Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Switching from Android to iPhone

February 20, 2013
I've been an Android user since 2009, when the first Motorola Droid came out. I didn't want an iPhone because Apple locked it down so much: They have to approve every app in the App Store, they have to approve every library that developers use, and apps have limited access to the rest of the system. Android was the open alternative to the iPhone and its app ecosystem (with every major app eventually being built for both systems) was a close match for Apple's. As a programmer using open-source software all the time, I was philosophically partial to Android. The Droid's killer app was turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps, which I used all the time on the road, and I live in Google's cloud.

I don't remember much from the Droid mark 1, but it couldn't have been too bad, because I upgraded to the Motorola Droid 3 in August 2011, before we moved to Argentina. It was a good option because it was a world phone — CDMA for Verizon at home and GSM-compatible for the rest of the world — and I was able to connect it to an Argentine phone+data plan. (We put "dumb" phones on the U.S. lines to keep them active for $10/month with Steph's parents' family plan.)

I never liked the Droid 3 much, though. It was slow and buggy from the beginning. The camera app crashed from day one and Motorola was slow to release updates. A few months ago I rooted it and wiped it clean to try to clean out the bloat, but it quickly got slow again. The process of taking a picture — turn it on, open the camera app, snap a picture, view the picture, share it — could take three minutes. Every little interaction lagged. Occasionally I'd have to make an important call and it would completely crap out.

The problem was, I had gotten it on a standard Verizon subsidized plan (where the monthly fee basically includes a high interest rate on the phone), and they only let you upgrade every 20 months. But I really didn't want to wait until April. It was getting absurd, being an engineer with a dysfunctional smartphone.

Also by this point, I had become pretty disillusioned with Android. It's really open in name only: Each manufacturer builds its own closed system on top of the open one. Motorola had neglected the Droid 3, with the last official update based on Android 2.3, from early 2011. After rooting it, I tried to install custom ROMs, custom distributions created in the open-source community, but none of them supported the phone's hardware, so basic features like the camera didn't work.

The mobile developers at work confirmed that this isn't a problem only with old models: The latest  Samsung Galaxy models have all kinds of "special" bugs. Some manufacturers use their own libraries for things as basic as screen rotation. So Android developers have to buy 100 devices and test their app on every single one. (And a 2011 model like the Droid3 won't be one of those 100.) Most people obviously can't afford to do that, so apps just don't work. The newer the phone, the more likely apps are to break on it, because developers probably haven't gotten to test it yet.

So I decided to switch to iOS. I've been a Mac user since 2008 and love Apple's design aesthetic. Their complete end-to-end control — they design the chips, the screen, the camera, and the operating system — means there are far fewer points of failure, and they can test all of them. The iOS developers at work like that each version of their app takes a week to get to the App Store, because it guarantees a baseline of quality.

Set on an iPhone 5, I started exploring alternative pricing models to Verizon's contract plans. I wrote here about various options I found. The plan I decided to go with was T-Mobile's $30/month pre-paid plan, with unlimited data ("first 5 GB up to 4G speeds," then 3G), unlimited SMS, and only 100 minutes of talking per month. That balance is pretty much exactly what I need, and the price is awesome.

Learn more: Prepaid plan options with the iPhone 5

I've had the new phone for two days and I love it so far. I've installed all the same apps and a bunch more, and there's no lag anywhere. Everything just feels smooth and polished. I love the built-in video calling with FaceTime. The quality trickles down: the NY Times app on Android, for example, is slow to update and slow to respond to clicks; the same app on the iPhone is slick. I was getting 12Mbps download speeds downtown, which seems pretty fast. Integration with Google cloud services is basically as good as Android's. I watched Breaking Bad on the subway this morning and the picture was beautiful.

Android's not going anywhere, obviously; I just think it'll mostly capture the lower end of the market, the way Blackberry used to do (or the way Windows does with PCs). That "lower end" is probably 80 percent of the market (especially abroad), so it's enormous, and will give Apple plenty of healthy competition. But at the top of the line, for sheer quality, I've now confirmed with first-hand experience what I've read for a while, that Apple has a huge lead. It's nice to join the club.

- Ben

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