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Face Off: Has Android finally beaten iOS

It was just meant to be a quick experiment. I started using a Nexus 4. I was going to go right back to my iPhone after a week. I was designing more and more Android interfaces at Twitter and realized I needed to more intimately grok Android UI paradigms.

A week in, it started feeling normal; the larger form factor was no longer a nuisance. A month in, I didn't miss anything about my iPhone. Two months in, I sold my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. It has now been three months since I made the switch. I'm loving Android. I only missed having a good camera so I just upgraded to a Google Edition Samsung Galaxy S4.

Apple Lock-in?

It only took that first week to realize I wasn't really locked into the Apple ecosystem and certainly not iCloud.

  • Photo Stream? Nope, total garbage. Why should the user need to know about a rolling 1,000 photo buffer. Dropbox and Google+ Auto Backup do this better. I can take a photo and it's already on my computer without opening iPhoto.
  • Safari syncing? I use Chrome, and browser sync is amazing.
  • iTunes and iTunes Match? I no longer maintain an iTunes library and haven't for the last few years. I'm more than covered with music podcasts, Hype Machine, Rdio and Spotify.
  • What about iCloud Calendar, Contacts & Mail? My calendars are hosted by Google and I don't use an iCloud email account. Contact syncing was a great feature, but I made do by exporting from the OS X Contacts app and importing to GMail Contacts.
  • Find my Phone? I use Lookout for this, and Google just released Android Device Manager.
  • Reminders.app? I switched to the more feature-rich Wunderlist.
  • Facetime? There's always the Facetime app on my Mac. There's also Google Hangouts but I don't think it's quite there yet.

I do, however, miss iMessage. I ended up setting Facebook Messenger as my default SMS app (yes you can set default apps!).

Most services I rely on daily are owned by Google. My world revolves around GMail and Google search. I could start listing Android features I adore, but this succinctly states why Android makes sense for me:

The list of Apple products I use daily, largely amounts to OS X and Apple hardware. People identify themselves as Mac users and Windows users... zoom out a bit and you'll find another Venn diagram where Google almost entirely encompasses all of these users.

How I fell in love

It started with the larger and wider screen. I read a lot on my phone, particularly in Chrome. Responsive sites look fantastic. The Android back button makes this browsing experience even more pleasurable when going back and forth between pages on news sites.

Then I got used to the Google Calendar widget I placed on my home screen. Then it was the glorious Gmail app. It's much better on Android and more frequently updated. Switching between multiple GMail accounts on Android is quicker, you can customize which messages you receive notifications for, assign different sounds for individual labels and more.

But when it comes down to it my love of Android lies heavily with the way Android handles notifications. These aren't your useless "read-only" iOS notifications that just launch the app. I've thought about notifications a lot while I was working on the notifications team; how to keep the user in control and make it clear what each notification is actually saying.

Android just knocks it out of the park here.

Always cloudy in SF.

The first thing I do every morning is a simple down swipe from the top to reveal the drawer. Notifications can be individually or bulk dismissed; iOS only does it at the app level. Depending on the app, notifications may be expanded with a simple down swipe to reveal additional information and inline actions. For example Gmail app email notifications have inline actions like Archive and Reply.

They can also digest notifications together when multiple come from the same app. If you don't open the notification drawer, you'll see app icons in the top status bar. Also, it's common for apps to scroll notifications line-by-line in that status bar when they come in. This bar can also be used for brief status messages. Anything longer can be pushed to the drawer as an "ongoing notification" type: things like uploading/downloading or playing music. That way you know where to go to easily when you open up that app again.

Basically, it's your entire phone command center. You can get a lot done there without opening up every app. If you have multiple devices, Google announced user notifications at I/O this year, allowing developers to let users dismiss notifications from all of their devices after they were interacted with, on one device.

That being said, there is one stark difference with Android notifications: they don't light up the screen nor do they display on the lock screen. Android devices have a small indicator LED (with sound and vibration depending on your settings) for this purpose like the good ol' Blackberry days.

Not your cup of tea? You can do just about anything with Android...

There really is an app for that

I set out to write an article about how I feel Android provides unique affordances that create a unique cohesive mobile experience (more on that below) rather than talking openness, features and apps. However, the more time I spent living with Android it became obvious that being able to do anything and suit a variety of needs is a pillar of the Android experience.

Mainly I'm talking about a less restrictive canvas for developers. You can access the file-system, the hardware, use intents to pass data to other apps and services, and much more.

Don't like the lack of lock screen notifications? Install DashClock (example) or NiLS. Want to customize the LED color or each type of notification? Light Flow is just the ticket. I predict many more lock screen notification apps will emerge soon; Android 4.3 brings needed notification APIs (current lock screen solutions hackily register as an accessibility service). For example, you can bring Moto X style notifications that light up your screen when notifications arrive with ActiveNotifications.

You can display all Android notifications on your desktop so you never have to pull your phone out. You can send scheduled messages via SMS, Facebook, Twitter or Gmail. Get caller ID and block calls with a myriad of apps like Truecaller. Use Shush to automatically unmute your phone after a set duration. You can radically personalize the OS with launcher alternatives like GO Launcher EX, Nova Launcher and Everything.me.

Want a picture emailed of the person trying to unlock your phone emailed to you? Lookout Security & Antivirus does that. Don't want to use Dropbox to sync your photos? Roll your own with BitTorrent Sync or the powerful FolderSync. Learn to type faster by changing your keyboard to SwiftKey or Swype. Send text messages from your desktop using your own phone number with MightyText. Set different power profiles when you really need to conserve battery life with JuiceDefender.

You can use Farebot to read your NFC public transit card to display recent trips and value left. Don't like texting while driving? Use Drive Agent to automatically respond to messages when driving. Want to automate repetitive tasks? Use NFC Task Launcher to automatically change your settings based on location. Want to easily switch to playing music over bluetooth speakers without diving into settings? You don't need an app for that, it's built into Android. Welcome to the world of "tap-and-bluetooth-pair" with NFC-enabled bluetooth audio receivers.

And of course, you can tether your fast LTE connection (30 down/20 up in SF with AT&T) right out of the box. You can do anything with Android. And if you find out that app you just purchased doesn't quite do what you want, you can return it.

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