I left Android for the iPhone 6s Plus. First I hated it. Then I didn't
Here's what changed: Buying a new phone and switching platforms can be a pretty big endeavor. Sometimes, it's important to take a step back and learn the new platform before raging against the machine.
I've been using (and trying to get used to) the iPhone 6s Plus as my daily-use handset after a few years in the open, wild west of freedom that Android provides.
It's taken me a few days to figure out, especially since I've been using another iPhone as a nightly reader for years. But I didn't feel the full force of the closed and limited Apple ecosystem until I had to rely solely on an Apple device to manage voice and text communications.
After spending nearly $2,500 on two phones with Apple Care+, I wanted to feel like I got something new and good, rather than something I'd have to constantly fight with in order to derive some value from.
I asked myself, "Shouldn't something this brand new and this popular feel good to use?" Instead, every time I picked up the phone, I got that twinge that said, "Oh man, what fresh hell will I experience with whatever I'm about to try doing now?" Even though I hadn't found any deal-breakers, I was considering returning the thing,
Fundamentally, the difference between iOS and Android is control -- whether you have control or cede it to the world's most profitable corporation. There are tremendous nuances in that difference, and these nuances often reveal themselves in seemingly unimportant yet grating ways.
There's another fundamental difference. Google is Web-centric while Apple is device-centric. Let me give you an example that, again, seems like a nit but is oh-so-annoying.
The App Store experience
If you want to shop for an app, one of the best ways to do so on Android is to point your browser at play.google.com, shop through all the apps you like, and send the apps you find to your phone. You can do this on a big screen, from any browser.
On iOS, you can't. You can't even download iTunes to a computer and then send an app to an unconnected phone. If you want to use iTunes to select apps, it seemed like you actually had to plug in your iPhone to that computer. With, like, a cord. As it turns out, you can buy an app in iTunes and it will show up in your Purchased folder on your device. One of our editors also tells me that if you have automatic downloads turned on, it will download, but I haven't yet tested that.
iOS app browsing on the Web is a grudging thing. It's slow, and it feels as if Apple really dislikes even letting you see app choices via a browser. They'd much rather you use the App Store app on an iPhone or iPad.
I can understand this approach, and it's certainly not a deal-breaker. But it is annoying.
Texting across platforms
In fact, Apple is all about letting you jump between Apple devices (so if you have a few iPads and an iPhone, you're golden). They'll even let you send and receive texts from your Mac -- not from a browser, but from their own Messages app.
If you're on Windows, that can be frustrating. As someone who has spent years sending and receiving texts via a browser window or Hangouts, it seems restrictive. Google Voice was one approach, but after four years on Google Voice, I finally ported my Google Voice number to the iPhone.
There are work arounds. Verizon offers a Web-based messaging portal where it's possible to send out text messages that originate with your phone's phone number. They won't sync perfectly with your phone, or be archived forever. But the ability to carry out a conversation, in real time, is mostly there.
From within the iPhone's Messages app, you can forward text messages or copy them, so if you do get a long message and want it on your PC, you can (with three or four taps) pretty easily get it on your computer.
Call blocking, voicemail, and Google Voice
Here's another example. Apple allows you to block callers. Calls that are blocked never ring, and never notify. Blocked callers can leave messages, though. Those messages go into a blocked callers messages folder. But that's it. There's no tweaking.
Here, too, there's a workaround. And this is where I started to do some time-and-space warping with Google Voice. First, when I bought this phone, I moved my Google Voice number to the phone. That's so that apps and gadgets that don't understand Google Voice will work with the phone. (I did a trade-off analysis a while back, and it made sense for me to move off Google Voice as my main number.)
On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to use Google Voice for sending voice messages to email. I set up a new Google Voice number and then set my voicemail number on the phone to Google Voice rather than Verizon.
This opens all sorts of new horizons. A caller blocked on the iPhone doesn't trigger any phone-based notifications, but is sent straight to Google Voice. I can set up Google Voice to take a message after playing my normal greeting, play a "this number is disconnected" message to spammers, or even play a special message to an individual caller.
That means, by combining the phone's blocking with Google Voice, I get a lot more control, not less. It's even possible to up the game one more notch by using the iPhone's Do Not Disturb functionality in concert with the favorites list, for some very fine-tuned control of call and message management.
Poor contacts syncing
Here's another example of why I started to hate this phone: contacts. For some reason, for a phone, Apple hasn't figured out contacts. Apple doesn't sync Google Contacts well, and groups go away. To make sure syncing works, you have to toggle on and off the account in the Settings app.
To be sure, there are a bunch of replacement Contacts apps -- and this is a big concession from Apple compared to the early days when they wouldn't allow any apps that duplicated core functionality -- but it's still troubling. One app that works quite well is, surprisingly enough, Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft gets heterogeneous system use far better than Apple does.
The launcher and Siri
Next, we get back to the folder icons in the launcher. I can't stand those small icons, and it baffles me why I can't simply give each folder its own icon. You would think something so simple would be easy to put into iOS, but it's not there yet. Still, as I wrote a few weeks ago, there are some nice launcher replacements that solve most of these annoyances.
And don't get me started on Siri. On my iPhone 4s, Siri wasn't stupid. But, as a first impression, on the iPhone 6s, Siri seemed like a complete nutjob. Asking Siri to wake me up at 10am results in the automated assistant dialing some random contact. In fact, asking Siri to do almost anything resulted in it trying to dial random contacts.
But, once again, that's not really the phone's fault. I didn't initially realize you had to turn Siri on (that sounds kinda dirty, but you know what I mean -- enable Siri in Settings). Without Siri enabled, the normal voice command button really doesn't have any smarts. With Siri enabled, a smart intelligent assistant (who is considerably smarter than Alexa) is now available on the phone.
Look, I understand that each of these complaints is nothing more than a nit. But I have a $950 phone that's supposed to be among the world's best ever -- and rather than enjoying whatever its benefits are supposed to be, I wound up obsessing about the restrictions.
It's not that the phone sucks; it's that you've got to... wait for it... think different.
Really, that's all there is to it. It's not that one platform is better than another, it's just that they're different. For a few days after buying the phone, I had buyer's remorse. But over time, as I figured out how to get what I wanted from the phone and discovered some very nice new features, the phone started to grow on me.
Changing platforms and changing phones is tough. (I know, #firstworldproblem.) We used to expect a ton of work when upgrading to a new PC, but a phone is a phone. Except that this phone is more powerful than many laptops, has more storage than any Chromebook, has the same video resolution as many 60-inch TVs, and runs more applications than any desktop PC user was ever able to dream of.
Of course it's going to take some getting used to. Of course a phone move is going to be a bit of a pain -- especially for a power user who has tweaked out everything and has lots of specialized needs.
Change takes time. That's the lesson I've re-learned here. Don't hate on your phone just because it's new or because you don't understand all it can do or how to do it. Take the time to get used to it, learn about it, make friends with it.
Unless I discover some massive deal-breaker in the next five days (I have 14 days to bring it back to the store), I'm keeping the phone. I quite like it.
Now, I just have to convince my wife to do the same.