On Android and my dwindling love of Apple

I’ve been threatening to write about Android for a while now. The idea was to debate the merits of the OS on my blog and eventually come to decision about which platform I prefer. I never did this, but I still had the debate, and after nearly 3 months of using Android I’m sold.

It’s by no means a perfect platform, the problem with the back button is a particularly large gripe, and Apple still wins the aesthetic battle hands down. But Android represents a vision for a mobile OS that is much more closely aligned with mine. In short, it feels more like a desktop OS, one that you are free to hack away at and customise and less like the closed off “hold-your-hand-while-you-do-everything” world that iOS is.

My love of Android is very much a love of stock Android however. Not Touch Wizz or Sense, but the vanilla Android that is sadly all too hard to find. Allowing hardware makers to put their own stamp on the OS was undoubtedly a key reason for its meteoric rise, but it’s also made is a much harder platform to develop for, and created enough differentiation that lay users are becoming committed to the handset maker rather than the OS itself. Wether Google could reign this in and focus all future development of the OS in Mountain View remains to be seen. I’m certainly of the opinion that the better OS is built that way; just maybe not the better business.

Here’s a quick fire list of some of Android’s best bits:

Free tethering. I already pay for my data, why the hell should I have to pay for it again?! My MacBook Air and iPad are infinitely more useful with my Android phone around.

This is the most important point. Google makes better services. Apple is a great product company but its services suck. Search, GMail, Docs, Drive, Maps are all great services that many (if not all) of us rely on everyday. An Android device will always be a better way to view these services than an Apple one, and Apple are a long way off being able to compete on any of these fronts. I once said this to a colleague, and I think sums it up well:

When you view the Google product universe through an Android lens, everything they are doing begins to make a lot more sense.

SwiftKey 3. This may seem like an small thing but it does well to encapsulate the open Android world. SwiftKey 3 is a custom keyboard that learns as you type. It’s not made by Google, but by a third party developer, and it’s easily the most important app on my phone. This is something you won’t ever see on an Apple device - unless they acquire it of course - as Apple won’t let you install system level apps unless you jailbreak your phone. What that means as an Apple user is that your pace of innovation will always lag a little behind your Android counterpart.

Remote install and update. Login to GooglePlay on your laptop and see the status of all your phone’s apps. See one that needs updating, do it straight from the interface. See an app you like? Send it straight to your phone. Simple and really useful.

What Apple does on September 12th is hugely important, but from what I understand right now a bigger screen and Apple Maps are all we have to look forward too. Apple is famous for pulling things out of the bag at the last minute, but I think it’s far more likely the event continues their march to consumer electronics kingpin and away from the technology underdog that made me love them. If that’s the case I think I could be an Android fan boy for a very long time to come.

Daniel Bower

Blogging about platform regulation: algorithms, interoperability, kill zones as well as other bits and bobs. Read about my research, or read more about me.