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I’m an Apple fan. I love my iPhone and Mac. But I’m also a tech writer. I’ve always followed the latest Android developments. I’ve tried some of the flagship phones. My choice to use an iPhone isn’t some thoughtless, fashion-following attempt to buy the coolest phone, it’s a deliberate decision. An iPhone fits my needs.
With all the hubbub around the new iPhone 7, I started thinking. Most of Apple’s harshest critics weren’t Apple fans — they were never going to buy the latest iPhone regardless of what ports it had. Why did they care so much about a phone they were never going to even think about using, and more importantly, what would it take for me to switch to an Android phone?
This isn’t going to be some cheap-shot article where I crack jokes about how I want a phone that doesn’t explode (however much fun that would be) or make silly comparisons using the vast amounts of low-end Android phones. Instead, I want to look at what Google, Android smartphone manufacturers, and app developers could do to win me, a dedicated Apple fan, over to the green side.
Better Design Across the Board
Some Android phones are downright beautiful. I’m a big fan of HTC and Sony, less so of Samsung, although I can still appreciate their latest models. But hardware is only one part of design. As Steve Jobs said in a New York Times profile back in 2003:
Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Even if the phone looks great when it’s sitting on a table, if the experience of using it doesn’t measure up, it’s not well designed. This is where Android, as an operating system, falls to me.
Design is obviously subjective, so I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me for perfectly valid reasons. For me, though, it comes down to philosophies.
I shouldn’t make fun of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. After all, it really is the hottest phone that Samsung has ever made. ?
— not Jony Ive (@JonyIveParody) September 2, 2016
On an iPhone, it feels like every single thing has been carefully considered. Jonny Ive has signed off on every decision. It’s all consistent.
On an Android phone, it feels like a committee has delegated everything… badly. Sometimes there are flashes of brilliance (material design looks great in Google’s stock apps), and sometimes you’ve got a back button that you don’t know where it’s going to take you, two email apps, an ugly-as-sin custom skin from the manufacturer, and, to top it all off, the user’s turned on that god awful squiggly font. It looks like eight different designers have been working from twelve different briefs.
Hardware and Software Integration
Whatever way you cut it, top end Android phones are running on serious hardware. The Galaxy Note 7 has the latest 2.3 GHz Octa-Core Snapdragon CPU and 4 GB of RAM while the regular iPhone 7 has Apple’s new A10 Fusion Quad-Core CPU and 2 GB of RAM (the Plus gets a bump to 3 GB).
With that much raw power to play with, high-spec Android phones should be, at the very least, keeping pace with the latest iPhones in real world speed tests. Instead, even a one-year-old 6S is far quicker at loading apps and other day-to-day tasks. The iPhone 7 (not the Plus!) laps the Note 7 in PhoneBuff’s test.
When I play with an Android phone, I can feel the difference. My 6S is snappy and responsive, whereas the Android is always a split second behind where I feel it should be. It’s sluggish. I’m sure if I used one for a week or two, I’d readjust and no longer notice the slight lag, but that’s not a chance I want to take when I’ve got a perfectly good alternative in my pocket.
So how can Android OEMs fix this? How can they make their apparent spec advantage count? Well, the simple (but very, very far from easy) answer is that they need to integrate hardware and software better. Apple’s A-series chips are designed exclusively for iOS and iOS is designed exclusively for A-series chips. It’s how they’re able to squeeze every ounce of performance out of slower hardware.
Until the OEMs and Google start looking at ways to integrate Android with Snapdragon’s CPUs in the same way, Apple is going to win every real world speed test.
Regular Software Updates
I updated my iPhone to iOS 10 the day it was released. It was a simple process. The update had downloaded overnight so I just had to tap Accept, enter my password, and wait for half an hour while my phone did its thing. And, just like that, I was on the latest operating system.
Apple stopped supporting the iPhone 4S this year. It got four years of iOS updates (although that might not have been a good thing). On Android, with a top-end smartphone, you’re lucky to get the latest version of Android when you buy it. There’s almost no hope you’ll still be getting updates 18 months later, let alone four years. Side-loading an update or installing a custom ROM like CyanogenMod to keep your phone secure isn’t really a reliable solution.
This situation has to change. Yes, I know there are lots of factors in play, but Samsung sells a serious number of phones. They’re in a strong bargaining position with the carriers — no other Android manufacturer could step into the gap if they threatened to walk away unless carriers support regular updates. They just won’t make the Apple-like move.
This is obviously another problem with a simple but incredibly hard solution, but, until some manufacturer cares enough to make sure year-old smartphones are still updated, I’m unlikely to be buying an Android phone.
Better Third-Party Apps
We’ve already gone into a lot more detail on why iOS apps are still better than Android apps, and I agree with everything we mentioned in that article.
I buy apps. I have no problem with paying a few dollars for a well-designed app that does what I need. I’m even happy to buy subscriptions for things I use regularly. I don’t want to use quickly thrown together ad-supported apps, and that’s what most of the ones available on Android seem to be.
Most of my favorite developers build apps exclusively for iOS and macOS. Until they either start working on Android apps, or some Android developers start making similarly awesome apps, I’m going to stick with iOS.
Convince Me to Switch
I’m not anti-Android. I’m open to making the switch if it makes sense for me to do it. Right now, I don’t think it does for the reasons I’ve talked about above, but I’m happy to have my mind changed.
I’m in the market for a new phone. Tell me, what Android phone I should buy instead of an iPhone 7, and most importantly, why. Convince me that I’m wrong.