Over the weekend, I had quite a few people ask me about a piece on why going to Android was a less than pleasant experience for the tech editor of the SMH, and if this was a death knell for Android. “Of course not,” I replied, because there’s more than one side to this story.
This past weekend, I was in Kiama visiting the in-laws, when around eight in the morning, my father-in-law gave me a folded over page of the Sydney Morning Herald to show me what one of my associates in the industry had to say about Android, and his subsequent switch from the world of the iPhone.
“He didn’t seem to like it,” remarked my new not-quite-parent, which seemed to be the case when you read Ben Grubb’s piece on the Herald website, and indeed in the print version of the same publication that had been thrust my way. It’s not that he didn’t totally like it, either, but rather that Google’s version of Siri — Google Now — didn’t totally suit him, nor did the way of tracking conversations, or that everything in Android apparently took two or three more clicks than it did on iPhone.
And that wasn’t the first I heard about the article.
It popped up on various social feeds in my life, with more people pointing it out, and the crux was generally the same: if the technology editor of the Sydney Morning Herald didn’t like Android, should they all just be sticking to iPhone?
In defence of Android
It needs to be noted that there isn’t one operating system that is going to match everyone.
Apple makes a good phone, and with its phones comes iOS, an operating system that was derived from Apple’s own desktop operating system, forked from a point in Mac OS X where it could give the developers a great starting point to evolve from an already stable and solid platform to something made for phones and tablets.
And Apple does make a good phone, but it’s not ideal for everyone.
Take me for instance: I’m not a huge fan of the way iOS looks.
It’s cute, sure, and I’m glad the skeuomorphism is beginning to take a back seat to flat and simple design, but really, I’m not a fan of how icons have to start in the top left and gradually make their way down the display. That actually bothers me, and messes with my idea of keeping a clean phone, because you have to have icons set up in a specific way that doesn’t match what I want, which is often cleaner and more minimalist.
That’s fine, mind you, because I don’t have to use an iPhone. I can use something different if I want, something that lets me make the phone I wish to carry around more an individual experience.
I’m pretty sure Jonathan Ive and Tim Cook aren’t struggling to get sleep every night trying to work out why I don’t like the look of their operating system, and are more than content with me using a different device, and that works pretty well for me. For the moment, anyway.
To be completely honest, I don’t even like the interface Samsung generally uses in its phones, though it is getting better six generations of product later, as TouchWiz has finally decided to take a more slimmed down approach to interface design, almost stripping back to what Google and Motorola have been using for yonks.
So for me, I choose to use a different home screen launcher.
Regardless of which Android phone I’m using at the time — post review, anyway, because we review phones in their native out-of-the-box setup — I generally switch over to Yahoo’s Aviate launcher, which Yahoo bought but didn’t create.
With Aviate, I get an experience that is slick, minimalist, and locale dependent. I get a good ten of my favourite and most used apps on the bottom of my display, a clean interface with a picture I want, and a Google search box up top. I also get my favourite people to call in a simple swipe, my favourite apps a swipe over on one side, and a constantly shifting screen on the other side relevant to where I am and what I’m doing at various times of the day.
Aviate is my interface on Android, instead of the one Samsung provides on the Galaxy Note 5 I am presently using, and when I was using the Sony Xperia Z3, it was even the interface I used on that, too (again, post review).
That’s the thing about Android: if you don’t like something, you can change it. You can’t do much of that on iOS.
If you don’t like it, change it
There’s a part of Ben’s comment that frustrates me as a reviewer, because I expect him — a fellow tech editor — to be more clued in then the average person necessarily may be.
It is our job to communicate complex and overly jargon-based information to regular people, breaking it down for them so they don’t need to read the technical manual, and can just generally get on with the more important things in their life.
And yet, I can’t help but feel Ben has missed why Android works the way it does.
Simply put, it is a highly modular system, because if you don’t like something, you can change it.
Take that interface, because you can choose to keep your phone looking the way it is out of the box, or change it to something completely different.
If you don’t like the stock look of Android on Motorola’s or Google’s phones, you can change it.
If you don’t want Samsung TouchWiz or Sony’s PlayStation-inspired look, you can kill it, too.
There are even very Apple-inspired designs out there, including Huawei’s EmotionUI and Oppo’s ColorOS, not to mention that many out there you can download and install.
There’s also that keyboard, which iOS has only recently borrowed a page from in letting people replace. For years, Android users have been able to switch out their keyboard for a different software version, and that only appeared in iOS 8.
Many don’t, mind you, but that’s not to say you can’t, and so much of Android is customisable.
You’re not forced to use one web browser as a default, not like you are with iOS. You’re not forced to use a specific messaging or phone app if you don’t want to.
And hey, if you want to replace the default camera with something else, you can go do that, too.
Apple’s iOS lets you run many of these things as separate apps, but the operating system has yet to let you make them default apps. As a point, you can run Google’s Chrome on iOS, but it won’t run natively when you open a link from webmail, while Android I can choose to use Chrome or Firefox or Opera or whatever.
Should you have to?
There’s an argument in the tech community that you shouldn’t have to modify a device or its interface, or even the experience offered, and that it should be ready to go for each use out of the box, good for all.
But this argument comes with a pitfall, and it’s a pretty large caveat: it suggests that every user’s needs are the same, and that we are all going to expect the same experience.
That’s not really true, and what I might want out of a phone could be very different to what my wife wants, or to what my bosses want, the members of my family, and the hundreds upon thousands upon millions of people I’ve never actually met.
It’s certainly true of Ben, because he wants an interface he is familiar with, and an experience he loves and is totally used to, and there is nothing wrong with that.
There is nothing wrong with using any phone because you prefer it over something else.
When Ben says the iPhone is “actually intuitive” and “so much so that you could probably give it to grandma and she’d instantly work out how to use it with ease”, he’s not wrong, because Apple sure makes a intuitive operating system, but it’s not one that will be for everyone.
It’s not totally for me, the control freak that wants to design the way the phone looks, though I do occasionally switch back to an iPhone to see what life is like on the other side.
When Ben says he wants to be known as the “blue iMessage guy again”, I can totally see that argument, too.
Apple offers a fantastically integrated online messaging system with iMessage, and if you’re already using a Mac, an iPad, or an iPhone — or all three, even — and so are your friends, you have a well set-out and highly connected messaging system that let’s you stay online regardless of what device you happen to be carrying with you all the time.
But anyone who knows me is well aware they can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Instagram, Skype, or heaven forbid SMS.
Seriously, it’s not as if there’s a shortage of networks to find me on, and generally Google Hangouts — which you can get through Gmail — is the best way to do it. Or Facebook or Twitter, which is how quite a few people in the industry grab me, since I’m always there, too.
In fact, it’s totally fine that Grubb and I differ, because we’re allowed to, because despite Ben’s attempt at an Android phone being less than a pleasant one, it may well suit others plenty fine out there.
Not using iOS full time in my life certainly suits me fine. At least for now. When Apple starts letting me make the phone more to my liking, then we’ll talk.