From The Verge:

Leaked screenshots could show Android 12’s updated UI and some new features

Hard to tell what’s a result of the theme engine and what’s just bad design decisions. I’m all for giving users choice, but look at all of the differing border radiuses!

About 6 months ago, Google announced a slew of consumer-grade products geared squarely at Apple and Amazon. At the event, they presented the Home, the Pixel, and Google WiFi and they all caught my eye for different reasons. I’m intrigued by the concept of mesh networking rather than throwing a router in one corner of the house, I’ve also had my eye on the connected home being controlled by voice, and I’ve been waiting for a truly premium heir to the Nexus line of phones to see if it was really worth making the switch (again).  I alluded to this in a recent post about my slow breakup with the Apple ecosystem, but I’ve been slowly making purchasing decisions based on what works best for me and my family, not what works best just with Apple stuff. A few examples of this is Todoist instead of OmniFocus, Spotify instead of Apple Music, Roku Streaming Sticks instead of Apple TV, and so on. At this point I’m heavily invested in Apple hardware (MacBook Pro, iPhone, Apple Watch) but from an ecosystem angle I’m pretty well spread out amongst a number of services. So, what was it like to try out Google’s latest and greatest?

Google Home

I’ve been interested in a connected home setup for some time but wasn’t sold on the Amazon Echo given the price point and lack of integration with the way I listen to music at home – we have a number of Chromecast Audios hooked up to speakers throughout the home as well as Chromecasts on our TVs. When the demo of the Google Home was shown at the 2016 I/O, (although some of the functionality isn’t baked in yet) I was definitely interested if the price was right. When they were announced at $129 each, that was all I needed to know.

I immediately bought 2 Homes – one for our kitchen and one for our bedroom. We use these things constantly for tasks as simple as setting timers and controlling our Nest thermostats but also for things like controlling multi-room audio, getting general trivia and weather from the web, and turning lights on and off. The voice recognition works very well, even when music or TV audio are playing, and it gets my commands right a vast majority of the time. We’ve gotten into the habit of using it pretty frequently when in the kitchen or getting ready for work. It’s really been a joy to use, and the capabilities are improving every week.

That said, it’s got a long way to go before it can truly challenge the Echo on the number of features it has. But for me, I wanted something that looked good in our house and has the potential of being smarter over time with a company like Google backing it. The thing that really sold me was the integration with Chromecasts – instead of buying a Sonos system in our house we saved $2k by just hooking up existing speakers to Chromecasts. I also play a lot of podcasts throughout the house, which I love do to on the weekends. It’s been freeing to have the ability to have smart home products from multiple vendors that all work together. Sometimes it’s not as easy as just logging into your iCloud account, but you have more choices.

A few things I hope make their way into the Home is the ability to queue music better, multi account functionality (so my wife and I could each do Google account specific stuff), the ability to send messages, and a way to have voice feedback set to one level and media set to another. If you’re looking to get into voice controlled assistants or even just want something to play music on, this is a great option at $129.

Google Pixel XL

I also took the plunge on a 128gb Pixel XL. I had 14 days to return it, so I figured I’d give it an honest look to see if the battery life, camera, OS features and build quality made it worth it to switch.

The short answer is that the Google Pixel XL better than my iPhone 6s Plus in nearly every measurable way. Now I know that isn’t the fairest comparison as the 6s Plus was released in September 2015 and the Pixel XL shipped last November but the only real unfair comparison there would be camera quality and performance. That said, I’m floored with how great Android 7.0 is now compared to iOS 10 and how fantastic the camera is on the Pixel.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

Build and screen quality of the Pixel were on par with the iPhone – it’s nothing flashy, with similar bezels to the current Apple offerings, but it’s fine. I don’t mind the fingerprint sensor being on the back, but I do think it’s faster for me to have it on the front. It can be annoying to have to unlock with your PIN when your phone is laying flat on the desk for sure, but it’s not the end of the world. The saving grace for this difference is that Android lets you set trusted unlock locations and connections so you aren’t forced to use the fingerprint sensor constantly. Android has a concept of a “Smart Lock” that allows you to set trusted locations, devices, voices and more to allow you to not require a pin or fingerprint if you’re paired to your car’s Bluetooth, or you’re at home.

The actual feel of the hardware is great, to the point where I don’t need a case. Battery life is a tough one – the standby time of the Pixel was fantastic compared to my current phone but was slightly worse on days where I’d be heavily using the screen. I never struggled to get through the day but I was constantly in the 30% range by the end of the day, compared to maybe 40–50% range with my 6s Plus. Fast charging makes up for any issues here though, as a good 20–30 minutes can get you from 30% to 85% easily. Knowing that’s an option removes any possible battery anxiety.

The camera is the best phone camera I’ve ever used, and the ‘smart burst’ functionality of the phone means that you always get a really good shot when dealing with quick moving targets like a kid or two. I already use Google Photos as a backup for my photo library, so getting free ‘for life’ storage for anything shot from the Pixel XL is something Apple should be doing for iPhones.

On the software side, I firmly believe that Android is now better than iOS for my needs. The way notifications work and are grouped, the organization of the home screens, the default keyboard and overall UX make my time on my phone much more pleasurable. Things have evolved to the point where visually I like the look and feel of Android as well from a color, animation and layout perspective. Little things add up, too. Persistent notifications for chat conversations and media playback mean it’s very easy to switch contexts. After using Android for a few weeks, it feels like everything in iOS takes a few extra taps to accomplish. The app ecosystem really isn’t a problem anymore, either. There are a few apps here and there that I’ll miss from iOS (Day One, Reeder, Fantastical and Pennies come to mind) but it’s not a deal breaker like it was for me 3 years ago.

Other than the above mentioned apps above, the biggest things I missed from iOS was a good messaging solution (iMessage is so amazing and I have no idea why Google can’t find a way to merge Allo, Hangouts and SMS into a unified ‘thing’) and iCloud photo sharing (but I could still do this from my computer so no huge loss). The biggest gripes I had with Android and the Pixel mostly related to missing my watch being integrated (time to start shopping for an Android Wear device!), Average battery life under heavy use, having to use Pushbullet to get text notifications on my work computer (which is a great service, just not as nice as a native app like Messages on the Mac), and the location/volume of the one speaker on the bottom. Lift to wake also wasn’t super reliable in my experience, which is amazing on iOS.

Having a phone with a voice assistant that responds well, is more open (creating tasks in Todoist was dead simple), and gives good contextual answers is really a game changer. I found myself using voice for a ton in the past few months because of the Google Home and always disappointed by Siri. Having a seamless system that truly works everywhere is fantastic.

As an aside, not having notifications on my wrists for messages and other important apps was a big negative. Next time I go for an Android device I’ll have to get a smart watch as well.

As the 2 weeks came to a close I started thinking hard about if this phone or any phone is worth the $4–500 I’d have to spend to buy it (after selling my current iPhone to recoup some costs). I think that answer is no, but I am sad to move back to iOS and return the Pixel XL. Other than some battery gripes it’s really better in every way. So, in the short term I’m happy enough with my iPhone 6s Plus and iOS in general to not invest $900 on a new phone with new hardware less than 6 months out. If I were buying a new phone today I’d get the Pixel XL and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a new phone. I’m going to have an eye on Google I/O, WWDC and the fall hardware announcements from each company with an even sharper eye than ever before. If I were a betting man, when it comes time to replace my current iPhone I’ll be buying the Pixel XL 2 or whatever it’s called unless Apple really wows me with their hardware and software. The things Apple needs to do with iOS 11 and the next iPhone aren’t out of reach, but I’m not super confident they’ll deliver.

At a higher level, it’s fascinating to me how well Google has gotten at walking and chewing gum. I’ve been using more and more of their services and with most of their hardware offerings looking so good, it’s not too hard to imagine a scenario where the only Apple products I own in a year will be my 3 year old MacBook Pro.

Google Home & Pixel XL

About 6 months ago, Google announced a slew of consumer-grade products geared squarely at Apple and Amazon. At the event, they presented the Home, the Pixel, and Google WiFi and they all caught my eye for different reasons. I’m intrigued by the concept of mesh networking rather than throwing a router in one corner of […]

Continue reading →

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a very interesting trend in the personal technology space. A pretty big shift has occurred – with Apple slowly becoming less reliable, less intuitive, and less interesting (to me) and Google has slowly become better designed, more thoughtful, and better at addressing consumer’s needs.

The race between Apple and Google has always been centered around who can shore up their weaknesses faster – Google needed to ‘get’ design and have a cohesive consumer strategy and Apple needed to ‘get’ cloud infrastructure and have ‘good enough’ AI to keep up with the competition. I feel like Google not only has ‘gotten’ design, I think they actually have a better designed, more thoughtful UI right now. While I’m not quite ready to switch from my iPhone quite yet, I do find myself using a ton of Google’s apps and services in my daily life, further weakening my dependence on Apple going forward. I use Google Photos, Keep, Docs, Maps and Inbox over their Apple counterparts for a few reasons. First, they’re cross platform and work on iOS, Android, Mac or Windows without a hitch. Second, they are updated more frequently and are ‘smarter’ for the most part than the versions from Apple. Finally, I trust them to actually work. Apple lost the ‘it just works‘ battle when computing moved to the cloud, and (this shouldn’t come as a surprise) Google has a huge leg up here.

But it’s not just software. I never really set out to do make any huge switch myself but over the past year or so, I’ve moved away from hardware that ties into the the Apple ecosystem and have instead sought out or accidentally ended up using something more cross platform. Over time, it’s become easier and easier to find better alternatives and I’ve been a lot happier as a result. Last year we had a situation where we needed to come up with a way to watch movies in our home and we ended up buying a Synology and Chromecasts for our TV sets to stream all of our ripped DVDs + Blu Rays. Using our phones as remotes has actually proven to work quite well, and in hindsight I’m super thankful I didn’t go the route of setting up a Mac Mini as a home PC instead. Further, I’ve abandoned iTunes & Apple Music for a combo of Spotify, Chromecast Audio and the occasional Google Play Music use. I love how seamlessly the Spotify + Chromecast Audio setup works in our house – you can control what music is playing from anything that has Spotify installed on it, you can control a multi-room setup for a fraction of the cost of Sonos + Apple Music, and I just like the way that the Spotify service works over what Apple has to offer right now. Add into the mix upcoming Google Home voice integration (I’ve preordered 2 of them) and things get even more interesting.

One could argue that Apple is just the king of the hill in a way that they weren’t 10 years ago so of course they’re a bit more boring now. And let’s face it – the product line is more varied, more complicated, and has a user base an order of magnitude larger than it had a decade back as well. Google or any other tech company isn’t exactly perfect, either. I get all that, but I feel more and more like I’m making compromises when using Apple stuff, and I find myself rolling my eyes at Apple apologists and bloggers more than ever these days. Their mission, the products they make, and my needs are diverging. Honestly it kind of bums me out to say that, but it’s true.

I still have my 1st gen Apple Watch and wear it almost daily. I really like the fitness and alerts side of it, but declined to update to the next version for now. I do like the direction Apple is going with their watch but I just don’t think it’s good enough for me to drop another 3-500 dollars. I got rid of my iPad Mini a few months ago and haven’t missed it a bit. I have a generation old iPhone and won’t be upgrading for a while, if at all, to another iPhone. I’m not even sure how current my Macbook Pro is, but I’m 100% content with it and don’t really see a need to upgrade for a while.

Unfortunately, the iOS 10 and watchOS 3 updates that came out recently have made my desire to get out of the Apple ecosystem grow. Battery life is now an issue on both of my devices and I can’t say that I like the changes that were brought to iOS 10 even if battery life wasn’t an issue. 3D touch means that discoverability is lower, it takes more work to get through to just through tasks that are way easier on Android. Overall, I find a lot of tasks take longer for me in iOS land, and the hardware design advantages Apple once had are starting to deteriorate (the new Samsung 7 and 7 edge look amazing, as does the Pixel). Apple still makes amazing hardware, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to make the compromises that I feel I have to make by opting into an Apple-only ecosystem.

This isn’t all to say that I’m going to sell all of my Apple stuff tomorrow and start using Windows and Android or something like that (especially the Windows part). Instead, I have my personal tech eggs in multiple baskets more than ever before. Apple stuff works quite well when you buy in 100% to their ecosystem but as soon as you use that one app or device that doesn’t fit their way, things have a tendency to fall apart pretty quickly. On the other side of that, simply choosing to use whatever tool is the best has my ‘risk’ spread out in a way that I’m much happier with. I think that when the next Pixel phones come out next year, there’s a very good chance I could switch to Android instead of getting an iPhone 7s or whatever they’re called. 10 years after the iPhone was announced, it’s possible I’ve gone full circle to being only a Mac user again when it comes to my investment in the Apple ecosystem.

That said, if we had a time machine and could check out my blog posts from the next 12-18 months, I think they’d look a little something like this. Or this, depending.

The slow breakup

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a very interesting trend in the personal technology space. A pretty big shift has occurred – with Apple slowly becoming less reliable, less intuitive, and less interesting (to me) and Google has slowly become better designed, more thoughtful, and better at addressing consumer’s needs. The race between Apple and […]

Continue reading →

Joe Casabona writes about 2 months with an iPhone:

But as I use the iPhone more and see how well it actually works, it’s clear that Android is great for some things. But needs to mature in other aspects. And I think Google knows that too. The change in treatment of Android over the last few years has been noticeable. It’s like Google said, “GUYS. We need to fix this mess.”

 

Good take on the good and the bad of using an iPhone 6 after spending years on the Android side. Seems like most articles these days are Apple folks who are fed up and switching to Android, so it’s interesting to see the other side of the coin from time to time. While we all have our complaints about the Apple world, the integrated nature of Apple products can be a huge peace-of-mind boost if you buy in.

Heck, even I’m tempted to switch to Android sometimes – the new Moto X looks particularly outstanding. But when I really think about it, I feel like iOS is still the place for me. Who knows, I may still switch back to Android one day. But at this point, I feel like the perfect setup is Apple hardware backed with Google services.

Switching to the iPhone

Joe Casabona writes about 2 months with an iPhone:

But as I use the iPhone more and see how well it actually works, it’s clear that Android is great for some things. But needs to mature in other aspects. And I think Google knows that too. The change in treatment of Android over the last few years has been noticeable. It’s like Google said, “GUYS. We need to fix this mess.”

 

Good take on the good and the bad of using an iPhone 6 after spending years on the Android side. Seems like most articles these days are Apple folks who are fed up and switching to Android, so it’s interesting to see the other side of the coin from time to time. While we all have our complaints about the Apple world, the integrated nature of Apple products can be a huge peace-of-mind boost if you buy in.

Heck, even I’m tempted to switch to Android sometimes – the new Moto X looks particularly outstanding. But when I really think about it, I feel like iOS is still the place for me. Who knows, I may still switch back to Android one day. But at this point, I feel like the perfect setup is Apple hardware backed with Google services.

ZDNet, reporting on how Hackers can remotely steal fingerprints from Android phones:

The threat is for now confined mostly to Android devices that have fingerprint sensors, such as Samsung, Huawei, and HTC devices, which by volume remains low compared to iPhone shipments. But down the line by 2019, where it’s believed that at least half of all smartphone shipments will have a fingerprint sensor, the threat deepens.

and:

The researchers did not comment on which vendor is more secure than others. But, Zhang noted that Apple’s iPhone, which pioneered the modern fingerprint sensor, is “quite secure,” as it encrypts fingerprint data from the scanner.

The scary thing is that this isn’t exactly the sort of password you can change if things go wrong.

Hackers can remotely steal fingerprints from Android phones

ZDNet, reporting on how Hackers can remotely steal fingerprints from Android phones:

The threat is for now confined mostly to Android devices that have fingerprint sensors, such as Samsung, Huawei, and HTC devices, which by volume remains low compared to iPhone shipments. But down the line by 2019, where it’s believed that at least half of all smartphone shipments will have a fingerprint sensor, the threat deepens.

and:

The researchers did not comment on which vendor is more secure than others. But, Zhang noted that Apple’s iPhone, which pioneered the modern fingerprint sensor, is “quite secure,” as it encrypts fingerprint data from the scanner.

The scary thing is that this isn’t exactly the sort of password you can change if things go wrong.

Marco Arment wrote about Apple losing the ‘functional high ground’ earlier this year, and it was met with tons of discussion – blog posts, podcasts, twitter battles and more. The part that hit me was the final paragraph:

I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged their reputation, because if they realized it, they’d make serious changes that don’t appear to be happening. Instead, the opposite appears to be happening: the pace of rapid updates on multiple product lines seems to be expanding and accelerating.

Like every tech company nowadays, Apple wants to do it all. They can’t simply sell great phones (their hardware design and quality is still best-in-class by a longshot if you ask me) – they have to sell the best phones, build operating systems for them, and build an entire application, service and peripheral ecosystem around their hardware business. This is not an easy task, and the absolutely insane growth of Apple over the past 10–15 years has made it tough for their culture and hiring practices to keep up. Just look at this graph of their stock’s growth:

apple-stocks

The easy thing to jab Apple about is their cloud services but I feel their system software and bundled apps are also beginning to lose its luster. The “it just works” pitch that sold me 15 or so years ago no longer is as open and shut as it once was, as even stock systems tend to be fairly unreliable at times with basic things like home networking, AirPlay, Spotlight indexing, Finder performance and Bluetooth connectivity. Most of these are OS X gripes and I’m hopeful that El Capitan turns things around here, but a purely anecdotal recap of my Mac use over the past few years leads me to believe there’s been a decline in quality. I bought a 2010 iMac that I sold recently to replace with a 2015 13″ MacBook Pro and its had a lot of reliability issues since I purchased it. Further, I’ve been through 3 laptops at work since starting there about 2 years ago now. Usually this was due to hardware issues, but the final ‘fix’ for a lot of my problems at work was to revert to a machine with Mavericks on it.

In my opinion, Yosemite is the worst non-beta Mac OS release I’ve ever used – and I’ve used everything other than the public betas of 10.0. While I didn’t run into any data loss issues or anything particularly catastrophic, the issues I see are more a simple erosion of the attention to detail and quality I’ve come to expect from Apple. That’s the tradeoff, right? You pay a little more for their fantastic hardware and in return you get a integrated, easy-to-use system that is light years ahead of the competition.

Anything that touches the internet generally is a weak spot for Apple, and while I do feel they are getting better (see the Photos app and it’s mostly solid CloudKit integration as an example), there are just as many examples of things like iWork, Apple Music/iTunes, iTunes connect, iCloud Mail and others being extremely unreliable and buggy. While I trust Apple in the sense that I know they are not looking to sell/profit from/give away my data, I do not trust them to actually have that data available or always correct. This is not good.

The Desktop

I can’t tell you the last time I really trusted software that Apple builds on the desktop. Instead of being excited about what they’re putting out, I instead turn my thoughts to “I wonder what will go wrong with this?”, which is hard to undo once you start thinking that way. Whether it’s the newest iOS, Mac OS, Photos app, iTunes or Apple Music, I’m always noticing how flimsy the entire product tends to be or feel. The most recent fiasco is the discoveryd mess, which caused most Mac users to have horrible wifi connection issues for months before Apple rolled back their previous daemon for networking with the 10.10.4 release. Kudos for them for falling on the sword and going back to it, but it’s baffling how it made it into the final release to begin with. My Apple TVs still have (2) after their names.

I still have laggy bluetooth on Yosemite nearly a year after it was released and at this point I have no idea if it’s ever going to get better. I simply started using a wired keyboard and mouse at work and when at home I just use my laptop’s built in keyboard/trackpad when I have to do any serious writing. Heck, I’ve even used my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard at times because it’s more responsive than my brand new, maxed out 13″ Macbook Pro. This was never an issue on Mavericks or before – even on a 2010 iMac with a spinning HDD.

I’m hopeful that this year’s El Capitan release will bring the focus on reliability and stability they have promised – early indications is that it is much faster and more stable even in beta releases.

iOS

Fortunately, one place Apple is still pushing forward and focusing on quality seems to be on iOS. Switching to Android would bring its own set of problems while solving others, so I’m not thinking about doing that just yet. Overall, I’m quite happy with the direction of iOS – especially with the upcoming features for the iPad and iPhone in iOS 9. However, my ‘junk drawer’ has continued to grow on Apple’s mobile platform, with me slowly using fewer and fewer default apps on iOS. In addition, while the design language around the iOS 7 ‘flat’ design is getting tweaks over time, I still prefer the Material Design used by Google at this time. A few years ago, I never would have thought I’d ever say Google is doing a better job at creating an attractive, consistent and usable interface, but they really are putting some distance between themselves and Cupertino right now.

While iOS devices are well built and the OS is generally very good, I still see more issues today than I did in years past. Some of that makes sense – platforms are much more complex than they were even 5 years ago, but the point remains. I’m seeing more and more Bluetooth issues as of late, although I also use more Bluetooth devices these days so it’s hard to pinpoint the culprit there.

Non-OS software

Here is where I feel like Apple is falling in their face these days. Generally, the core OS works well enough for me if I’m on mobile or desktop, but applications like iTunes, iWork, Mail, Finder, Remote and others seem to be constantly rough around the edges. iTunes is the easy target here – instead of doing what is difficult but right with their flagship media product, Apple crams additional features yet removes none with every major release. Consider the list of default Apple apps and the replacement that I currently use:

  • Apple Maps → Google maps
  • Safari → Chrome
  • Notes → Evernote
  • Podcasts → Pocket Casts
  • Calendar → Fantastical
  • Weather → Check the Weather
  • Reminders → OmniFocus

The only Apple apps on my home screen are Mail, Messages, Camera, Photos and Passbook. Not a great ratio. I mention this because it makes it easier for myself and anyone else to decide to try another platform if they like if their vendor lock-in is so low. Further, if users get in the habit of looking at default Apple apps on iOS and thinking “oh, I don’t need this” it actually creates a negative perception in their mind. Apple isn’t in the “surprise and delight” business as much as they used to be – instead, they’re focused on locking their users into their ecosystem, and honestly the apps they’re using to do that are not very good.

Cloud services

Here’s where things get really ugly. If you’ve been following Apple news lately, you probably have heard your share of horror stories about Apple Music amongst other things. While I personally have not had any data-related issues with Apple Music (but god knows I’ve got multiple backups of my music both on and off-site), the reliability of the service has been a real disappointment. Network connection issues, slow sync of things like play counts and ratings as well as serious downtime (Beats 1 was down for hours on their launch day and have had numerous other smaller outages in the past month) all have contributed to a rocky start for Apple Music, and I’m not even talking about the UX issues right now.

Other iCloud-based services are more hit and miss. Photos has been mostly solid for me, although I did have some issues with photos being duplicated on my initial migration to the new system. While not as fast as Dropbox, iCloud Drive seems to work fine, as does Reminders and other things that are based on CloudKit – which is a huge improvement over the previous iCloud sync functionality offered by Apple. However, not everything is based on this infrastructure and probably never will be. The entire iTunes/App Store ecosystem is based on WebObjects, which is a relic of the 90s. It’s surely been modernized and updated since then, but it’s very difficult to imagine the whole iTunes/App store back end being rewritten any time soon to handle something more modern. In addition, iTunes Connect is universally panned by developers as a pretty horrible place, while Google’s Developer Console is pretty well received as a modern, easy to use system for Devs to get their apps published and averrable to users for purchase. In short, a huge blind spot for Apple is their publishing platform for a massive part of their business and I’m curious to see if they have the will and ability to actually attack this huge blind spot head on.

The solution

My personal mindset is pretty simple these days – I feel like the more I trust Apple with a service that requires an application they built, the more let down I am. This is not a good trend, and it’s hard to undo this sort of thing with anything other than shipping great software and services, and doing it all of the time. People lose their minds when Google services go down because it happens once a year. When Apple services go down, people just shrug or write a blog post like this.

Additionally, I’ve begun to hedge my bets and avoid buying into Apple’s ecosystem too much when I can avoid it. This means that instead of buying lots of Airplay-compatible speakers, I’ll be buying a Sonos system instead. Rather than looking at something that is HomeKit based, I might invest in a Nest instead. And obviously, I trust Apple with their cloud services as little as possible – instead, I use Google’s cloud, Dropbox and others with my data these days. Instead of doubling down on Apple’s streaming solutions in the household, I’m buying a NAS that can work with any HTPC or video streaming solution. I’m not looking to get out of the Apple ecosystem per se, but I am making sure that if things continue to trend in a downward fashion I have a fairly easy exodus ahead of me.

That’s fine for Daniel, but how does Apple deliver the high-quality products we expect?

Apple has to find a way to keep up with the competition on the desktop and the mobile space while still delivering software that is as high-quality as their hardware is. In a lot of ways, the annual schedule puts their teams in a situation where they either ship their software in the fall with iOS/OS X (and now watchOS) releases, or they miss an entire year. I think Apple needs to reprioritize the marketing aspect of WWDC a bit and focus more on actually talking to developers about what is new in the keynote, and ship incremental updates as part of point releases when possible. Music for iOS, Photos for Mac, emoji updates and a few others come to mind as examples of when Apple has opted to push out new features/applications off-cycle, and this sort of thinking will help engineering teams ship things when they’re ready. Apple Music isn’t a perfect example because a lot of people have had horrible experiences with the cloud portion of the service as well, but the off-cycle release part is what I’m pointing to. Make WWDC about the system, the APIs and possibly look to emulate the ‘tick-tock’ model used by Intel as well as Apple’s iPhones. One year you can add a few large features and the next year can be a “stop, consolidate and listen” moment where performance, stability and API cleanup are the focus. By releasing other core apps on a point release schedule they’re less beholden to the major release events to push updates when they’re ready.

Another approach, and I know this goes against a lot of what Apple currently does, would be to think of their company in terms of divisions a bit more. That would help things ship when they’re done, instead of based on one monolithic schedule. It also would at least help the company from stealing resources from one group to get another project done on time. Apple famously announced Leopard delays years ago because they wanted to focus on getting iOS out the door, which speaks to their culture of using resources as a shared pool that can be interchanged and assigned to projects instead of being focused on making one specific project the best it can be.

That said, I’m just lowly end user that understands how difficult this stuff is, but that it has to get better. Apple is great at taking something complicated and making it simple, but they’re not great at taking something that’s complicated and making it both powerful and slightly less complicated these days. If that means new rollouts like Apple Music need to follow the Apple Photos/iWork/iMovie route of blowing things up and releasing a bare-bones replacement that slowly gets new features added over time, go for it. That approach makes people angry as well but I think that you get better software for it in the long run. The way things currently are trending, my patience with their products is slowly eroding to a place where I’d be considering making different purchasing decisions the next time I’m in the market for a phone/tablet/computer. Those are bold words if you know me at all, but it’s becoming more and more of a consideration these days.

It Just Works

Marco Arment wrote about Apple losing the ‘functional high ground’ earlier this year, and it was met with tons of discussion – blog posts, podcasts, twitter battles and more. The part that hit me was the final paragraph: I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged […]

Continue reading →

broadcast_thumbnail_material_artwork

I’ve been searching for a good Google podcast for a long, long time but my search may be over. I’ve give Material’s first 4 episodes a listen and it’s very entertaining. What makes it better than most is their keen understanding that for their chosen platform to be great doesn’t mean the competition needs to be bad. They tackle topics in a very engaging, thoughtful manner and avoid bashing the competition – instead focusing on what makes Android/Google their platform of choice. Doesn’t hurt that 2/3 of the crew are former iOS users, so they have good perspective about both platforms.

I highly recommend it, give it a shot!

Finally, a Good Google Podcast

broadcast_thumbnail_material_artwork

I’ve been searching for a good Google podcast for a long, long time but my search may be over. I’ve give Material’s first 4 episodes a listen and it’s very entertaining. What makes it better than most is their keen understanding that for their chosen platform to be great doesn’t mean the competition needs to be bad. They tackle topics in a very engaging, thoughtful manner and avoid bashing the competition – instead focusing on what makes Android/Google their platform of choice. Doesn’t hurt that 2/3 of the crew are former iOS users, so they have good perspective about both platforms.

I highly recommend it, give it a shot!

I suppose we all saw this coming.

After a few months with a Nexus 5 as my primary phone, I’ve switched back to iOS and moved to AT&T. I was able to sell the Nexus 5 on eBay and actually make decent money on the switch back, and while my average monthly phone bill will increase by about 20 dollars, I’ll be getting unlimited texts and calls with a shared 6gb data allowance between my wife and I. I got a 32gb 5s and it feels good to be back ‘home’.

If Ting had supported the newest iPhone, I would have paid full price for the phone and considered staying with them. The service was a great value and coverage was rarely a problem for me in the metro Atlanta area. However, with AT&T altering their family plans and offering fairly generous shared data, the time was right to make the move. The only real knock on Ting is they are a great deal so long as you stay below 2 gigs of data and a fairly small number of texts and calls. I was always paranoid about sitting on work phone calls when I knew it might bump me into another tier.

So why did I ultimately ditch the Nexus 5? Two factors sealed the deal for me, and only one of them is going to get better any time soon in the Android world.

Android is too fiddly

In general, I found myself having to constantly tweak things to work the way I thought it should, and settle for average quality applications. If you’re an iOS user, you’ve come to expect a level of polish and attention to detail that just isn’t as common in 3rd party Android apps. As I said in one of my previous posts, Android definitely is ‘good enough’ to make the switch but I’ve become spoiled by apps on the iPhone and even a few months away wasn’t enough to get me over that. I can see myself considering Android in the future, but right now the lack of polish overall drove me bonkers.

It was really death by a thousand paper cuts. I’d get odd notifications at times I couldn’t figure out or adjust. Some apps would crash every time I used them. I could never find a Twitter client worth using. I could never get into using Wunderlist instead Things or OmniFocus. The battery life was good as long as I used the phone very lightly. And on and on. I felt like I was settling, and with iOS I had a known entity with its own flaws but overall worked way more in line with the way I expected things to work.

The stock Android system is actually quite nice. If you only want it use the stock apps, it’s actually a really impressive offering. For me, it was all about the 3rd party apps, though. I now realize how much I miss some of the key apps I use on my iPhone / iPad. The attention to detail and the focus on great user experiences on iOS really started to become apparent to me while using the Nexus. I kept looking at the phone saying “how are there 5 good versions of this app on iOS and not ONE good one for Android?” It was too much settling for ‘good enough’ – I missed using apps that delight the user (Tweetbot, OmniFocus, Pushpin, Byword, Day One, and more come to mind).

Not only was I missing those key apps, I felt like I had to manage the system too much. There were a lot of times that a rogue process would kill my battery, routinely forcing me to uninstall or troubleshoot. I’m not saying that’s an Android exclusive, but it happened more to me in the past 2+ months than any similar period with iOS. Overall, the Nexus 5 feels like a tiny little computer, which is great for the most part. iPhones, on the other hand, feel like they magically work nearly all of the time. There are limitations to being in Apple’s walled garden but the tradeoff is worth it for me. In general, I didn’t think I’d miss the Apple ecosystem as much as I did. iTunes, iCloud and everything else are a confusing mess at times, by they’re my confusing mess.

I had it in my head that by using the most of the Google ecosystem, that data would make my phone smarter. I really haven’t seen much of a true tangible benefit from buying all the way into the Google ecosystem at all, to be honest. When you add in the fact that it was doing this at the expense of using apps that aren’t as polished as I’m used to, it was hard to justify using Android. What’s interesting is that I think that the best ‘Google Experience’ may very well be an iPhone 5s with Gmail pulling in your email, Google Now alerting you to important events, G+ backing up your photos, using Google Maps for navigation and Chrome for browsing, while having the best built phone out there right now and having access to the great App ecossytem that Apple has. That’s basically what I was doing before switching to the Nexus, and I now realize the iPhone + Google services route is actually the best of both worlds.

I’m sure some of it is nearly 5 years of me learning how to use iOS vs only a few months on Android, but it just never felt right. I found myself fighting the interface and never felt as in control of the system as I ever did when using iOS – nor did I feel like the experience was as seamless as I was used to.

The hardware is average at best

The thing that Android handset makers can improve on but the Nexus 5 is lacking in is overall build quality. The handset, the camera, and things like the ringer and speakers all just feel kind of cheap – which I suppose is to be expected when you’re dealing with a handset that’s half the cost of an unsubsidized iPhone (I had even mentioned that in my previous post – is the iPhone really 2x as good as the Nexus 5 / Android 4.4? No, but it is better). The quality of photos I’ve taken in the past 12 weeks compared to the now 18 month old iPhone 5 were vastly inferior, which is disappointing. I spend so much time using my phone as a camera and I’m really realizing how crucial it is during my son’s early life to have something that I can take great photos with. Apple invests a ton in their cameras and it shows. So that’s one of the major driving factors in my purchase.

Other fit and finish issues:

  • The phone itself had issues with the speaker and required an RMA. To Google’s credit, this was a seamless process.
  • The screen is nice but otherwise the phone feels very cheap and I miss the quality of the iPhone.
  • The bulging camera on the back has annoyed me to no end. I want my phone to sit flush when I set it down on a table, and have no idea why Android device makers can’t figure this out.
  • I missed a lot of calls. The ringer just isn’t very good, nor is the vibrating motor. Never happened with iPhone.
  • GPS stinks on the Nexus 5.
  • I lose data connectivity often. Is this a Ting issue, or a Nexus one?

Conclusion

Android’s greatest strength is it’s “open” nature. This lends itself to never be able to compete on the “details” that Apple does so well, just like Apple’s focus on doing a few things really well make it tough for them to open things up to have the same level of customizability. All that being said, I can absolutely recommend an Nexus 5 to anyone looking for a good, affordable unlocked handset but for me, my investment in the Apple ecosystem was too much to keep me away for long. I’m used to and like the way that Apple does things, even if I am a bit turned off by a lot of the things that Apple did in iOS 7. I look forward to iOS 8, but also to the next generation of Android hardware and software. When my contract is up, I’ll definitely be looking to see who best meets my needs.

Back to the iPhone

I suppose we all saw this coming. After a few months with a Nexus 5 as my primary phone, I’ve switched back to iOS and moved to AT&T. I was able to sell the Nexus 5 on eBay and actually make decent money on the switch back, and while my average monthly phone bill will […]

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One of the side effects of switching from iOS to Android was my quest to find good cross-platform tools to accomplish all of the things I was already doing with my iPhone. This meant making some compromises and getting rid of some apps I have been using for years. One of the biggest casualties was OmniFocus. If you don’t know what OmniFocus is, it’s a task-management system that allows you to categorize to-do items with very powerful filtering so you can easily capture and show tasks that you need to be doing in a particular context (that is, a place or type of job).

In an effort to find something like OmniFocus, I tried a few similar apps, and finally settled on Wunderlist. While it’s a good enough app, I slowly fell off the wagon of truly trusting the system I was using to track tasks. I also took for granted how easy it was to add a task to OmniFocus via Siri (once OmniFocus is set up to pull in reminders, you simply tell Siri “remind me to…” and it’ll automatically be added to your list, for sorting later). Once you stop trusting the list as THE place to go for all of your to-do items, it has nearly zero value to you. The tasks you do add are too large to really break down into actionable chunks, and once this happens, the inertia of a bad list takes over, making it even more difficult to use a list of any kind.

One of the most important aspects of the GTD system of task management is breaking down every project or goal into the smallest, achievable tasks so that blockers can be eliminated and progress toward completion can be made. Wunderlist just wasn’t doing that for me. So, I’ve decided to switch back to OmniFocus, even if that means I won’t have access to viewing my tasks on Android (there is no Android app for OmniFocus to sync with). What I have done instead is found an Android app that allows you to add items to the iCloud reminders list, which allows me to at least quickly capture tasks when they come to mind. I will sort these items when I’m at a computer or on my iPad, which I have with me almost all of the time.

Is this an ideal solution? Not exactly, but it gets me back in the habit of doing daily reviews in the morning and weekly reviews over coffee on the weekends. I’ve been going with this approach for about 2 weeks now and I already feel like a lot of that mental clutter is gone, which is extremely valuable to me. Being able to trust that a list is the place that I dump any and all tasks in my brain is a huge burden lifted from a forgetful guy like myself, and has helped me stay more productive at work and able to get things done around the house as well.

As Cinderella once said, You Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone). If feels good to be back in OmniFocus land – and I’m really looking forward to the v2 updates for the Mac and the iPad – whenever those actually land.

On Trusted Systems

One of the side effects of switching from iOS to Android was my quest to find good cross-platform tools to accomplish all of the things I was already doing with my iPhone. This meant making some compromises and getting rid of some apps I have been using for years. One of the biggest casualties was […]

Continue reading →


First Ting bill.  Not bad.