Using An iPhone… (but getting an Android ‘Jones’)

evo-iphone Since I stood on line that fateful Friday June 29, 2007 inside the Short Hills Mall at the Apple Retail Store, I haven’t known much else on a mobile device except for the iPhone’s OS.  After two years of owning the original iPhone, I bought a 3GS in 2009.  All in all, the iPhone has been a stable, dependable and extensible device.  Calling it a ‘phone’ is almost too limiting and reductive.  For me, the iPhone serves as my everything, do-it-all device. It’s my calendar, occasional video playback screen, audiobook, music player, shopping assistant, GPS device and e-mail tool to name a few of my uses. When I’m out and have moments where I’m waiting on line or just plain waiting, this phone makes those waits so much easier. In short, after nearly three years of steady use, the iPhone has exceeded my expectations in just about every category that matters.

If this were a talk show, Maury or Jerry Springer would be standing off in the studio audience right now, turning towards me, holding up the microphone to their mouth and asking me, “Well, why are you cheating then?”  And truthfully, I’ve pondered about this thought for some time.  And my reasoning is simple: I’m a technologist.  By definition, I’m always looking at newer, more elegant ways of doing things.  While the iPhone has been an ideal match for me in many areas, in several others, it’s missed the mark.  Here are my five key gripes with the current iPhone experience:

    • Information-Rich HUD – When the iPhone originally made it’s debut in 2007, waking the phone to a screen full of icons was acceptable.  Three years later, it’s just getting stale.  As much as I applaud the iPhone OS (now, simply called “iOS”) for it’s ease of use and application availability, at the end of the day, you will always pretty much be looking at rows of icons.   The HUD (Heads-Up Display) is very boring and not at all functional.  Just icons. And after hearing the iOS presentation at the beginning of the year, it doesn’t look like this will be changing anytime soon.  I’m not quite sure whether the interface been revised to add more functionality because doing so would require the OS to be completely re-written or because stylistically Apple doesn’t want to tamper with the iconic iPhone home screen.  Whatever the reason, the UI needs to grow beyond what I’ve been using. ‘Widgets‘ may come across as minor or optional, but they can serve an important role on a mobile communications device.

      I remember one of my first assignments as a manager.  My boss asked me to turn a 12-page monthly report into a one page, glanceable, information-rich tool that could be used to keep our client aware of what was happening in their business.  What we developed from that 12-page report (which ended up being very useful for my client) is the same simplicity that I’m looking for here.  Rather than rows of icons, why not show me the weather?  Maybe the score of my favorite sports teams?  A list of the most recent e-mails I’ve received?  That real estate on the iPhone’s home screen can be used much more effectively than it is now.

    • Multi-Tasking – The new iOS (which my current 3GS will be allowed to take advantage of) makes steps towards multitasking. Traditionally the only application that would continue to run after you returned to the home screen is the iPod/music application. With the new update, Apple will allow other applications to run in the background.  Apple has received a great deal of criticism for not allowing full blown multitasking. Truthfully, I think the way that Apple is implementing multi-tasking is forward thinking and right on the money.  (For those that are unaware, they are writing special API’s to allow the phone to do certain background tasks and any currently available apps will need to be updated to take advantage of these features.)  People complain about the lack of multitasking, but are just as quick to complain that their battery dies too quickly.  This approach to multi-tasking makes sense and it attempts to strike that happy medium between functionality and dependability (in the form of longer battery life.)

      My criticism is directed more towards the user interface.  To use an iPhone for a single task at a time is a pleasure.  You never feel like your application (whether that’s browsing the web or playing a game) is slowing down because ‘other stuff is going on’.  However, using the iPhone as a multi-tasking device, even under this new iOS — feels like a rather compartmentalized experience.  Let me try to use the bathroom to illustrate what I mean. Rather than brushing your teeth, washing your face and listening to the radio – all while in the same bathroom – the iPhone feels more like going into one room to brush your teeth, leaving that room to go to a similar room to wash your face and yet another room to listen to the radio.  As polished as iOS feels, anyone who uses it and then uses other multitasking capable OSes (Palm Pre, I’m looking at you) will tell you that the iPhone lacks ‘flow’.

      In watching the demos of iOS4, the multi-tasking still appears to be a concession to the critics and not what I expect from Apple. Using my ‘bathroom’ example, it appears that now you’ll be able to brush your teeth and leave the water running while you go into this other room and wash your face. It will save battery life, but I’m still hoping for a refinement that gives it a better flow.

    • Notifications – In my brief stint as a Palm Pre user, one of the aspects that I still miss are how wonderful the notifications were.  When you’re in an application, the Palm Pre will bring up a tiny bar across the bottom of the screen to let you know that a call is coming through.  Or that an e-mail or text was just delivered.  It sounds like a minor benefit.  But when you start piling applications on your phone, having a solid notification system becomes essential.For an iPhone user, notifications are a chore.  If a phone call comes through while you’re in an application, the call will take you completely out of your current application.  Text messages are just as annoying – arriving text messages will result in a box being superimposed on top of your current activity.  Clearly Apple recognizes that this is something that needs to change and ironically have hired the man responsible for the Palm Pre notifications to work on iOS.  But until this gets addressed, it will be the same with iOS.
    • OS Customization – Not being able to customize the iPhone’s interface hasn’t really been something that I’d been craving for.  It’s only after spending a few weeks using an OS that lets you completely (and to a very useful effect) rebuild the screen that your phone lands on after you wake it from sleep that I truly realize the benefits of customization.  (More on that when I talk about my Android experience).
    • Ridiculous Podcast Updating Process – I’m a podcast junkie.  Being able to catch up on the latest in technology or hear a debate about a movie or a book shortens my ride home and makes me look for chores to do around the house.  Ironically it’s Apple who introduced me to podcasts.  Unfortunately the process of acquiring podcasts on the iPhone is cumbersome and idiotic.  First off, AT&T and Apple don’t let users download anything over 20 megabytes via 3G.  This is ridiculous.  Most of my podcasts are at least 30 – 60mb.  If I’m paying for unlimited data and all I want to do is get the latest shows in a podcast feed, don’t make me stand outside of Starbucks waiting for a show to download like a loser.What’s worse is the archaic way that podcasts are updated on the iPhone.  Let’s suppose I’m a fan of the Engadget Podcast.  That podcast lives inside of your iPod application on the iPhone under the “Podcasts” section.  Apple assumes that your primary method for acquiring podcasts would be to subscribe to the feed on your laptop and then synch your phone to get more shows. But what happens when you’re away from home and want to get more shows?

      Normally with podcasts on a mobile connected device, you subscribe to the feed and the podcast gets downloaded to you — just like e-mail.  This won’t happen on the iPhone – at least, not automatically.  You need to manually go to the podcast feed and click on “Get more shows”.  This then awkwardly takes you out of the iPod application and into iTunes… where you then need to download any available shows.  And of course, if the show is over 20MB, you’ll be asked to find a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Sadly, if you subscribe to a podcast but deleted all of the shows on your iPhone, you need to go to iTunes and search for the name of the podcast to add more shows!  So you find yourself compensating for this by reminding yourself not to delete a show you’ve already listened to so that you can use this cumbersome system to get more podcasts on the road.  It’s sad and absurd that downloading podcasts on a phone made by the company who practically invented podcasting works this poorly.

Enter Android (via the HTC Evo 4G)
If someone had suggested to me at the start of 2010 that I would even consider using an Android as my primary phone, I’d have… well…. let me not go too far.  Yes, it would have been a safe bet in 2009 to say that I’d probably buy the next iPhone in 2010. But the Android operating system is something that had always intrigued me. It’s like meeting someone for the first time and getting a weird feeling that you’re going to be pretty good friends one day. The problem with me and Android was that I never felt that attracted to any of the devices that were running it.

Last year when HTC released the HD2 – a Windows Mobile phone with a beautiful 4.3 inch screen (the iPhone’s is 3.2 inches) running on solid HTC hardware – I thought to myself, “If that phone were running Android, I might be looking at my next phone”.  And someone at HTC must have heard me, because in March they announced the HTC Evo 4G – a phone that was practically the same form factor as the HD2, only running Android 2.1.

When the Evo was announced, I wasn’t immediately sold.  Android phones are being released at such a break neck pace that it’s hard to keep up with them. So the Evo went under my radar a bit.  But upon closer inspection after Apple’s announcement of a rather conservative new release in iOS4, the Evo seemed to be the right phone at the right time.

By today’s standards, the Evo is about as powerful as a mobile phone comes, running a 1GHz Snapdragon processor — faster than the iPhone 3GS, the Droid and almost every other mobile phone processor.  And not only is it running Android, but it’s running Android on HTC’s customization of Android called “Sense”.  (Sense is HTC’s way of beautifying the phone’s core OS by adding widgets and making a few other tweaks to the OS.) HTC is known for creating quality devices, so durability — one of my top requirements — shouldn’t be a problem.

After a few months of studying the Evo 4G, I finally decided to give Android a shot.  On the day that the Evo 4G was launched, I woke up bright and early for my 7am appointment in Westbury and picked up the first Evo 4G that the store activated.

The Decision?
I’ve been using the Evo now for about two weeks as my sole mobile phone.  It’s been an eye opening experience in some ways and a frustrating one in others.  I have another two weeks to decide whether I’m going to stick with this as the successor to my iPhone 3GS.  So, what have I decided?  Check in on part II where I detail my Evo experience after having been an iPhone user for three years.

3 Responses to “Using An iPhone… (but getting an Android ‘Jones’)”

  1. 1 Michelle
    June 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    when is Part II coming out or did I miss something?

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