Switching to Android after 13 years of iOS
Reflections from 1 Month of Usage
- Canonical URL: https://www.swyx.io/writing/android-vs-ios/
- Epistemic effort: I have used Android daily for a month. Collected brief notes to self whenever I experienced delight or dismay.
I have used iPhone/iOS for the longest time. Last month I switched to OnePlus 6T/Android. Here are my impressions.
From a user perspective, it is unwise to compare purely based on hardware. I was switching from a $700 iPhone XR to a $300 OnePlus 6T - yes, there are differences in camera quality and chipset so on, but more importantly, the operating systems come into the mix as well as the default browser experiences that ship with each. I decided to evaluate my experience based on these defaults, since the overall experience is what matters.
I have used iPhone since it was released in 2007, so the Android bears a significant disadvantage from my unfamiliarity (I may just be used to iOS idioms and see things as a negative) and ignorance (of how to mitigate any gripes I may have). I can't pretend to be neutral, but who can?
Where possible, I will list factors in terms of positives, since a positive for one ecosystem basically implies a negative for the other in relative terms. No sense in duplication.
- Price: dollar for dollar, you get better spec hardware on Android phones. I whittled my choices down to the Pixel 3A vs OneTouch, and went with OneTouch because I will trade off camera quality for faster processors.
- USB C: charging means I can charge with the same charger as my (ahem) MacBook Pro.
- NFC/Google Pay: Just Works™! Especially when walking up to the NYC Subway turnstiles, and slapping your phone on it to enter, without needing to pause to open up any app or pass on the phone. Magic. I do worry about security since it seems too easy...
- Real Filesystem: I can DOWNLOAD FILES! gasp. I had to share some PDFs and MP3s and downloading from browser and opening up in another app (or browser) was a cinch. Good luck doing that in iOS without proper sharesheets.
- Captive Portal Wifi Signin: This also works seamlessly! I don't exactly know why but it works seamlessly on Android whereas it regularly failed to cachebust in iOS.
- Google Calendar: I found the syncing of events on the Google Calendar app on Android to be much, much more reliable than the same app on iOS. I don't know the cause and it could well be to my complex 3-account setup, but my iOS GCal would regularly lie to me about my appointments and that was no good.
- Keyboard + Navigation: This is a NEGATIVE for Android. The Navigation buttons are RIGHT NEXT to the keyboard when you type, so there is plenty of accidental triggers of navigation (and keyboard switching if you have multiple keyboard) when you type. What absolutely horrible design and almost enough to make me quit Android. Why TF are you putting the keyboard switcher right under the Enter key?
- Screenshot Workflow (minor): To screenshot, you just long-press the power button and pick the right button. This is preferable to the somewhat cramp inducing iPhone equivalent of squeeze power button + volume up.
- Custom Widgets (minor): I wanted a new Weather widget to position on my home screen, I went on the app store and got it. Worked. Brilliant.
- Mobile Chrome browser:
- I had switched to Android with the expectation of trying out the state of PWAs - but didn't find any compelling PWAs to install. In one month of daily Android usage there remains only one PWA I regularly use -Twitter - but it is because I am a developer trying to give PWAs a shot, and it still has noticeable deficiencies to the native Android app (which I also tried). This is so far a big letdown for my expectation of PWAs.
- Compared to iOS Safari, pages don't leave memory immediately when you navigate away. For a serial link hoarder like me, this means I can load pages in the browser, and not think about it until I have downtime like in a plane or train, and it loads offline without reload. This never works on iOS and was a big pain point for me.
- Even when not using Sign in With Google, if my email/password combos are saved to Google (eg from desktop browser), it autofills seamlessly on mobile.
- Better AMP link copying - I know, I know, save me your AMP rant - but we all hate when we search on Google and navigate on a page and copy a link and get the shitty AMP link rather than the real thing. I noticed that when I copy the URL of an AMP link, Mobile Chrome gives me the new link so I can paste with a clean conscience. I don't think Safari does this.
- Google account integration is fantastic. With the Credential Management API, when I am logging into sites and apps, if I can use my Google account login, it pops up a nice prompt and I login with one tap.
Undo: You can undo a mistake on iOS. Not on Android.
Paste: Copying and Pasting generally always works predictably on iOS. On Android I frequently have cases where I think I have copied something, and try to paste, only to find out I have pasted the wrong thing (and, as a plus, can't undo the paste!).
Emoji keyboard: The default emoji keyboard on iOS generally just guesses whatever you expect to find. Great. On Android you don't get emojis out of the box, and the custom keyboard I now use still doesn't work as intuitively as iOS, even accounting for my familiarity bias. (e.g. I type "wave" for 👋🏽 and my Android SwiftKey Keyboard gives me 🌊)
Left Side Screen Real Estate: Holds all useful notifications
Whereas Android only offers Google search on that valuable real estate, and makes you swipe down to see notifications. You can turn the Google App off but that doesn't replace it with anything useful. You could probably fix this with a custom launcher but I haven't figured out one I like more than stock Android. Update: a reader suggested Microsoft Launcher, which actually allows this and I have been enjoying so far!
App Priority: This one is well known - because iOS has richer users, companies prioritize app development for iOS. e.g. Superhuman and GitHub develop iOS first and Android is a secondary consideration.
Overcast: Overcast is a category of its own because podcast listening is a big phone usecase for me, and Overcast is iPhone only. On Android I have been using Podcast Addict, but the design is too cluttered, it doesn't have nice detail to list flow, and Skip via headphones is not supported. Sound controls in general are better supported on any app in iOS. EDIT: after this I found some settings in Podcast Addict that helped me resolve my Skip and sound controls issues.
Navigation: generally just superior in every way to Android. I immediately missed "Swipe from Edge to go Back", which is default behavior in iOS, and apparently available in Android 10, but I didn't know that I would be locked to Android 9 by buying a locked OnePlus. There are gesture apps on the Play Store that seemingly purport to offer this feature but I wasn't able to get any of the free ones to work.
Dark Mode: Generally found this to be better supported on iOS. In Android there are a bunch of small places you have to dig into to properly turn everything dark.
Assistive Touch: I love this thing to toggle grayscale and invert colors as well as doing some other actions like shake phone. Android doesn't have any a11y function like this - it has a custom gesture thing, which is underpowered and failure prone.
Camera: Generally better than anything you get in Android
Alarm app (minor): The Alarm app in iOS answers to "Alarm app", which is great. Android doesn't think it has an alarm app - you have to look for "Clock" instead.
- You can cancel accidental link clicks by moving your thumb away
- Readability mode makes badly designed sites a lot more readable.
All in all, as you can see, it hasn't been an unmitigated win for me moving to Android. I think iOS is the better operating system, but Android has the better hardware and better browser. I also generally feel like iOS slows down your iPhone/iPad after 1-2 years in order to force you to upgrade (the original trigger for me switching) and hope that I won't experience this with Android, but don't yet have proof.
I'll be sticking to Android for now, but am always eyeing my iPhone with faint jealousy.