A month after moving from my iPhone to the Android: some thoughts

For the last few months I have been looking closely and the Android platform. Originally I had expected the Android platform to be a knockoff of the iPhone OS (which I am getting really comfortable developing for), but was pleasantly surprised to discover that under the covers, it was a completely different idea. Between that and my general disagreements with the philosophical direction of iOS, I decided it was finally time to make the N1 my main phone. This post reflects some of my thoughts on that decision.

A bumpy move:
There is no doubt that the iOS has much more spit and polish than the Android. Android’s default UI is pretty poor, something you realize every time you decide to use a native control like a checkbox or a slider. Transitions on the iPhone are smoother, easing on the List controls is better and orientation change animations are much better handled (on the Android, the application “pops” to the new layout which is very jarring, on the iOS, orientation changes animate the application frame). Moreover the apps I used all the time had much poorer cousins on the Android. I hated the very blue native Twitter client, Foursquare app was just barely passable and the Facebook app was an absolute joke. I wondered if I should consider moving back to the iPhone.

Getting comfortable with the metaphors:
The Android metaphors are actually very different from the iPhone. For one thing, additional functionality is often hidden in the menus of an application, which I didnt realize right away. Moreover the menus are not at the application level but at the “screen” level. Once you get used to the concept, it makes perfect sense though. It also removes a lot of chrome from the screen giving the application more space to display the content.
The back button was another interesting feature. Before using the Android, I thought that was a useless idea. But it turns out to be really useful. On the iOS, I would imagine 90% of the apps (not counting games of course) start with a top level UINavigationController that provides a frame with a title space and a location for a back button, but you have to program the “back” functionality yourself. On the Android, its automatically handled without the need to waste screen real estate on the button. I have now gotten so used to it that I keep hitting the home button to get back to the previous screen on my iPad.

And then there are the metaphors I absolutely love. The Notification Bar on the Android is a fantastic way to notify users without popping up a very disruptive alert window as the iPhone does.

Desktop widgets are a pretty convenient way to access apps like Pandora and News. And of course having Flash work on the device is just amazing (and I must add, performs really well). Every few days the last few minutes before I go to sleep are spent on watching Adult Swim or the Daily Show episodes on my phone.

The concepts of Intents that apps use to talk to each other is pretty great. For example, the default Twitter client did not include any functionality for adding stories to Instapaper, a service I use all the time. However I was able to download a small app that listened to the “share” intent that any app broadcasts and adds “Share on Instapaper” to the share list. Its a very different approach than trying to bundle share capabilities within your app.

The emergence of good apps
The last few weeks I have also downloaded a bunch of apps that I love and things suddenly feel a lot better. The bar seems to be rising on the quality of apps out there. Here are few of my favorite apps:

  • Google Voice is absolutely fantastic. I hate listening to voicemails and having all voicemails automatically be transcribed is super cool.
  • Tweetdeck for Android: Even though its barely in beta right now, Tweetdeck is my favorite “social” app on the N1. It actually beats the iOS version hands down, and I dont have to deal with the Twitter’s official blue app. Win!
  • Gesture search: Google recently launched Gesture search, which is like spotlight with gesture / handwriting recognition. Its fantastic and makes finding contacts/apps in my lists a breeze.
  • SwiftKey: Now my default keyboard, it makes typing so much faster, even though third party keyboards are a risky idea.
  • Send to phone Chrome extension: I use this more often than I thought I would.
  • Reddit Pics: Technically not the epitome of technological innovation, this app is just fun 😉
  • The new Facebook app (lighyears better than its predecessor).
  • HardCopy client for Instapaper
  • Google Listen for managing podcasts (also read: Managing Google Listen with Google Reader)

The Android app store definitely feels like its just getting started. Really good apps are few even though they are getting better. I still havent found any good games the quality of iPhone games like Angry Birds, but hopefully they’ll come soon, not that Android is getting more mainstream. This will also get really accelerated once AIR for Android hits mainstream.

In conclusion, the last few days have been interesting. The move from the iPhone to Android is not an easy one, even more, considering that the iPhone 4 is a fantastic device. But I am at a point now that I dont think I could go back to the iPhone, and the next gen Androids are only going to get better.

If you are an Android user, do drop a comment  and share what your favorite parts of the platform are and/or what apps do you use all the time.

Author: Arpit Mathur

Arpit Mathur is a Principal Engineer at Comcast Labs where he is currently working on a variety of topics including Machine Learning, Affective Computing, and Blockchain applications. Arpit has also worked extensively on Android and iOS applications, Virtual Reality apps as well as with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and Ruby on Rails. He also spent a couple of years in the User Experience team as a Creative Technologist.

6 thoughts on “A month after moving from my iPhone to the Android: some thoughts”

  1. i did the same change last july, and i totally agree with you, it’s a very big deal, and the first time i really wanted to go back to the iphone too.

    To me,

    The iPhone wins on :
    – GUI, which is very much better than Android for now. They should focus on that, really. The GUI elements are better, animations smoother. Also, the homescreen has a dynamic size, which is not the case of Android. You must set the size of the homescreen up to 7 screens.

    – AppStore, which is full of amazing beautiful apps, like Angry birds ; anyway, i should nuance that win to the fact that most of the apps are useless and are downloaded once to be launched once then they stay uselessly on the dashboard.

    Android wins on :
    – Flexibility, such as Intents. But also with built-in applications replacement, from a top level to a very low level app. For example, you can replace the homescreen app to Launcher Pro or the keyboard to swiftKey ; you must jailbreak your iPhone to do such a thing.

    – The keys which makes sens to me too. As an iphone UI designer, i had in horror what apple did. By example, to create a text message, the button is on the top right ; for a mail, it’s on the bottom. Such features which should be on a menu level had been put “where there is some place in a corner”. Same for the back button.

    – The notification stack which is just awesome. You can have multiple notifications, read them later ; so much things which are impossible with the Apple’s popup.

    Thanks for sharing the apps. I’m also fan of Locale with all the plugins around. It’s good to switch on my macbook when arriving at home with the wake-on-lan plugin 🙂

    I do feel just as u said : the big deal with android experience is just coming, it’s gonna be huge with Android TV, Air… The platform only needs maturity, a better UI and some good apps, no more proof of concept or nerdz-designed apps.


  2. I have never had an iPhone. But I will say, the simplicity of integrating my gmail, google calendar, and google contacts that I use on the web so much into my phone effortlessly has been a big win.

    Another big win – never having to pay AT&T – a dreadful company – one dime.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: