Back to the iPhone: Features Versus Implementation And The Truest Words You’ll Ever Read About Android
Number sixty three on my list of things I love about Apple is their announcements. It’s always “here’s a thing, here’s what it does, here’s how much it costs, and here’s when you can get it”. And then boom, just like that, a week later, we have the new shiny in our hands. Apple Watch notwithstanding1, it’s how the vast majority of Apple products in recent memory have been launched, and it’s easily one of the best things about the company.
This is new iPhone week, where the larger screened iPhone 6 and even bigger-screened iPhone 6 Plus will become available to everyone in Apple’s first tier release countries. This Friday, Apple aficionados all across Australia (along with the US and eight other countries) will be able to get their hands on the first larger-screened iPhone since the iPhone 5 in 2012. It’s been a long time coming, but this time, it’ll come with Touch ID, a better camera, a faster processor, and iOS 8, Apple’s latest and greatest iteration of their mobile operating system.
I. Cannot. Wait.
Not because I’m particularly excited about a new iPhone per se, but mostly because I’ve been iPhone-less since June. Using Android as my smartphone platform of choice gave me a chance to experience life on the other side of the fence, so to speak, and as a longtime iOS user, it’s really opened my eyes about what Android is like in real-world day-to-day usage. And let me tell you now, it’s not all cutesy codenames for versions of Google’s mobile OS.
Instead of regurgitating my laundry list of issues with Android and how the entire user experience could do with a little work, I’m simply going to link to a post on the Jackson Fish Market blog which explains many of the issues2. The user experience designer over there switched to Android for a while, after being a long-time iOS user, and found a multitude of problems with Android. Some are the result of the Android business model and others still are simply the result of poor design, but the message is clear: Android isn’t even moderately user-friendly.
But look, I’m not here to tell you about how much the Android user experience sucks. There’s plenty of other places for that, and this blog isn’t one of them. Instead, I wanted to run through a few reasons why I’m excited for the new iPhone, starting with features versus implementation.
You’ve probably seen this picture from Ars Technica Reviews Editor Ron Amadeo, tweeted around the same time the iPhone 6 was announced on stage by Phil Schiller, Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing. It claims Android users have had features coming in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus for years, and as much as it was (probably) done tongue-in-cheek, is a perfect example of Android’s inability to separate features from implementation, or why you can’t divorce features from execution.
One of the changes in iOS 8 is the introduction of typing suggestions. Amadeo himself penned an article about the iOS 8 features that were inspired by Android, saying “While Android’s keyboard just blindly does word pairs, iOS 8 seems to be able to intelligently offer suggestions in response to an “A” or “B” question. […] If this actually works reliably, it’s a big step above the Android keyboard”. Features versus implementation, ladies and gentlemen. For all the iOS 8 features Apple stole from Android, there’s an Android user who wants iOS 8 features in Android.
Another example: actionable notifications (or notification actions, whichever you prefer). Android already has this, letting you archive or reply to emails from the notification drawer. Amadeo, once again: “In fact, Apple has one-upped Google on the notification front by attaching a working text box to some notifications. On incoming text messages, you can directly type into the notification and hit send without ever having to open the app. Android always needs to open the app to reply.” Apple has never been about the first to market with any particular feature, but once they release a feature, they do it right. Remember how long we waited for copy and paste? Having the feature is one thing, but implementing it in a way that makes sense is another thing entirely. To this day, the way copy and paste works in Android is different to the way it works in Chrome running on Android. Why? Who knows.
It’s this features versus implementation that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to actually using smartphones. One of the things I found during my time on Android was that while I was able to do normal, every-day things (check emails/Twitter/Facebook, look up bus timetables and cat pictures on the internet), it just wasn’t the same. It’s hard to quantify, but since there’s so many different ways of doing the same thing, you find yourself asking yourself if you’re doing it the “right” way, even though there probably isn’t one true way. It’s why I prefer the simplicity of iOS — sure, you can’t customise your home screen launcher or change out the default apps for better alternatives, but if that means I don’t have to decide which of the two photo-viewing apps I want to use every time I want to upload a shot to Instagram, then I’m all for it. To me, Android has always felt a bit like a balancing act, tipping between customisability/extensibility and usability. And from what I’ve seen, it leans a little too heavily towards the former.
The same features versus implementation will mean that Apple Pay will be the mobile payments solution you’ll actually use. Macworld has a great article on the matter, explaining that while Google Wallet was first to the market with the dream of making mobile payments a reality in 2011, a lack of adoption has meant Wallet has remained a niche.
Although Google Wallet can work with NFC, the actual implementation depends on the hardware and software combination of your Android phone. Even if your phone has NFC, if it doesn’t have a secure element too, you can’t use it for contactless payments. And if your phone does have a secure element, it may not be accessible to Google Wallet because it isn’t accessible to the NFC chipset or due to carrier restrictions.
A similar article on Ars Technica says Apple Pay will succeed where Wallet didn’t because the timing is right, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say a lot of it has to do with how Apple have implemented Apple Pay, too.
I mean, sure, the iPhone 6 brings NFC payments, just like the Nexus 4 did back in 2012. But ask anyone that’s used Google Wallet how that’s going for them, and at best, they’ll probably give you a blank stare. Apple Pay, on the other hand, will work with 220,000 retail locations when it launches next month, and will accept your existing Visa, MasterCard, and AMEX. Granted, we won’t get it in Australia, but that’s no different to Google Wallet.
Why, then, does Android seem to be so gosh darn popular? Get ready for the truest words you’ll ever read about Android: Android is about device selection and customisation, and that’s most of the experience that a lot of Android users focus on. The iOS experience, on the other hand, has always been about apps — quality apps that mean it doesn’t matter if iPhones and iPads aren’t as customisable, because the apps are so good it kind of doesn’t matter.
One of the advantages of Android is that because there are so many different devices out there, you have endless options for choosing device specs. You’re not forced to choose between one model that has optical image stabilisation or a slightly smaller model that doesn’t (looking at you, iPhone 6 Plus), because chances are, there’s a smaller model with a better camera out there. Personalisation is a big part of devices as well, and while I’ll never get using Curlz MT or Comic Sans on your smartphone, the very fact it’s even an option on some devices is a big drawcard for those wanting to be a little different.
The HTC One is better than the iPhone 5. Android is better than iOS in most places. But the apps. The apps are shit.
— Will Smidlein (@ws) May 23, 2013
Ask anyone who has used iOS for any period of time, and they’ll tell you it’s about the apps. Always has been, and always will be. One of the biggest reasons I’m looking forward to the new iPhone is that I just miss using an iPhone. I miss plenty of stuff about the iOS platform, but I miss the apps the most. I miss Tweetbot. I miss Instapaper. I miss quality apps like Soulver, Notesy, Boxie, and Clear. There are some really good apps on Android — JotterPad X and Fenix both deserve special mention — and all of your favourite apps are probably available on Android, but overall app quality on iOS is streets ahead of overall app quality on Android.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the HTC One that I’ve been using for the past few months. It has a really great screen and the best speakers I’ve ever heard on any smartphone, ever. But it’s a little too large for my liking. The camera is fine in most situations, but falls short in situations where others would easily handle the challenge. Trying to sync my iTunes library to it was an endless nightmare of playlists failing to sync, and while there’s no shortage of apps, only a handful are actually worth using.
If Android is your thing, then that’s cool. We can still be friends. But I swing the other way, and this Friday, I’ll be welcoming the iPhone 6 — the smaller, pocketable one, with the slightly worse camera — with open arms.
It’ll be good to be an iOS user again. Especially now that we’ve caught up to Android in terms of features.
- To be clear, Apple has pre-announced stuff months in advance, but all the examples I can think of are software. IOS 8 and OS X Yosemite were announced earlier in the year at WWDC — likely to give developers a few months notice — but for major Apple updates to any of their hardware, it’s always available now or in two weeks. ↩
- The piece descends into snarky criticism more than I’d like, but there’s too many valid points to ignore it completely. Plus, some of it is actually funny: “I clear my notifications periodically, but inevitably a pile of tiny incomprehensible turds appear at the top of my screen, uglifying it to no end”. ↩