Why I Might Ditch My IPhone for an Android

An Apple iPhone 4S smartphone, left, and a Samsung Electronics Galaxy Nexus smartphone Photograph by SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

If you don’t like personal stories about infidelity, please read no further. After being in love with my iPhone for several years now, my attentions are increasingly being pulled elsewhere—and I’m not fighting it. I’ve been an iPhone fan since I first got my hands on one: It instantly made my BlackBerry feel like an ugly brick that was designed by orangutans. All I wanted to do was hold it forever, and that’s almost exactly what I’ve done since I first got one—until, that is, I switched to using an Android phone over the holidays.

I didn’t decide to try an Android phone because I was dissatisfied with Apple or the iPhone. I still think the iPhone is one of the best-designed, most appealing products I’ve ever used. I have a MacBook Air and an iPad that I also love using, and I recommend them whenever I get the chance. But I will confess that I have been looking enviously at Android phones for a little while after seeing friends like my GigaOM colleague Kevin Tofel using them—and then borrowing one last fall for a trip to Amsterdam for our Structure: Europe conference.

Part of what interested me was the larger screens on the Nexus and other phones. I like to read Web pages and documents and look at photos on my phone, so more screen real estate was appealing. But I was also interested in the openness of the Android ecosystem, and wondered if that would be a benefit, compared to the walled garden that Apple runs for iOS.

There’s no question that Apple’s garden is beautiful, as walled gardens go. It is extremely well-maintained: Nasty or disturbing apps are kept out and everything is checked to make sure it works properly, which is definitely a big benefit. In other words, the bars are hard to see behind all those beautiful flowers. But in some cases, useful things are kept out as well—content, applications, or ways of integrating with other networks and services that may not meet Apple’s standards (or that aren’t willing to pay Apple for the privilege).

Here’s one anecdote that sums up the differences between the two platforms for me: When I took a photo with the Android phone (a Motorola Razr HD), it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could beam it to my TV somehow. I have a media hub from Western Digital that has all my photos on it;  usually I have to copy the pictures from the iPhone to a computer with iTunes and then share them with the WD hub. I figured maybe I could beam them from the Android because the hub is a DLNA device (DLNA is kind of the open version of Apple’s AirPlay standard for wireless networking). Within five minutes, I had downloaded an app that beamed my photo to the WD hub, and we were looking at it on the TV. I did the same thing with a YouTube video.

Another light bulb moment happened when I went to share a Web page from the Motorola. When you do this on the iPhone, you get to choose between Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and printing, but on the Android, the sharing menu is longer than the screen. You can share just about anything with just about anything else, whether it’s a Web service or an app. For me, that’s kind of a metaphor for the two platforms.

It’s probably possible to beam your photos to your television with an iPhone or iPad, but to do that you would need an Apple TV and AirPlay and be hooked into other parts of the Apple ecosystem (such as iTunes, which I confess I have always loathed using). If you have a motley crew of non-Apple technology the way I do—as with the Western Digital hub and my desktop that runs Ubuntu—you are a second-class citizen in some ways because Apple often doesn’t play well with others.

For a while, I’ve also noticed something I’ve seen others, such as Liz Gannes mention at All Things Digital : I’ve gradually been replacing many of Apple’s services and default applications with Google ones like Maps and Mail, or those made by others. The iPhone itself—the hardware—still appeals because it is so well made and great to hold. But for services, Apple has never really been the best, and you can see that in things like iCloud.

I miss things about the iPhone. Like Ralf Rottmann, who has written a great post about making a similar switch, I miss iMessage because a lot of friends and family have iPhones. I also miss Photostream, which was a great way to have pictures I took automatically show up on my iPad and MacBook Air. But I have replicated much of this by using auto-upload with both Google and Facebook, as well as an open-source photo hosting service called OpenPhoto that uses Amazon’s S3 for hosting.

When I try to describe the difference between the two platforms to friends, I put it this way: With iOS, if you want to do something, there may be one or two apps that will let you, and they work pretty well—but if you want a feature they don’t have, you are out of luck. With Android, if you want to do something with the phone, there are 15 or 20 apps that will help you, and many are free; most won’t do everything you want and only a couple will actually work the way you want them to.

For me it comes down to this: Apple has great design, but it restricts your choice in all kinds of ways. I have been seeing those restrictive bars more and more, despite all the beautiful flowers. Android offers a kind of “tyranny of choice.” But in the end, I think choice and openness are better, even if they seem less attractive at first glance. That’s why I’m thinking of making the switch permanent. Forgive me, Steve.

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