I've been a die-hard "Apple evangelist" for over 20 years — first an avid Mac user, then an early adopter of both iPod and iPhone. In the '90s, when everyone I knew used Windows, I tried to switch them to Mac. In the 2000s, when everyone had Creative-brand MP3 players, I tried to switch them to iPod and iTunes. A few months ago, I switched from iPhone to Android. Now the running joke is that I've become an Android evangelist.
In all seriousness, I'm surprised I like Android as much as I do. I don't want this to be yet another "Why I switched to Android" essay. There are a bunch of those online already. This is not a manifesto about the "openness" of Android. This isn't a "these are the apps I installed to approximate my old iPhone" article either. Instead, this is my personal experience with both iPhone and Android. I'll focus on four specific jobs I believe Android is better at than my old iPhone.
1. On-the-Go Audio
I know what you're thinking: iPhone does this perfectly well, and it does to a point. With the iPhone, I had problems with Bluetooth streaming. While driving I'd play something from my iTunes library via Bluetooth. The music would stream from the iPhone to the car stereo. Absolute magic. Sometimes I'd switch to Spotify for the Radio feature. Again, awesome. Exiting and entering the car then reconnecting via Bluetooth, however, would reveal a quirk. iPhone always defaulted to the iTunes library. It didn't matter if I was listening to Spotify when I left the car. Once I got back in the car and the Bluetooth connection was established, bam iTunes. Thanks iPhone, I don't want iTunes now actually. I want Spotify.
I'm also an iTunes Match customer. iTunes Match is Apple's "cloud music" offering. That means the music doesn't have to physically be on the iPhone. When you play a song it will stream from the iTunes Match "cloud". The problem with this is sometimes iTunes Match flakes out. In my case it would flake out quite a bit. Sometimes it would take a while to authenticate. Sometimes it would hang on a song because of buffering.
This wasn't a huge annoyance for me though. 20 years of using Macs conditioned me to think "well, that's the Apple way". It's such a small price to pay for such a user-friendly device. Besides, why does this annoy me? I should be grateful. This is incredible technology. Apple is probably working on a fix with iOS 7. It's not a big deal.
Then I switched to Android.
When I first connected Android to the car Bluetooth I thought "wow, that was five minutes faster than the iPhone". Most importantly, Android appreciates that I use different apps for listening to music. When I listen to Spotify, exit and enter the car, and reconnect via Bluetooth, Android still serves up Spotify.
Google's cloud music offering also seems to work better than iTunes Match. There's less startup lag. Google will even allow you to add up to 20,000 songs from your iTunes library for free. For example, I pre-ordered the new David Bowie album exclusive to iTunes a few months ago. It was downloaded this morning on iTunes. In less than a minute I'm listening to it on Android. Between Google Music and Spotify I'm pretty well covered.
What started as a small annoyance on the iPhone became an eye opener on Android. Since the introduction of the iPod and iTunes, I saw Apple as a leader in the world of digital music. While my iPhone music problems were minor, I had assumed there simply was no better way other than the one Apple had designed. Yet here was Android doing it just a little bit better. Maybe Apple didn't have it figured out after all.
2. Photo and Video Librarian
Everyone I know with an iPhone uses it as their primary camera (it's one that's always with you). So when Apple announced Photo Stream I was excited. Photo Stream works like this: Take a picture with your iPhone, it gets pushed to "the cloud". Your computers, Apple TVs, and other iOS devices can see that photo too. I thought, "Finally! I won't have these photos taking up space on my devices!"
Unfortunately that wasn't the case. Every photo I took with my iPhone stayed on my iPhone, but was also copied to my computer. Each iPhone picture takes up space on every one of my devices. The more pictures I take, the more space it takes up. What I thought was a convenience was actually an annoyance.
Photo Stream is actually confusing when you think about it. The photos are uploaded to Apple's servers, but they don't stay there. Apple's servers merely broker the transaction between devices. Worse yet, Photo Stream doesn't work with videos. I took a video of my 4-year-old doing a perfect cartwheel. It was awesome. But it's stuck on my iPhone.
Android works differently (at least in my case).
Every image and video I take with Android gets privately uploaded to Google's servers into my Google + account. It's instant backup of all the photos and videos I've taken with Android. All of these photos and videos are browsable from the Gallery app. I can safely delete all my camera roll images to free up device storage. The best part is that the images and videos are browsable from all my devices and they take up zero storage. If I want I can download a high res version any time.
Android lets me keep taking photos and videos of my family and friends. It doesn't force me to download every photo onto my computer like Photo Stream does. Google even organizes those photos and videos for me on their servers (sorted by date). Android allows me to browse them without downloading. It works the way I had hoped Photo Stream would.
3. My Trusted Assistant
I believed Siri was the future when I saw it work for the first time. Are you kidding me? I can ask my iPhone something, and it'll tell me the answer!? That's sci-fi awesome. Siri might well be the future, but I think the approach is slightly off.
The problem begins with the fundamental interaction. You need to ask Siri first. Then Siri tells you. Think about that for a moment. You have an assistant, and you have to always ask. John, can you do this? Sam, what happens next? Zooey, is it raining outside?
Android has a Siri-like trick. You can ask what the weather's going to be like. You can ask about baseball stats or restaurants nearby.
But the Android assistant is also proactive. It doesn't wait for you to ask for something. Android will somehow tell you what you want to know without you needing to ask. Here's a concrete example:
I was in the Chicago suburbs having my car serviced. It was getting close to afternoon rush hour. Traffic in Chicago during afternoon rush hour can be fairly unpredictable. At 2-3pm roads can be jammed, or they might be fine. As I left the mechanic Android notified me: 30 minutes to Home. Take this route → Sure enough, Android told me what route to take to avoid traffic and I got home in 30 minutes. I didn't have to ask. Android knew.
Android proactively tells me about my friends birthdays, if packages from Amazon have shipped, when to leave to get to an appointment on time. I haven't had to ask Android anything. The Android assistant knows what I want to know, and when I want to know it. Skynet becomes sentient when?
4. Easy on the Budget
I was trained to believe there was only one way to have a top-notch smartphone experience: buy a phone from Apple and sign a two-year $90/month contract on AT&T. Then I took some time to think it through. That's a lot of money to pay for the convenience of checking Facebook, texting friends and listening to music in the car. I'm sure you're reading this saying to yourself, "$90/month? That's nothing." Sorry, you've been conditioned.
With Android (and T-Mobile), I killed my contract. Now I pay just $30/month. For $30/month I have unlimited texts, unlimited data, free tethering and 100 minutes of talk (I average 30 minutes of talk every month). That is one-third the cost of iPhone. I haven't had any coverage problems in Chicago.
I've told you the four reasons why I switched. I'd like you to switch too — or at least give Android a real try. I run in some heavy iOS-user social circles. You might too. As makers and builders we need to stretch out a little. We need to get some alternative stimulation. Apple has had a lock on us for a good while. The other side isn't as scary as Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Apple, would like you to believe. It's actually quite nice.
One more thing
I hardly used my old iPhone as a phone. I use my Android even less so. A few months ago Jony Ive, Senior Vice President Industrial Design at Apple, said something that resonated with me:
"If we're thinking ‘Lunch Box' we have to be really careful about not having the word ‘Box' already give you a bunch of ideas that could be quite narrow. We're very careful with the words we use because they can determine the path that you go down."
Could it be that the word "phone" in iPhone limits the future of that device? On the other hand, the word "android" is more versatile. "Android" is a wonderfully geeky word. It conjures up visions of C-3PO from the movie Star Wars. He is a protocol droid designed to serve human beings, fluent in over six million forms of communication. I wonder what 3PO's fate would have been if he was named C-3P-phOne...
Jamie Dihiansan is a designer for 37signals. This post has been republished with permission from Signal vs Noise, 37signals' publication about the web.