is to just throw more cores and more memory at the problem (combined with bigger batteries). Based on the raw horse power and memory that Android devices have, you would expect more actual performance. You feel it may have to do with the whole Java and garbage collection thing. You feel that Apple made the right call going with the more close-to-the-metal (no pun intended) C/Objective-C/Swift platform here, which seems and feels more efficient, requiring less memory and a less powerful quad-core CPU to power basic things like scrolling a list.

So yes, there are trade-offs, but all things considered you’re still a fan of Android. Please consider all these points before hitting that “Purchase” button on the Apple online store for the iPhone 7, 7S or 8.

Good luck.