Kudos to Android

A week ago I began using my new iPhone 4S after having used an Android phone for the last few years. The platform switch has brought with it some adjustments in how I interact with my phone that have made Android's strengths clear to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my decision to go with the iPhone for now, but I want to add at least one non-religious voice on the Android vs. Apple discussion. What follows are four big things that I miss about Android.

1. Serendipity, CM, MIUI, etc.

One of the initial reasons for going with Android despite being a life-long Apple (computer) user was the desire to be in (near) total control of my device. Although I enjoy Apple's design aesthetic generally, I have a streak inside me that sides very strongly with the principle behind open-source software: that you can only trust software that you have the ability to alter in any way that you see fit. Having the ability to customize the appearance of my phone as well as its memory usage and security (or lack thereof) was and is really appealing. All of these things were possible because Android allows one to easily obtain control over all of the processes that are running on the phone, including the OS itself. This ability also makes possible one of the coolest aspects of having an Android phone: loading custom ROMS (custom versions of the operating system). In the few years that I had an Android phone I used just about all of the major ROMs and participated in not a few heated battles on the relative merits of each one. This was a lot of fun. There are some really smart people working on these roms as evidenced by the fact that there are already nearly feature complete Ice Cream Sandwich ROMs available and ICS has just barely been released.

In the end I decided to go with Apple at this point in my life because I don't currently have much time to tinker with my phone and I need it to work solidly all the time. The security that comes from knowing that my hardware/software combination has been extensively tested is very beneficial for me right now and is one of the principal reasons I went with the iPhone. The same goes for 3rd party apps. Given that I don't have time to tweak my phone right now, Apple's walled garden is attractive to me because I have a little more certainty that the apps that I download from the App Store will actually work on the phone.

2. Swype

No keyboard will be efficient for everyone. That being said, I miss the Swype keyboard that was installed on my Galaxy S class device. It took about a week to get the hang of it when I first bought the phone, but after the break-in period the Swype keyboard just felt very solid when responding to emails and texts on the device. Somehow stabbing at the keyboard seems much more error prone to me. I recognize that this opinion is entirely subjective and many people have exactly the opposite feeling.

3. Hardware options

The build quality of my iPhone 4S is unmatched in the market currently. That being said, I enjoy that in the Android universe I could get a 4, 4.3 or 4.5 inch screen if I wanted to. While I like the Apple hardware, it is true that 3.5 inches seems a little small in some circumstances. Especially when browsing the web. Although space is generally used quite efficiently in iOS, it would still be beneficial to have space used just as efficiently on a larger screen.

4. Gmail support

While my work email goes through an exchange server, all of my personal email happens through Gmail and there is no better Gmail implementation than that of Android. There were even certain Gmail-related tasks for which I preferred to use my phone over a desktop or laptop. Deleting emails from my inbox, for example, was at times an exultant experience on my Android phone. Not to mention labels, staring, etc. Apple isn't quite to that point in their Gmail support. Even Google's iOS application isn't as good an experience (or even close really).

In the end, I am very happy with my switch to the iPhone. It is the right move for me at this point in my life. I really like the fact that the OS feels so quick and smooth when operating. Scrolling isn't jumpy and zooming feels natural. I also like that the apps and OS are so internally consistent. The design language is consistent so when I am doing new things on the phone there is usually a natural guess for how to do that thing and that guess is usually right.* However, Android has a lot going for it. Furthermore, from the early reviews of ICS it appears that some of the issues that I had with Android have been dealt with (at least in part) in the latest version of the software. I would love for it to be the case that in another year or so I could switch back to Android and have it be as aesthetically and functionally pleasing as iOS.

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* In some ways, the iPhone vs. Android distinction has some similarity to the Python vs. Perl debates. With Apple, much like with Python, the designers seemed to be of the opinion that for any given task there should be one, obvious, correct way to do it. With Perl and on some levels Android it seems like the system was not entirely internally consistent and that there were always multiple ways to do a certain thing, each with pros and cons that needed to be weighed. This comparison is imperfect at best, but useful in my opinion.