TL;DR - Yes, it is actually very long post. More than nine thousand (about 9,500) words long. Unless you have a lot of time and patience and a strong reason to go through all that I have to say, you would probably stop reading this post mid-way. You have been advised; now back to the point.
It is no secret in my immediate circle that I have been an Apple fanboy since quite some time now. Honestly, about a decade or so. This post is a long one and it is about fanboy-ism of Apple. It is long and verbose; it is detailed. It is personal; it is an opinion. It is as much an attempt to influence you as it is a note-to-self to stay more alert and more open in the times to come. Basically, it is about the “Apple Ecosystem”, it’s clutches, its goods and bads and my decision, attempt and progress to evade it. If you are looking at a bullet-pointed or tabular comparison of Apple vs. Android, this post is not that. It is a detailed take on a lot of sentences that I have heard and told in favour and against Google and Apple’s approaches to selling me a phone and how they have led me to this point. After all it has been 10 years that I have been using Apple’s devices and about the same duration that I have been a strong advocate of Apple while still having and using an Android device for the major part of those years. I can’t cover all the frustrations and lessons in a small post.
Quite some time back, there used to be a program in NatGeo named Seconds From Disaster and it started with a line that went like “An accident is not just one event, but a series of mistakes. It is a chain reaction that can be traced back to a single decision, or a moment of carelessness.” I would say the same for my experience. It is not just one day that I woke up and realised that I wanna give up on Apple and start using Android. No; it is much more nuanced than that.
Oh, the line that can cause keyboard battles and sometimes some real ones too.
Now, it is my sincere request for you guys to not do something like this. Neither Apple, not Google was built by sages. These are businesses and they do what they do to earn money. It’s great that their work helps us. However, taking sides and getting it to the level of violence is sheer stupidity and an act of inflated egos. Neither company would mend your friendships or pay your hospital bills over such debates.
And yet, I would like to to repeat - “Android sucks.” But I would like to add that it is no longer true. It was true about 3-5 years back when iPhone was actually a much better phone than Android was. Android has come a very long way since then. Now, I have always had an iPhone as my primary and another Android as a secondary phone and I always favoured and trusted the iPhone more than the Android phone. My Android phone always had all sorts of apps (even the ones I actually consider junk) and the iPhone only had the more essential ones. And Android was always a bit slower. All of this started changing quite recently.
Ecosystem - 1
There are so many layers of the ecosystem effect that to summarise them at one place kinda makes it boring and kills relevance of each argument. Hence I am breaking the argument into pieces and this is the first of those. Now, I have a MacBook Air (M1), an iPad Pro 1.5 inch, iPhone, Apple TV 4K, AirPods and AirTags. So yeah, I am “in the ecosystem”. And yes, Apple’s ecosystem makes things convenient for me. AirPods can get connected to my iPad or my TV or my Mac and I can take calls on any of my devices yada yada. And those are all great additions to the life experience from a technology standpoint. But like all systems, as you go on adding more, the possibility of bugs go on increasing too.
Yes. Apple sucks, and not just money. What Apple sucks more, is your brain. Its ecosystem does give you mental peace to a great extent but the way Apple plays with your mindset is on a whole another level. If you have watched both Google I/O and Apple WWDC, you would know how much more pleasant WWDC feels. You walk into an Apple Store, you would know how amazing it feels to touch a MacBook and if you have seen the iPad with Apple Pencil laying around with some drawing apps pre-installed, you would know how amazing it feels to draw using it!
iCloud - the most amazing Cloud ever, except it is a mess if you actually want to use it to sync a folder with 8000 files to iPhone and yet, it is the best one out there for everyone who practically uses it!
iMessage - the most awesome messaging platform that gives you awkwardly green color for your peasant friends who do not have either the money or the class to be on iMessage. I mean they could have chosen another shade of Green but they picked up a profoundly annoying one.
Apple is a marvel of technology but it is also the champion of mind games. I had a very conscious rule set upon myself - if you feel the urge to buy an Apple Product (especially after WWDC or a launch event), then wait for at least 7 days before placing an order. And yet, Apple looped me in and kept me there. Apple sucked me in their walled garden.
Ecosystem - 2 – Do you really, really need all those devices? Or do you just FEEL that you do?
One of the rather famous quotes of Mr. Steve Jobs (I love the guy; probably always will) read something like “People don’t know what they want. Sometimes you need to show them what they want.” When Phil Schiller went all bold and said can’t innovate my ass he was launching the Cylindrical Mac Pro which actually wasn’t innovative, was hated by the pros and did fail to get the expected traction.
Some time later, they killed the famous 3.5 mm jack on iPhone. The stated reason was “courage”. I guess Apple was the only company to have the courage to invent a solution (Airpods) and then invent the problem for it (Removing the 3.5 mm jack) and sell us that as an idea of them doing us users a favor!
When Apple removed the CD/DVD drive and Adobe Flash (it used to be ‘Macromedia Flash’ for those who are old enough), that was good. It was one of the things which made sense. But removal of 3.5 mm jack was stupid and really not necessary. If you carefully listen to the Phil Schiller speech announcing AirPods, you will notice certain words like ‘beautiful’ music, or that thing’s of the past that make you feel like you are going to usher in a new era by using AirPods. But are you? Do you really need to let go of 3.5 mm jack? No, you don’t (more about this later).
I have not used iPad for a lot except watching videos and shows. My Apple Pencil was used in the first 6 months to draw a few creatives (digital paintings using ProCreate) and a little bit more later for taking notes (Notability and GoodNotes) but it never got used extensively. So why did I buy it? Because Apple showed those usecases (sketching, drawing and note-taking) in the launch video. Sure, the device is great and it works as advertised but I didn’t really need it. I did not have the actual usecase for it, or that the iPad! It has taken me years to notice that.
I remember feeling ecstatic when I saw Apple Pencil being launched. I still remember the scenes where the camera/view follows the nib of the pencil running over iPad’s screen as it left a beautiful line behind, the line thickening on width as the nib of the tool tilted. Wow! I still think it was an amazing advertisement and it has the power to make me still feel like I need one; but the years have taught me that I actually don’t.
Yes, Apple creates magic out of its presentations and they do work!
How did it start?
I have categorically refused to admit that I am an Apple Fanboy but I think I have been. Yes, I am an engineer and so of course I can present the more informed, the more technical perspective of how Apple’s engineering is great and that does influence people. And so is its design. The “attention to detail” is mesmerising and I know at least 4 people who got influenced by me to buy iPhones. It feels like cheating (one of them even spoke out) for them if I tell them that I am liking Android now. So where did it start? How did I start liking Android after using Apple products for a decade? Like I said in the beginning - it might feel like an accident - a sudden, single event but it is a series of events which have led me towards this change of heart. There is a trigger point but the feeling of discontent has been growing since quite some time. Let me list down areas of growing discontentment first and final trigger in the end.
AirPods are magical
AirPods are one of the smallest (in size and also in importance) objects from the Apple ecosystem that I have. But like I have said - the advertisement and convincing power of Apple is amazing. They first created the problem of “you don’t have a headphone jack anymore” which was then transformed to “you don’t have a universal jack anymore” (since they started giving out the Lightning-connecter EarPods). And they created the solution to the artificial problem - the AirPods and then made them the “standard additional purchase” by first removing the Lightning-to-3.5mm jack from the box and then removing the wired headset altogether.
Now, AirPods are actually magical - I start the iPad, I can connect the airpods using one tap. Same with Mac. Same with Apple TV. And when that popup comes up, the mind says to itself AirPods are truly magical and worth the money. Now, they don’t offer anything above and beyond the standard 3.5 mm earpods in terms of sound quality. I had the first gen airpods which were the same as the wired earpods minus the wire. The newer ones have this thing called “Spatial Audio” which has two features which I believe are useless in practical sense, at least to me:
- They make you feel like you are in a rather large hall when listening to music - nothing they could not have done by using the software on the iPhone. Someone who has used either eqMac and/or Boom 3D would be able to testify about that. Moreover, if I don’t specifically turn them on, I don’t notice the difference - I did turn Spatial Audio off for some time and realized only days later that it wasn’t switched on. So the sound quality does improve when turn it on, but not dramatically better enough for me to consciously remember whether it is on or off.
- Head tracking - They make you feel that the audio keeps coming from the direction of the device even when you turn your head. I have tried this on iPad, iPhone and Mac and the experience was not good enough because the device screens are way too small to have that effect. On a TV too, I didn’t much like it. It was rather disturbing to me because a large part of my music-listen-time is when I am having my morning or evening walk. When I look to my sides to check if a vehicle is crossing, the change in the direction of sound makes me lose the sense of direction. It disorients me. So I had to disable head tracking.
Once the most touted and shouted feature felt useless to me, the only consolation I could find in spending about 9 times the money for about the same sound quality what that I was not carrying a wire around and was not constantly struggling to untangle them each time I took them out of the pocket.
Now comes the first trigger - It was a problem with the first gen ones and it was the problem with the 3rd gen airpods too - that they would charge unevenly. Sometimes, even after putting them in the case, one of them would still stay connected to iPhone and would refuse to charge. It will keep losing battery and eventually die. So when I take them out of the case, at least one of them was dead already. So at those times I had to wait for them to reach at least about 20-25% (which is at least 5 minutes) before I could listen to the beautiful music. And those were the times I really wished I had tangled wired headphones - at least I could take an urgent call handsfree while they were still tangled!?
I have since switched to the wired one.
Ecosystem - 3
This was the first annoyance. I mean I spent almost the same money as a mid-range Android phone on each pair of AirPods that I owned and what did I get in both the cases? I got the so-called benefits of the ecosystem and in the name of that, I got discharged AirPods which:
- Need to be charged separately
- Need to be placed in the box ever so carefully that they start charging as intended
- Need to be checked with the phone if one of them is still connected to the phone or not
I am still furious about how it made me so conscious about keeping them super softly and the state of charge in them! They no longer felt magical to me. They became a stress.
On top of that, when I connect AirPods to Android, I have no idea about the level of charge. That’s funny. Because
- AirPods CAN report charge levels to iPhone.
- Android can receive and display charge levels of other TWS earphones.
- Other TWS earphones can report their charge levels to iPhone too.
But this forced exclusivity of not reporting the charge levels to another phone is irritating.
iCloud is great when you think of features like Family Album sharing. If you are on iPhone and need to stay synced across devices, iCloud is amazing. I mean you do something on the Mac and it is already there on iPhone. Great. But what if I want that same thing on Windows? What if I want my contacts to be on my Android phone? What about my files (I keep the Desktop and Documents folders synced)? iCloud’s web interface sucks and unlike Google Drive or Box or OneDrive or Dropbox they don’t have an App for Android. So I always have to login to the web version of iCloud on Mobile and download files one by one.
If the other person does not have an iPhone, your sharing ability with them is limited dramatically. I had notes saved in iCloud. Guess what? NOT ACCESSIBLE from an Android phone. It becomes about impossible to use any of that data on Android when iCloud Web refuses to open in a non-safari browser. In those moments, iCloud made me feel like I had shot my own foot by getting an iPhone.
Ecosystem - 4
So that was my second trigger - iCloud at its core is not about security; maybe it is about making the customer uncomfortable in any situation when he does not have an Apple device. I mean we can access it using a Web Browser, why not just make an app for other platforms? How is my privacy and security being protected by using iCloud on Web and not on app? Because Apple believes that (and we users agree by adhering to their discomforting behaviour) we users are idiots who don’t know how to use a phone.
Basically it is a way to make you feel like you need to have Apple devices and ONLY Apple devices everywhere.
Apple Music is one of the best music streaming services out there. I have been using it since it launched and I still have the subscription. Apple Music, when it launched was launched with much fanfare around discoverability of new music and some existing not-so-popular artists. It had a few features which faded over time though. Some of them which I liked and remember noticing are:
- Following Artists: You could follow your favorite artists whether it be Taylor Swift or Arijit Singh and when a new track launched, you would get to know about via notification. I liked this feature.
- Friend Network: This was a neat feature. You could add people in your contact list as friends and see what they are listening to inside the app. We tend to get our recommendations about what to watch and listen from our friends so that was good. With time you can get recommendations about what other people you could follow and expand that list.
- Radio Stations: You could get some local FM Radio Stations on Apple Music and those actually never worked. But that’s not the feature I am talking about here. I am talking about the Genre based ones where Apple Music would play that kind of tracks. This was a useful feature and I particularly liked Downtempo and Electronic stations because I could just start them and start working without having to either create a playlist myself or be surprised about a different sounding track in there. It was good.
These features slowly got sidelined. What we instead got was Host-Based Shows; the ones like podcasts and almost all of them are foreign to my land, language and preference. Speaking of that, I am not very fond of new English releases and do not listen to them. The only time I hear them is when I find a good one in a show or a movie. And yet Apple Music has been recommending me new English Releases in the Discover tab since ever. Not what I asked for.
I have, in past lost a 110+ tracks playlist to whatever glitch they had too!
Lossless Audio - useless most of the time
This part is just an explanation about how lossless audio is not a feature that makes Apple Music great for most of us. It did not act as a trigger but if you are reading this post, this one can be useful to learn. You can skip this section if you don’t care about Lossless Audio.
Apple released a new Marketing Gimmick called lossless audio on their platform. Now, I know there are people who would say that they are not Gimmicks; but for all practical purposes for most people they are. Allow me to explain.
The things that I am going to say need a sound understanding about sound (pun intended). I will try to keep it simple though. Typical audio we hear is compressed using a lossy codec. The pure sound that you would hear loses the quality but if the compression bitrate is not too low, most of the time, we non-professional people can’t tell the difference. Lossless audio on the other hand has no losses to the audio for the given sample rate at which it was encoded. So lossless audio is superbly awesome to hear. But there is a catch; actually there are a few catches here:
- Capabilities of earphones - Most earphones or headphones we use are not capable enough to actually provide us the right experience with lossless audio. Only pretty expensive ones can (it is beyond the scope here to tell the exact stuff about which ones and why).
- Limits of Bluetooth - If you are using bluetooth, you are also limited by the Codecs supported by your devices as well as the data transfer rates of Bluetooth. Basically, even the costliest AirPods (the Max ones) can’t actually play Lossless Audio. A little bit more details are here.
- Need of an Amplifier - In most cases you WILL need an external amplifier with whatever wired headset or audio system you have to use the Lossless Audio. Also, only the Pro systems (MacBook Pro and Mac Pro) can output the lossless audio well enough to be used.
- Losses in conversion - If you are of the argument that you can connect mac with the AirPods Max using the cable, please look into how Digital-to-Analog and Analog-to-Digital signal conversion causes loss of audio. This alone is a pretty detailed topic. So unless you are a full audiophile or a creator, you either can’t afford to listen to lossless audio, or don’t need to, or you might not be knowing enough to use it. So for at least 90% of us, Lossless Audio is actually a Useless addition.
I have been using iPhone and Apple Music since quite some time. But for the sake of removing ads from Youtube for my kid, I got YouTube Premium. What I got in addition was YouTube Music subscription. So I installed it on my device. I was astounded by a few things:
- Speed of launching the app - Apple Music would take at least a good 5 seconds from a cold start. YT Music was taking about 1 second. That was surprising. How can Apple’s own music app launch slower than its prime competitor’s app on its own platform.
- Recommendations - About 2 days of listening on YT Music made the recommendations so, so much better than years of using Apple Music! I get it - Google knows a lot about a lot of people and has gone into using its AI capabilities to recommend stuff to me better.
- Discovery - I was discovering way more artists than on Apple Music. There are a lot of smaller records and not-so-popular artists that release covers and remixes of already popular songs which were undiscovered on Apple Music. I actually liked those. Also, it seemed to recommend really good tracks depending on what was playing in Autoplay Mode.
Ecosystem - 5 - The Storage problem
This was an annoyance already. Here is how and why - when I setup my iPhone the first time, I allowed Apple Music to cache a large amount of data in “Optimise Storage” setting. With time as I installed a lot of other apps, I started falling short on storage space. Sometimes I would get the warning too but it would resolve automatically. Maybe iPhone looked into cached content and removed un-needed stuff on its own. Now, a couple of times I need to receive a couple of large files (about 3 GB each) into iPhone via AirDrop - they were backups of an important DB that I had created for my personal use over couple of months using rate-limiting APIs and I was about to upgrade my macOS so I wanted to make a copy ASAP and AirDropping them to iPhone did not look like a bad idea. But I did not have enough space on the device. When I looked into what was taking space, I found a large amount of “other” data. When I searched for solutions, I found that I could have a lot of Apple Music cache. So I tried to switch off “optimised storage” setting and guess what?… nothing happened. No space was reclaimed. So I deleted the app and reinstalled it. No changes. Basically I just could not free up the 25 GB space that Apple Music app had put in the other category using any tricks. The only thing that worked later was to reset the phone completely. If you uninstall any app on iPhone, all storage used by that app gets reclaimed by the OS in a minute or so. But Apple’s own app is immune to such useless goodies. And guess what? Apple has the audacity to say “It just works” and project that they know better about our needs than we do.
Apple TV Remote
When I purchased my Apple TV 4K, I got the infamous Siri Remote. It is cumbersome to use so iPhone became the default TV Remote app. This was useful as we could use the device which is almost always near us (iPhone) to control the TV. But then, problems started coming in - one iPhone connects well and works well with the TV. The second one sometimes just does not connect and sometimes it does. A much older one (latest OS) connects well but is unable to control the volume. So if I have to change the volume, I have to pickup the right iPhone and make sure it connects and works as expected. We resorted to using the Siri remote.
On top of that, they removed the TV Remote app from the App Store. That thing still looks and behaves as an app - it shows as one in the application switcher. But I can’t simply drag its icon on my home screen. Instead I need to create a shortcut, set its icon and then create its icon on home screen - much more cumbersome compared to just letting it stay as an app.
That’s something you can say is an awesome example of It just works (barely, somehow).
Obsidian and Google Pixel - The actual trigger point
Obsidian - The Rock-Solid note taking app
All the issues that I just stated are annoyances. They stayed with me and I was still using iPhone (I still do). Then one day I got introduced to Obsidian. Now, I have used a very good number of note taking apps over the years and my preferences towards note taking have been quite a bit different from people around me, mostly because of my experiences.
I have struggled to organise with Apple Notes. I have struggled to sync multiple devices and upload larger files with EverNote. I lost a pretty large sized notebook with OneNote (one day it just told me that the notebook was corrupted) and that made me wish I had not trusted it with so much of my data and really wanted some sort of backup or rollback-in-time feature. I have felt visually confused with Google Keep. I used Zoho NoteBook and did not like its looks when I used its sketch tool. I have struggled to search typed notes in Notability and I didn’t really like its interface a lot. All in all, I have just been dissatisfied as far as digital note-taking is concerned.
Then I was introduced to NotePlan and I became an instant fan because it helped me organise my days, my thoughts, helped manage my time during a day as well as plan ahead and schedule things and whatnot. It also stored everything as text files (Markdown Format) and all attachments were saved just as regular files. I had folders to organize, tags to help search - so I could just zip the folder and I would have a backup of all my notes which I could read even on CLI (which is cool and I can read my notes on a CLI terminal in case nothing else was functioning and it was a total apocalypse). I could write a simple script to print them all at once if I wanted. I was totally mesmerised. And then I started feeling the need for more. It started with not being able to create tables (back then Noteplan did not support markdown tables). And then I wished I could read HTML files inline, or be able to connect to JIRA. Those were the things I wanted but could not get on Noteplan.
And then I found Obsidian. Obsidian did everything that Noteplan did except it wasn’t as great a time manager but that was okay because I got introduced to a hell lot of great plugins which I could use to tailor Obsidian to my needs. I could zip the main vault folder and it would contain my plugins, settings, notes, all the attachments - everything. I can write thousands of words about which all plugins I use and how they help me but that’s a separate post (I hope to write that soon).
All in all, Obsidian became my go-to tool for any thought that came into head. And of course I wanted it to be available on my Mobile. And in comes the problem! Obsidian as a standalone tool is awesome. But the part where it does not work all too well is - sync. It does not sync by default. Of course you can choose to pay $10 per month but then, that’s a steep price and there are other note-taking solutions that can serve my needs (although not 100%) at half the price. While price itself was not the issue and I could have paid, I realised that between my Mac and iPhone, I could just use iCloud Drive sync to keep the vault synced across devices.
iCloud made me feel like iAmStupid
So one day I installed an awesome plugin called “Icon Folder” in Obsidian and download a couple Icon Packs and that downloaded thousands of icons (SVG format) in the Obsidian vault and since then, the iCloud Drive is in Syncing state. I hasn’t synced yet and it has been almost a month!
Desperate and Determined, I started looking for more solutions. Alas, nothing else can actually work with the Mac-iPhone Duo. Around the same time, I got my hands on a Google Pixel 7 Pro device and sure as
hell earth, I was astonished at how good a device this was. Now, before I talk about the phone, let me finish the Obsidian side of things because that’s how I started liking the device too.
So, I wanted a device which could sync with Obsidian Vault on my laptop. The Google Pixel 7 was running Android and there was no way that I could have gotten to use iCloud Drive over there. So what else might work? Google Drive? I mean you can have some folders synced and kept offline, right? Yes, but those offline folders are not easily locatable and accessible on the device! Hmmm and that’s the case with every single cloud provider - you can’t easily access your downloaded/synced files on the file system.
Android literally has all sorts of apps
I found out that FolderSync did what I wanted - it could keep a folder on my device (Android Phone) synced with a cloud storage (Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox etc.) but the problem was its interface - the tool was pretty difficult to configure and was confusing enough that I could not use it for more than a week. The second problem was that I wanted it to stay in sync (constantly upload changes and download any change immediately) and it could not do that.
So I fell back on the time-tested and super-reliable sync method which is used by some of the most complex syncing requirements for text files -
git. It had been quite some time that I had gone to the geek level of things and my knowledge about Android ecosystem and what all it offered today. Upon a little bit of search I came across the amazingly powerful app called Termux. Termux could be downloaded from GitHub, F-Droid as well as Play Store. I downloaded it from GitHub and was pleasantly surprised to see that I could use it almost like a full blown Linux system. I can tell you what all you can do or you can read it on the Termux Homepage yourself.
So I eventually installed
git, generated keys, set them up on my GitHub account and tried out some simple commands to test if the sync worked with my desktop or not. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it did! Except one hiccup that I had to try to install ssh twice, everything worked smoothly. Pretty soon, I wrote two scripts, one for each my laptop and for Termux to keep syncing my notes using
git. It runs every 5 minutes on all my devices and I am yet to find a flaw in the setup. The only thing that I have to keep in mind when switching devices is to make sure that I wait for 5-10 minutes before starting to write/modify contents on another device. If something goes wrong, I have an entire history of the notes in my GitHub and am safe from a Catastrophe which could wipe out my entire notes collected over a long period of time; these notes have travelled from all those note taking apps I mentioned (Keep, Zoho Notebook, OneNote, EverNote, Notability, Apple Notes etc.) and are now on Obsidian.
The Pixel Device
While all this was happening, of course I was using the device regularly. Pixel devices are famous for giving out excellent pixels in pictures you take from the device camera. And it did. I was pleased to see the shot, especially low-light pictures. I have an iPhone 12, which by no means is the latest and greatest in camera tech in the Apple arena. But if I have to buy one for the sake of pictures, I think I would get a Pixel 7 Pro at about half the price of what iPhone 14 Pro comes for. There are people who are not happy enough with the 50 MP sensor but 12 MP images coming out of Pixel but honestly, I don’t much care about that. It is better to have 1 clear pixel than have 4 blurred/stretched ones (just going by the ratio here).
The one thing which I do not like about Pixel (and any Android device) yet is that when I take a picture of a printed page (assume A4 sheet) with fine print in such a way that the picture covers all 4 corners fully in the picture, the letters in and near the corner of the sheet would appear a little unclear (blur-stretched). That’s not a problem with iPhone (any iPhone being sold today).
The battery life is good enough to carry me through the day and I usually plug all my devices through the night so I am okay with the battery. Most other things work, obviously.
If you had asked me 5 years ago if iPhone is better or Android, I would have said iPhone and I would have been right. Now? I am not so sure!
There are a few things which I want to highlight here about my usage though which are completely irrelevant to me and some things which are absolutely important and non-negotiable for a device that I would use.
- Stability - If I pickup the phone to dial someone in a hurry, I don’t care what the phone is doing right then; what apps are running, what is running in the background, foreground, sideground, middleground or wherever; the phone has to take priority and I should be able to message or call. I don’t want my messenger to crash when I am attaching a pic. Stability is utmost important. An unstable phone is useless.
- Connectivity - I connected a device (headset, watch, TV, whatever). It should stay connected. Of course, the other device can also be bad but the phone has to be extremely stable at connectivity. I don’t want audio getting routed from my headset to my loudspeaker either. I don’t want it to automatically connect to my 2nd WiFi because it’s there - must honor the connection preferences and indicate information as much as possible so that I can take decisions. I am not keep on 5G because honestly I don’t have much use of that crazy speed.
- Easily manageable - I don’t want to search for stupidity on the phone and remove it every now and then. If I uninstall an App then the cache, preferences etc. should go away. This seems to have been done with Android to a very large extent.
- Games don’t matter - I have not been a mobile gamer beyond some casual games here or there (like Angry Birds) and anything above 24-30 FPS is enough for me. So if gaming performance sucks, I won’t complain as long as some basic stuff can run smoothly enough.
- Video Playback doesn’t matter much either - I don’t watch many videos on my phone. Most of the times it’s just some short clips or Tech Videos on YouTube. Colour Reproduction, 2160p resolution, 120 FPS are not that important to me. Pixel density above what iPhone 4 had is enough as well; of course the clearer the better and almost no phone today has a pixel density worse than iPhone 4 so… that’s cool.
- Storage - Photos, Files, Notes, Calendar - most are just online, like most other people so storage above 64 GB is not that critical, though 128 is always welcome. Storage above 128 GB is not of much use to me.
- Camera - I have just two requirements. First is that I should be able to take good still pictures and it should not look bad (most phones are decent enough). Second that if I take pictures of a document, there has to be a way for me to take a pic which is clear. Apart from that, anything additional is always welcome. So iPhone are obviously great and phones that have either a large sensor (so that the middle part is clear and I can take a picture of a sheet by placing it in the middle and then cropping the pic later) or a better post-processing is good.
I have to say that I remember watching only parts of Google I/O posted by others over the years. This year (2023) is the first time I watched an entire Google I/O event live telecast. It was incredibly boring and I was pretty underwhelmed. I have never been so bored listening to that word. Repeated over and over again. Watching Google I/O reminded me of how awesome Apple’s presentations are. I mean they have the art to tell us that they have used last year’s chip in this year’s iPhone (iPhone 14) and still convince us enough that we would look forward to buying it. But as much as AI as a word was boring, I am mind-blown by some of the AI magic in Pixel 7 Pro (Tensor G2). I would list which ones are the most amazing though in Pixel 7 Pro.
- (Low Light) Photography - Yeah it does not matter a lot to me and I have not had a dedicated camera (DSLR or otherwise) so maybe this is not something amazing to those who do night sky photography but to me, this level of detail in 5 seconds exposure was amazing! Even daytime pictures are amazing. I have not tried iPhone 14 Pro for long enough to compare but what I saw in Pixel was amazing.
- Speech to Text - This is an amazing feature about Pixel that I have not seen any other phone doing. If you switch on the voice recorder app, you can record audio (of course) but you have a second tab where the phone keeps on also converting your speech to text. It is crazy good at catching what you are trying to say. What’s most amazing (and this is considering Siri/Apple also does about the same thing on any text field with its built-in keyboard) is that when I switch from English to hindi and back or insert hindi words in english speech or english words in hindi speech, it catches them extremely accurately. It can also convert my text into hindi (devanagari script) without any difficulty. This power is also transferred to the GBoard keyboard which is the default. So I can simply click on ‘reply’, click on the mic button and speak what I want to reply and send it!
- Video Stabilisation - Of course iPhone 14 Pro has it. But the video stabilisation on Pixel is crazy good. I am not the guy who wants the most color-accurate video and what Pixel gives me is generally fine. I mean we can always tune them offline if we need to publish them somewhere. As long as a Video makes me remember the moment and the fondness, the nitty-gritties don’t really matter; a unstable video is a bad memory, usually.
- Live Translation (images and voice) - I know that Google Translate and Google Lens can do that even on iPhone but the on-device intelligence of Tensor G2 helps immensely in this one.
Can I make the switch?
So am I 100% onboard the Android wagon now? I mean I have let go of AirPods, I no longer use iPad much, have no problems shifting all my photos either and am listening to music on YT Music. Plus, I am praising Android (Pixel). So I should be able to make the switch to Android anytime now, right? Unfortunately, not really. There are still things that I am attached to in Apple’s Ecosystem out of which one is a pretty powerful reason - AirTags.
Find my Network
The most important things even now is the AirTag. I have a few of them, attached to multiple items, mostly keys that are important. And since AirTags can be located outside of the Bluetooth coverage of your device, it is immensely useful. This Google I/O saw the release of a similar solution being launched for the Android Ecosystem. It is only a matter to time that such a solution will come into existence for Android as well. That would make sure that I won’t be as attached to Apple ecosystem as I am right now.
The Privacy Argument
The second most important one is Privacy. I remember Mr. Pichai mentioning it somewhere along the lines of “You can’t just sell data privacy as a feature”. Looks like, Apple CAN! Now I remember that on a discussion (I think it was Twitter), I told someone that Safari is a privacy focussed browser and the other guy asked me something like “Who told you that? I do not subscribe to the idea of induced sense of privacy.” I don’t remember the exact words but I still remember the idea. Well, I use Firefox as my browser on all platforms (open source, cross platform and has all the features that I need anyway) so that part is sorted. I know Google collects data about me and uses it to its own benefit. But then that’s their business model. That’s what they do! But then, with time, Apple has been sneaking ads into our lives as well - they are here on the AppStore and with new screens asking us our consent to send data to Apple, I don’t see how my data is now private enough with Apple either. I mean yes, they don’t show me ads on every damn website but I fear the process has started. Of course this is a hunch and a personal opinion.
I do not feel confident giving Google way too much info but as much as I tried to avoid Google, there was no way to do so. I have tried using Apple Maps and Here Maps but nothing could beat the accuracy and navigation of Google Maps. There are no alternatives to YouTube. I use Firefox and DuckDuckGo but I do have to use Google Search at times. I don’t do much documents, spreadsheets or presentations so I don’t use Google Drive + Office products either but every now and then, when I have to talk to a friend to help them over with something, they would send a “Google Meet” link. Whenever I need to sync contacts between my Android and iPhone, I would have to use Google Contacts (I just can’t use Microsoft’s solution because it is so hard to import/export contact from any non-outlook system).
I do not click on Ads and I have systems in place which ensure that Ads don’t distract me either (Ironically, I can do that better on an Android than on an iPhone). Now, I am not against advertisements. Advertisement is a source of income for a lot of businesses and it is a good thing because without that it would takes ages for a good product to surface. What I have been against (and still am) is using the data collected to target ads to me in a way that psychologically manipulates me into thinking that I need something more urgently than I actually do. Since I have ways and discipline to avoid looking at Ads, that side of things doesn’t really bother me much.
That being said, I am still a bit skeptical of handing over everything. One of my friends pointed out that (and I agree) that no matter what we use - Dropbox, Onedrive, Google Drive, iCloud or something else, as long as we are using one on the reliable, famous tools which everyone else uses and intend to share data with others (docs, pictures etc.), someone will have our data. And then he added “but what do we really need to secure anyway? I mean apart from our netbanking passwords?” and he was right in so many ways.
Now, the alternate setup where everything is under control of the individual is much more difficult to setup. I am good at those things (setting things up that serve my purpose) and yet even with all the info, I keep falling behind in setting the entire thing up individually. The best middleground that I found was to encrypt data that is really sensitive using tools that can be verified by us and keep the rest online (which is what at least 90% of the world does). I mean I have been sending my data to Microsoft (I use Premium OneDrive) and I think I have been fine. So yes, I have been encrypting data myself, keeping it under my control and most of the rest of the data is synced online anyway.
Stability - The biggest reason
If there is one Android phone that you should and could rightly compare iPhone against, it is Google Pixel - the hardware, software and default apps - all are created or controlled by the same company. All these days, I have seen Android doing what it does the best to irritate me and drive me away - being unstable. In the last 1 month or so I have seen hung and unresponsive lock screen, notification drawer behaving erratic and refusing to come down. I have seen the camera app crash the moment I clicked on the shutter/capture button. I have seen delays between a call’s vibration starting and the call showing up on the screen seconds later. I have seen app launches causing the entire phone to hang and whatnot.
Honestly, I think Samsung is doing a better job of making stable Android phones than Google itself. This is one thing that keeps me away from Android altogether. So no, I am not handing over the most important companion of my digital life to something as unstable.
Android is one of those projects in the world that builds on top of itself in every iteration. The power of this inifinite recursion to improve itself is one of the things I believe Apple and its loyalists have mistaken as imperfection (I am one of those who is a culprit of the same) and that might just be wrong. Android has come a long way as far as stability is concerned but there are still smaller glitches to be fixed, but I guess that depends on who is building the final deliverable OS and Samsung seems to be doing a better job than Google itself. Maybe a flagship like S23 Ultra or something of that league would change my mind but for now Google Pixel 7 Pro doesn’t give me enough confidence to ditch my iPhone just yet (even if I ignore the points I just made above).
Smaller things from Apple’s Ecosystem that I can live without or have workarounds for
Of course Apple’s Ecosystem gives me a lot of smaller things which I realise I have nowhere from. This is the kind of stuff Tim Cook phrases as “things only Apple can do” on launch events. I do realise that I don’t have those from elsewhere but over the years I have found that in a natural flow of life, I don’t really use these features much (but you might and this is just a small list to remind you that if you want to make the switch, you would have to let go of these).
- Continuity - This is the feature where you start something on device and continue doing that on another device - for example, continue browsing from iPhone to Mac (and vice-versa) or start working on an email on Mac and finish on the iPhone. Honestly, in most (if not all) cases, you would have such data synced to cloud almost instantly while you are working on one device and your other device can continue with the data from cloud too. I have never missed using this feature anywhere.
- Handoff - This is the feature where you can pickup calls from your iPhone on your mac or iPad (vice-versa in case of FaceTime calls as well). I almost always pickup the calls on my phone only. So I don’t use this feature much either. But that’s just me.
- Clipboard - This is where you copy something from one device and paste it on another. For example, you copy OTP from your iPhone and paste it on Mac. I have found myself using less and less of it since I have my SMS syncing using Google’s Messages. The Two-Factor OTP codes from Authy were another case but then I have authy installed on all devices so I don’t really need the clipboard feature.
- Extract objects from pictures - This is the feature where I long press on some object in the iPhone/iPad’s Photos application and it extracts out the object and then I can copy paste that object into another app. This is an immensely cool use of AI but apart from showing off that capability, I don’t really know what to do with it; neither do I know anyone who have any practical use of that feature.
- iCloud Family Pictures - Now this one is a feature that I absolutely love! You setup who are in your Family, pick some people (facially recognised by iPhone’s AI) from your Photos, set some rules and then some or all of your photos taken by you and the people in your family start appearing inside a shared family-only album. This helps share pictures amongst the family without actually having to do anything manually about it! Astounding feature and I find it useful but then it is new and I think I have lived without it in the past and can live without it in future too. I used to have shared albums on OneDrive and I still have those. So it does not make enough difference to make me stick to Apple’s Ecosystem. Also, the same feature does exist on Google Photos with a different name: Partner Sharing but I haven’t tried it yet as I am still in the process of migrating the Apple Photos library to Google Photos.
- Easy handling of Domain Email using iCloud+ - If you have a domain name which was purchased but you have not setup the email on that domain, iCloud’s Paid subscriptions allow you to enable email on those domains with just a few clicks. All you need to do is to authorise with your DNS service provider, confirm that you want to do it, choose email address for the domain (you can pick one for each family member) and that’s it - you can now receive and send emails using your custom domain name using iCloud’s Email Servers. You don’t have to know what MX Records are, what is DKIM, SPF and so on. But then I know those things and I prefer to use my own Email Service provider. There is one little detail though - Apple does not allow you to change the Sender’s name against an email address. So you can have a
firstname.lastname@example.org address but when you send an email using that email address via iCloud+, your email will appeared to have been sent via “Vaibhav Kaushal” (if that’s your name in Apple account). So I prefer not to use it, especially since I do understand the technicalities just enough to setup the things myself with a better service provider with better features and management.
- Karaoke in Apple Music - If you want to have the background music minus the vocals from a track so that you could sing along (that’s what karaoke means for the uninitiated), Apple Music provides a magical solution to do that on a number of tracks. Just press a button and it will remove the vocals with the lyrics still being displayed on the screen so that you can sing along. The way Apple Music syncs the lyrics being displayed exactly with what is being sung in the track is pretty cool. But then none of that has any practical use for me.
- Headphone Safety - iPhone has a neat feature where they alert you if your audio level exposure has crossed safe limits and it is an exceptionally great feature if you are in a habit of listening to music at loud volumes. This feature itself however is responsible for fixing my habit and am now habituated enough to not needing to use it. So yes, as of now, I can actually live without this feature.
This is probably the longest post I have written in the last 6 years. The last time was when I was writing for Digit. If you read all the way till here then thank you. If you have not, I understand why; the post is really pretty long and if you come from the generation which is used to reading headlines and skipping detail, the post must be torturous to you. That’s okay. I did not write this to gain readership. I am leaving it here in the hope that someone, somewhere someday will find it useful.
I would like to end with the note that yes, Android has come a long way since the early days. The last 3 versions have really added to the sense of safety on the platform (how it feels, rather than the feature set). Yes, I am still not fully moving over to Android but maybe someday I will.
PS: I might update this post in the future.