I’ve been living an increasingly mobile life lately, by which I mean laptops aren’t my sole or even primary computing device anymore. For the last two years I’ve been doing more computing on mobile devices than laptops or desktops. I’m writing this post on my iPad Pro. At the same time, I’m a heavy user of old-school technologies: command line, LaTeX, terminal-based editors, etc. I find it interesting that my life is increasingly possible to run on a mobile device, while at the same time my laptop remains absolutely indispensable. As I thought about this, I found myself organizing the last few years’ worth of lessons into distinct categories, which I’m strangely compelled to write into blog posts. So, here goes! In the first edition we will follow Baron on his adventures as he transitions from Android to iOS.
In the old days I had a flip phone, and at some point I upgraded to an Android smartphone. It was a Verizon Droid with a slide-out physical keyboard. Then after a few years I switched to iPhone.
I switched to the Apple ecosystem for the same reason I switched from Linux on PC laptop to Macs: I was frustrated with the low-quality experience. I wanted to stop fussing with things that seemed device-specific, problems that only happened because the OS and the device were wedged together instead of being designed for each other from the start. Android always reminded me of Dell’s version of Windows 98, which came with a bunch of junk preinstalled and needed third-party drivers to work.
On Android, apps crashed constantly, battery life was poor, and most frustrating of all, the manufacturers seemed hell-bent on forcing me to upgrade my device by making the OS stop functioning on the old device. I had two subsequent phones that were forced to install over-the-air updates and rendered the phone basically unusable. Performance slowed to such a crawl that interactions with the phone had lags of up to a few seconds.
There was also a bunch of junk installed: some stupid NFL (American football) games, a “Verizon Navigator” app that I’d never use, since I’d want to use the Google Maps app. The whole experience reminded me of an AOL browser toolbar more than anything… these were system-installed apps that couldn’t be uninstalled, which led to the strong feeling that I had paid for the phone but was not allowed to truly own my experience of using it. It didn’t feel respectful or user-centric to me.
Topping that off was the lack of ability to control what apps accessed on my phone. It seemed like every time I installed an app, the installation dialog notified me that it required access to a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to give it, things like my contacts, which I knew could only be useful for unethical growth-hacking. (I was soon vindicated, as there were scandals with many major apps using this data in ways the users didn’t authorize.) In my view, this design decision by Android was a strong indication of who owned whom.
The second time a phone stopped working because of a forced OS upgrade, I decided it could not be any worse, and I switched to iPhone.
I was immediately delighted. The iPhone is higher performance, better designed, has better battery life, etc. It has no third-party apps installed. There is a better variety of apps and most of them actually work instead of crashing constantly. They are, by and large, much more polished. (As an app developer, it must be much easier to design for a few phones than the thousands that use Android.)
On iPhone, the OS and the hardware are clearly designed for each other. There’s no weirdness with screen sizes or location of buttons. There’s ONE way to do things, not a million. (I’ve seen a bunch of my friends and family members getting confused when using each others’ Android phones; there’s no single Android, and apps and OS features you get used to are different or missing on someone else’s phone.)
Some things were odd at first, but quickly made sense. Preferences, for example. On Android, each app has its own preferences, and many of them choose very different designs and navigation flows for them. On iPhone, most apps use the system preferences dialogs. (The ones that don’t are rarely well designed.)
The iPhone gives the user control of privacy and what apps are allowed to access. It’s a clear existence proof that apps can be made to deal with the privileges the user grants them. An app that wants to access your contacts asks for that, and you can allow or deny it. Your choice is remembered, but can be changed later. This ranges from obvious things (access to camera, access to photos, access to contacts) to things you might not have thought about: app notifications, for example, are unified. Don’t want annoyances from the Twitter app? Turn them off with a single permission. In Android, that’s something you do, with great effort, within the Twitter app itself. I vividly remember Twitter adding new types of notifications, which I’d then start getting and have to go in and disable individually on Android. (No, I don’t want you to alert me when “a company I trust” tweets something “important”! Especially since I’m not even following that company!)
The iPhone also has great built-in apps for the most important things I do in my life. I’ve found myself using Notes and Reminders constantly. In fact, I practically run my life with those two apps. What I need to do tomorrow, reference material, things to follow up with, groceries, take out the trash every Wednesday night, even this blog post draft: all in Notes and Reminders. Maybe things have changed in the last 16 months, but I never saw apps on Android that worked that well, let alone built-in ones.
After about a year with the iPhone, I was tempted to buy an iPad Air, and I wasn’t disappointed. It quickly became a tool for my evenings: quicker and lighter to use for the common tasks after supper, such as reading, email, jotting down notes for tomorrow, and many other activities. I’ve owned a variety of Android tablets for a few years, and the iPad was a big step up from them. After a while I found myself using my personal iPad so much for professional work that I bought an iPad Pro, which I thought would be a MacBook replacement. I’ll write more about that later.
In conclusion, I’ve been much happier and much more productive on iPhone, iPad, and iPad Pro than I was on Android phones and tablets. Because the devices and apps work so much better, and the experience is so much more pleasurable, I use them a lot more and I get a lot more done. For the way I use them, my iPhone and iPad are huge productivity levers, allowing me to achieve much more in a day’s work than I did previously.
Next time I’ll write about the apps I use on iPhone and iPad for everything from source-code editing to graphic design. I’ve been able to figure out the boundaries of what works and doesn’t, and therefore which tasks I can perform on mobile, and what remains on laptop/desktop devices. Spoiler: I can’t get rid of my MacBook yet. But I wrote, edited, put into Git, and committed and pushed this blog post entirely from iPad.