In the US, there’s finally a choice of iPhone carriers (something we’ve always enjoyed in Australia), so there’s going to be a rush of new iPhone buyers who didn’t want the slow AT&T network but are tempted by Verizon. Even in Australia, some people may have held off buying an iPhone because of supply difficulties. So let’s imagine you’ve ditched your stop-gap of an Android phone for what you really wanted all along. But wait — where are all your beloved Android features? Where’s your awesome, free turn-by-turn navigation? Your retro game emulators? Your freedom? Welcome to the iPhone. We’re here to help.
Before we get started, you should know that switching to an iPhone means there will be restrictions you’ll never get around. You are never going to have the same flexibility as you would on Android, but there are ways to gain back the functionality you miss. Some of this functionality can be regained through apps you can find in the iTunes App Store while other functionality will need to be acquired through jailbreaking your phone. First we’re going to take a look at the stuff you can do right now and then check out the jailbreak options you can explore.
Apps to Help You Make the Transition
Let’s take a look at stuff you can grab from the iTunes App Store — mostly for free — to get back some of the stuff you loved about your Android phone.
While this wasn’t the case in the past, most of the Google apps you’ve come to love on Android have made their way to iPhone. iPhone users have long had access to the Google Mobile app, which provides some nice features like voice search, and Google Earth has been available for awhile as well.
I can’t complain enough about how much I hate plugging in my iPhone to sync with iTunes (it’s my biggest iPhone annoyance). I’ve gone so far as to try and avoid ever syncing with iTunes again, but no workaround is going to prevent you from syncing your phone once in a while. However, you can sync less frequently by pushing certain information to your iPhone. Apple’s MobileMe service is designed to do that, but it will inevitably screw up. It also costs $119 a year, which is reasonably priced by Apple’s standards but pales in comparison to free. Instead, you can set up Google sync by setting up your Google account like a Microsoft Exchange account. This will provide the push sync you’re used to without the added cost of MobileMe.
Also, if you’re a Chrome to Phone user, you can pretty much get that exact functionality on your iPhone with Chrome to iPhone. Chrome to iPhone now works with multiple browsers, so if you’re not an iPhone user you still have options. If you’re willing to pay, you may want to consider trying the more feature-rich MyPhoneDesktop.
Jailbreaking is really what’s going to bring you most of the functionality you want — at least in terms of customisation and flexibility. You should know, however, that jailbreaking can void your warranty (if you’re caught) and potentially brick your shiny new iPhone. I’ve jailbroken more times than I can remember and have never come across an unfixable problem, but you’ve nonetheless been warned. When you’re able to jailbreak your iPhone, make sure you know what you’re doing before you dive in.
Interface customisation (aside from your iPhone’s wallpaper) is basically impossible without jailbreaking, but boy do you get a lot of options once Apple’s restrictions are removed. Cydia, the “App Store” of the jailbreak community, already comes with a bunch of themes you can buy. Another app called Theme It provides some pretty thorough and beautiful themes as well. If you want a beautiful implementation of true multitasking, check out Multifl0w, an app that gives you Exposé- or webOS-style app switching. Once you’re jailbroken, you’ll be able to search through Cydia for many more enhancements as well. Custom lock screens are a big favourite, and you’ll find plenty of people creating custom lock screens on deviantART (or make your own). Basically, once you’re jailbroken you can customise whatever you want. In some cases there will be really great tools to help you out, and in others you may have to dig into the filesystem yourself. Nonetheless, your efforts will be nicely rewarded with an interface of your choosing.
One of the best parts about Android is the pull-down notification bar at the top of the screen. With it, you don’t get any annoying popups, and you don’t have to act on a notification as soon as you get it. You can pull down the status bar at any time and see which notifications are calling for your attention, and deal with them when you want to. There are quite a few ways to get this functionality on a jailbroken iPhone (we’ve featured one before), but the best is probably an app called Notified. It doesn’t stop the normal iOS notifications from popping up; instead, it works with them. You get notifications as normal, and it keeps your last 50 notifications in its drawer, and sorts them by application. The free version only lets you access those notifications by opening up the Notified app itself, though if you grab the $2.99 Pro version, you can access the drawer with a swipe, just like on Android.
Like notifications, there are a number of ways to get widgets on your iPhone. They work a little differently than Android widgets; instead of being integrated in your home screen, they show up on your lock screen. We’ve previously featured an app called Intelliscreen that presents calendar, email, SMS, news and weather on your lock screen in a very attractive way. It’s a bit pricier than it was when we featured it — $US9.99 — but it has a free trial if you want to check it out.
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, an app called SmartScreen does something very similar. While Intelliscreen’s widgets integrate themselves very nicely with the lock screen (they almost look like they were designed to be there), SmartScreen’s are much more widget-like. They essentially grab information — data, graphics and all — from apps like calendar, weather, and stocks. It even has a flip clock similar to the one that comes with HTC Android phones. SmartScreen is only $US5, and also has a Lite version available which, among other things, limits the number of widgets you can use to three. Both are great additions to your iPhone if you miss the widgets feature of Android. Note that if you want to try SmartScreen, you’ll have to add their repository to Cydia first, as described on their home page.
Retro Game Emulation
The Android Marketplace is open, so finding and downloading a retro game emulator is easy. On an iPhone, it’s impossible unless you jailbreak. We’ve shown you how to add an SNES emulator to your iPad — instructions that work just the same for iPhone — but you can get other emulators as well by searching for the platform you want in Cydia.[imgclear]
Any features we missed that you love on Android and know how to get on the iPhone? Share ’em in the comments!