My Thoughts About Using Android Again as an iPhone User
Published on 07/03/2021, 1423 words, 6 minutes to read
I used to be a hardcore Android user. It was my second major kind of smartphone (the first was Windows Mobile 6.1 on a T-Mobile Dash) and it left me hooked to the concept of smartphones and connected tech in general. I've used many Android phones over the years but one day I rage-switched over to an iPhone. My Samsung Galaxy S7 pissed me off for the last time and I went to the Apple store and bought an iPhone 7 on the spot. I popped my sim card into it (after a lovely meal at Panda Express) and I was off to the races. I haven't really used Android since other than in little stints with devices like the Amazon Fire 7 (because it was so darn cheap).
Recently I realized that it would be very easy to package up my website for the Google Play Store using pwabuilder. I've been shipping my site as a progressive web app (PWA) for years (and use that PWA for testing how the site looks on my phone), but aside from the occasional confused screenshot that's been tweeted at me I've never actually made much use of this. It does do an additional level of caching (which is why you can load a bunch of pages on the site, disconnect from the internet and then still browse those pages that you loaded like you were online) though, which helps a lot with the bandwidth cost of this site.
So, I decided to ship this site as an Android app. You can download it from the Google Play Store here and get a partially native experience. It worked perfectly in the Android emulator but you really need to experience it on a phone to know for sure. On a whim I grabbed a Moto g8 Power from Amazon and then I used it for the final testing on the app before I shipped it on the Google Play store. I unboxed the phone, set it up, plugged it into my MacBook and then hit "run" in Android Studio. The app installed instantly and I saw the homepage for my site.
It was a magical experience. Me, someone that has no idea what they are doing with Android app development was able to take an existing project I've poured years of work into and make it work on a phone like a native app. I literally just had the phone barely out of the box and my code was running natively on it. I don't have to worry about the app timing out, I don't have to pay Google money to test things on my own device, I just hit play and it runs.
This is the kind of developer experience I wish I could have on iOS. I used to have a paid developer cert for resigning a few personally hacked up apps, but when I moved to Canada and changed over my cards to have Canadian billing addresses I lost the ability to purchase a renewal for my developer certificate. I can change my Apple account over to a Canadian one but doing that means I have to delete my Apple Music subscription and that would delete all of the custom uploaded music I have in the cloud. I have more music up there than I have disk space locally, so this is not really a viable option.
Meanwhile on Android you just open the box, turn the phone on, set it up, press on the build number 10 times, enable USB debugging, plug it in, confirm debug access and bam, you're in. You can test an unlimited number of Android apps forever. I can give the APK to people and then they can tell me if it works on their device. You cannot do this on iOS. It's making me really consider if iOS really is the best option for me going forward.
But then the claws of the Apple ecosystem show their face. I have an iPad, MacBook Air, Apple Watch, iPhone and AirPods. If I end up switching to Android as my main phone I make my watch significantly less useful. I won't have the seamless notification syncing to my wrist unless I buy a new watch. I don't really know if I want to do that.
At the same time though, Android lets me poke around and change things that bother me. I can make animations faster, which makes the phone feel so much more snappy and responsive. I can rip out Chrome and replace it with something else. I can choose which app to use for text messages. I have agency and power over my experience in ways that iOS simply cannot match. As a tinkerer that mains a NixOS tower this is a huge factor for me. And then I'm able to test my apps for free. I can just do it. I don't have to worry about dev certs, licenses or anything else. I just put the app on the phone and I'm done.
Android's UX is a lot different than it was when I used it last. The last Android phone I used had hardware home, menu and back buttons. This Moto g8 Power seems to have some kind of gesture control mode that mostly emulates modern iPhone gesture controls, so my muscle memory isn't totally freaked out. It was a bit more sensitive than I would have liked out of the box, but I was easily able to tweak the sensitivity until I got to a level I was comfortable with. This would have never been able to happen on iOS.
I guess this post is a lot more rambly and less focused than I thought it would be while I was outlining it on paper. I didn't go into this expecting a 1:1 experience matchup with what I have on iOS. This phone is not nearly powerful enough to make them comparable, however I can easily just pick it up, do what I need and it does it. I'm considering getting a burner sim for this thing so I can take it with me instead of (or in addition to) my iPhone. The camera is decent, but I don't really have any good comparison shots yet. Android and iOS are at a state of convergent evolution at this point. They both do about the same things. Android is more easily customizeable and iOS is more about a guided experience. Neither is really "better" at this point, but I guess it really will boil down to the ecosystem you want.
Apple's walled garden approach has a lot of things in its favor. You can buy accessories from the Apple Store and they will just work. You can seamlessly copy things from your phone to your tablet or your laptop. iCloud and Airdrop glue your machines together, and in the future I can only anticipate that each of those devices will get more and more muddled together until there's not really a difference between them. Android has a lot of options. There's over 15,000 Android devices out there with official Google Play support. They're all at different patch states and have different gimmicks to distinguish them, but you have an unparalleled amount of choice and agency. This means that there's less of a consistent total experience, however it leaves a lot of room for experimentation and innovation.
I like this phone and the instance of Android that runs on it. The only real downside I've seen so far is that the update notes are in Spanish. I have no idea why they're in Spanish, I don't speak Spanish and the phone's UI language is set to English, but I get "Seguridad de Android" patches on it and that's my life now.
A lot of the Airdrop and integration features I've been missing have been supplemented by Taildrop and Tailscale in general. It's really satisfying to be able to work for a company that makes the annoyingly hard problem of "make computers talk to eachother" so trivial.
Overall, it's a 7/10 experience for me. I'd likely choose Android if I wasn't so entrenched in the Apple/iOS ecosystem. If only it wasn't so tied into Google's fangs.
Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.
Tags: android, iphone