iPhone: The Revenge (An Android switcher’s tale of woe)

This is a follow-up of sorts to the original post, iPhone.

Since having bought an original iPhone, shipped from Manhattan in 2007, a lot has changed. As time rolled on, updates to the iPhone OS, now dubbed ‘iOS’ enabled many of the features I had hoped for in the original post – over the air calendar and contacts sync, third party applications, unlocked iPhones sold directly from Apple, and so on. It’s been good times for iPhone users.

Some time after the iPhone I upgraded to the iPhone 3G, and this lasted me a good two years, for a total of four years as an iPhone user. I had no practical complaints either – the phone sent and received e-mail, properly processed calendar invitations, properly listed all my calendars in all my various e-mail accounts, had a great selection of apps, you name it. I then made a curious decision: I switched to an Android phone.

I became enthralled with Google’s professed idea of a smartphone that put me in the driver’s seat – access to the filesystem, multitasking, browser plug-ins, the trappings of a desktop computer. Free and open source, which I also liked. I was so interested in this that I overlooked the obvious faults of my first Android phone, a Sony XPeria X10.

This phone lacked a lot. It had no ActiveSync support built in, instead shipping with a poorly executed third party app called ‘Moxier Mail’ which could connect to only one account at a time. The phone was terribly slow, frequently refusing to respond to the touch for seconds at a time while performing tasks such as loading a web page or synchronizing e-mail folders. The battery lasted maybe 3 hours. Android applications were simplistic and quickly abandoned by their developers, with few exceptions.

I stuck it out, believing this was the dawn of a truly free handheld – one whose operating system and software applications I could completely control, just as I do with my desktop computers. I bought it, I’d own it. I blamed Sony for all the XPeria’s faults and waited for the dawn.

Time went by – the battery died completely, and I replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy S Infuse 4G – one of the last of the original Galaxy S phones. Sporting a big beautiful 4.5 inch screen, it was quite a striking looking device.

It too had obvious faults. It had an updated version of Android (2.3) which now supported multiple ActiveSync accounts, barely. The phone lagged severely during the initial sync, and during each periodic sync after that. The calendar client was disappointing, permitting only the primary calendar in each account to be seen. E-Mail search was unavailable. The E-Mail client did not respect the reply-to field, nor did it properly reply to messages when the body of the message was very long. Sometimes it would crash, sometimes it would randomly insert message header lines in the body of the message, and at other times it would insert random characters or snippets of the original message to which you were replying. What a mess. Completely incapable of coherent communication. Android applications remained primitive, ugly – a clear demonstration that their designers lacked interest and motivation to create quality software.

Shortly after I bought the Samsung, it came to light that they would no longer provide updates. I looked to community forums and found insufficient interest in my handset, and thus no custom ROM was developed to a reasonable degree of completion. As a final insult, on a day on which I was travelling the phone crashed and drained the battery that morning, stranding me with nothing but dependence on payphones. I blamed Samsung for their inattention to long-term support.

The phone met a sticky end. Greatly frustrated I drowned it in the kitchen sink. I didn’t know where to go next. Insistent that the next phone I buy should support my free software ideologies, I went in search of a fully updated Android device. I tested the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (and also Jelly Bean) to see if they could do the things I expected. Search worked. Reply seemed to work. Finally. I debated the Galaxy Note 2 and the newest kid on the block, the Google Nexus 4.

Both phones offered striking feature sets – the Galaxy Note 2 with its S-Pen stylus and note taking applications which synced to the ever popular EverNote service, and the Nexus 4 with its extremely low price, the fact that it’s carrier neutral and unlocked by default, and most importantly, it received operating system updates from Google itself, similar to the way the iPhone receives frequent updates well into old age.

Serious doubts remained. I had already invested in two high-end Android phones and both, in retrospect, were bitter disappointments that I continued to use in the hope that the ecosystem would self-correct. It did not. On review of the latest Android devices and system software, it became clear that a litany of basic issues remain. Android remains incompetent at business communication. The applications and media available for them are juvenile at best. The Android ecosystem itself has failed to deliver on its promise of freedom through open-source – handset makers and carriers kept crucial components close to their vests, making the operating system as good as closed-source.

Heading off all the potential Android fans out there: Yes, I tried all the alternative mail clients. Yes, I looked extensively through the Google Play Store for high quality applications. Yes, I investigated the alternative ROMs available for my phones and many other more popular phones at length. You’ll think I’m a staunch Apple fan who went into the Android world with impossible expectations – I stuck it out patiently for almost two years.

I have simple requirements – as I mentioned before in regard to the iPhone and iPhone 3G I had previously owned:

I had no practical complaints either – the phone sent and received e-mail, properly processed calendar invitations, properly listed all my calendars in all my various e-mail accounts, had a great selection of apps, you name it.

Though I blamed Sony and Samsung for the issues surrounding their products, Android was Google’s idea. They failed to execute. To maintain control. To demand that the handsets remain open source, with properly documented drivers.

It is at this point during my deliberations on where to go next that I realized I had made a mistake. I let ideology get in the way of productivity in an ecosystem that doesn’t care for ideology at all. I let ideology get in the way of personal enjoyment of devices I had spent hard earned dollars on. I even made the mistake of persuading a few other folks to give Android a try.

But I had been much happier with an iPhone.

While I had spent nearly two years stamping about in what can only be described as a digital ghetto, I looked behind me. The iPhone had grown. It had made Apple an even more monumental success. It had made missteps of its own, but even these battle scars didn’t come close to the inadequacies of today’s latest and most powerful Android devices.

Decision made, I ordered an unlocked iPhone 5, black. It gets delivered to me December 4. I’m counting the days.