Recently, Android Police alum David Ruddock wrote an article about how he made the switch to an iPhone. Not too long after, Rita from the same outlet also wrote about how Apple makes it extremely tempting to switch to its ecosystem.
I can admit that Apple does have a compelling lineup of products. I use an iPad Pro because there simply isn’t a better tablet out there. The new ARM-based MacBooks are also killing it with performance and battery life. Plus, as a home theater geek, the new Apple TV has my interest piqued with its new remote and the ability to automatically calibrate your picture settings using an iPhone.
After not using an iPhone in nearly a decade, I decided to pick one up on a whim a couple of weeks ago. After seeing a deal I couldn’t resist, I grabbed the three-year-old iPhone XR.
I preface this because I fully understand that I cannot judge it as a brand new flagship phone or base it on hardware merits. Instead, I’m simply judging it by iOS and how it functions for my personal needs.
Seeing how Apple is famous for its update policies, even this older iPhone runs the latest version of iOS; the experience should be very similar to a current iPhone, just slightly slower.
I’ll start things out on a positive note about all the things I enjoy about using the iPhone.
What I like about the iPhone
First and foremost is the software support. Despite this being a three-year-old phone, it is running the latest version of iOS. And later this year when iOS 15 is released the iPhone XR will also be eligible for this update.
In fact, going by Apple’s track record, this iPhone XR will be seeing more updates for years to come. When iOS 15 launches later this year, support goes back as far as the iPhone 6S which was launched in 2015.
In comparison, the oldest phone to receive the next Android 12 update will be the Pixel 3 from 2018 and that will be the last update the phone sees.
Furthermore, when an update is released, all supported iPhones get it on day one. That’s a far cry from what we see on Android where Pixel smartphones and maybe a couple of others get the update the first day. If you’re a Samsung user like me, then the wait will be at least another three months, if you’re lucky.
Beyond updates, iOS is also more protective of your privacy. It gives you one simple switch to flip to disable apps from tracking your activity. Plus, there is an overview in the App Store for each app, something Google is currently in the process of copying.
However, no matter what privacy features Google copies or implements, it will always fall short of Apple. That’s because Google is in the business of collecting data and serving ads while Apple is not.
While I’ve been aware of Face ID for years, this is the first time I’ve ever experienced it myself. I must admit, it is an impressive piece of technology, and I was truly surprised at all the various angles it worked from. Whether I was holding it down by my waist or holding it askew, it just worked, and quickly. Since I wear a hat most of the time I thought that might throw it off, but no such luck.
Although, as impressive as Face ID is, I was not as amazed as I was the first time I went from entering a PIN to a fingerprint sensor. The jump between those two technologies was life-changing. While I could never go back to a phone without a fingerprint sensor, switching back to a smartphone without Face ID was no big deal. It’s certainly something I can live without and I won’t miss Face ID no matter how nifty the technology is.
On the iPhone just about every video app I use has PiP support, which is great when I just need to check an email real quick or reply to a message. I don’t have to leave the now playing video or stop it. This was really nice to have while streaming Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix.
On Android, you can still do something similar with split-screen view with these apps, but that’s far more cumbersome to set up when all you need is to jump back and forth between an app for five seconds.
While using the iPhone XR I easily got two days off the charger with my normal usage. This is far better than I’ve gotten with most Android phones or my current Android phone. Of course, it comes at the cost of a worse display on the iPhone XR, but there’s no denying that Apple hardware and software have always worked well together helping to provide fantastic battery life.
Now that I’m done gushing about all the things the iPhone does well. Let’s get on with why I’ll be returning to my Android phone. To sum it up, freedom and usability.
What I don’t like about the iPhone
Home screen woes
Regardless of Apple’s stellar update record, even on the latest version of iOS, I found myself missing the freedom and control I get on an Android phone.
For starters, the home screen on an iPhone is still a mess. Despite allowing users to hide icons, introducing a poor excuse for an app drawer, and adding widgets iOS still comes up short.
I’m so used to having the layout of my home screen icons exactly where I want them and within reach on these large displays, something iOS doesn’t make possible. Icons are always placed at the top or under a widget, and it can only be placed in a 4×7 grid with no real customization for spacing or placement.
Another home screen annoyance is the inability to swipe down to pull down the notification tray on the home screen. Many launchers on Android offer this and it makes it much easier to access your list of notifications and quick toggles without requiring the one hand shuffle or a second hand to reach all the way to the top and pull it down.
Notification panel, quick toggles, and status bar
While we’re on the topic of the notification panel, it’s also segregated into two sections. One shows the quick toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, volume controls, etc. if you swipe down from the right corner. While if you swipe down to the left of that you’ll see your notifications.
It took a while to get used to this and I just don’t see the need to separate the two. I much prefer the way Android has them combined and gives you one hub to manage everything with a swipe down.
Looking to the top of the screen is the almost nonexistent status bar thanks to the massive notch from Face ID. I’ve always hated notches, and delayed purchasing a new phone until they shrank to the smaller more acceptable cut out for front-facing cameras.
The size of this notch is so ridiculous that it might as well be a top bezel. It cuts into videos and games, and just looks plain awful. Plus, there’s not even any space to add the battery percentage, and I hate not being able to see the exact number, requiring me to guess the exact percentage.
Back to the status icons though, or the lack of them. In iOS, your only reminder of pending notifications are dots on app icons, which you may have hidden, or accessing the notification panel.
I so miss the notifications icons in the status bar on Android. They were always a quick reminder of messages or emails I had pending to look at. Without this subtle reminder, I often forgot there were messages that I hadn’t replied to yet.
Even worse, is how iOS mismanages notifications. Swiping it to the left only removes them from the notification panel but leaves the dot on the app icon.
Say you set off your security camera and get a notification, you don’t need to look at this, you know you set it off. Try swiping that away from the notification panel to be done with it and yet the dot remains on the app’s icon on the home screen driving you nuts. Meaning you have to physically open the app to clear it, even though you swiped it away on the notification panel already.
This was a daily occurrence that caused me a lot of frustration and it’s only one of the ways iOS mismanages notifications. Another example is when I’d have a stack of 3-4 messages from one person in the notification panel, swiping to open the messaging app would only dismiss that one notification while leaving the rest.
It didn’t matter that I had read all the messages in the app itself, or that I had replied, the notifications remained in the panel and that annoying dot remained on the app icon on the home screen.
In short, notifications on iOS are a mess and I don’t see how anyone can be productive using this buggy system that’s not user-friendly at all.
Over the years, Android has evolved to copy the task switcher in iOS. I didn’t like it when Android made this shift and I’m so grateful for Good Lock on Samsung phones for allowing me to change it.
I find side-scrolling inefficient and the large app previews add really no benefit. However, at least when Android copied it they made some improvements by placing app suggestions down at the bottom.
I tried the default iOS keyboard for about an hour but I quickly became annoyed with its lack of functionality. Using Gboard on Android I’m so used to being able to long-press on buttons to bring up numbers and symbols while typing. This makes it much more efficient and it wasn’t long before I swapped to Gboard.
Unfortunately, this didn’t completely correct the problem. While this gave me quick access to numbers and some commonly used symbols, it wasn’t the full experience I’m used to on Android and was just another aggravating annoyance I had to live with daily on iOS.
Whether you want to change settings for your browser, the camera app, or anything else–they are all grouped together under the settings menu in iOS. This is another cumbersome way I found iOS unfriendly to use.
I would constantly be in an app searching for the settings menu to make a simple change only to realize I had to back out of the app and open the main settings menu, search for the app in the list, and then finally make the change, only to then have to swap back to the app I wanted to use in the first place.
In the end, I don’t think the iPhone is a bad smartphone, it’s just not for me. The things I don’t like about iOS far outweigh the things I do like, and Android gives me the freedom and customization I need to make my phone work for me.
The iOS experience is more or less me trying to find a way to work around its idiosyncrasies. That doesn’t mean Android is perfect or that iOS doesn’t do anything better. When it comes to tablets, I use an iPad Pro because it’s simply the better device.
Smartphones are a very personal object and it’s difficult to make a device that’s one size fits all when we all have different needs and use cases. My needs just happen to not fit into the iOS box.
Using an Android smartphone gives me a wealth of options and allows me to pick the hardware and software skin that best suits me. As the old Google commercial says, “Be together. Not the same.”