Last week, I joined what must be millions of other technology nerds (if my Twitter and Facebook friends are any indication) in getting rid of my iPhone 3G* in favor of an Android-based phone. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Aren’t iPhones basically the best smartphones on the market? Increasingly, I’m not sure that’s the case. Besides, it’s not simply about overall phone quality.
The reasons I switched closely mirror those than Daniel Lyons outlined in his piece at Newsweek. Here’s the breakdown of the reasons I jumped ship, and why I think many formerly loyal iPhone users might be jumping ship, too.
First, there’s AT&T. I live and work in San Francisco, which is basically ground zero for crappy AT&T service. I was tired of the dropped calls, but I don’t talk on the phone all that much. The bigger problem was having “four bars” of 3G service, trying to go to a website, and being told there was no network connection. I can’t count the times I’ve reloaded a web page or TweetDeck trying to get my seemingly well-connected phone online. My contract with AT&T was over, so this was a good opportunity to jump ship to Verizon. I don’t really care if Verizon’s 3G isn’t quite as fast as AT&T 3G. Slightly slower but reliable beats faster and spotty every time. (This, by the way, is why carriers and phone vendors should cut it out with the exclusivity deals. When AT&T loses a customer, so does Apple. When Apple loses a customer, chances are high that AT&T does, too.)
Then we have Apple’s app store policies. Apple is changing the terms in their OS 4 update to the iPhone (coming this summer) to basically disallow any intermediate software layers in the creation of iPhone apps. This means devs can’t use Adobe’s popular Flash-to-iPhone compiler, nor products like MonoTouch. The Unity 3D engine may or may not be affected. Is it Apple’s right to do this? Maybe, but I don’t really care. Apple’s official reason is that intermediate software layers produce sub-standard products. The sorry state of iTunes on Windows, which uses CoreFoundation and CoreGraphics, might prove their point. But shouldn’t developers and consumers be the ones to decide if software is crappy or not? And if Apple is so concerned about software quality, how come so many Apps make it to the App Store in an almost unusably buggy state? How come there are so many completely worthless junk apps? Apple’s quality concerns are demonstrably B.S.
Apple also refuses to support Flash in its browser. Fair enough. Maybe the future of web video and interactive entertainment is HTML5, but the now of web video and interactive entertainment is Flash. Video sites that rely on protecting content can’t use HTML5 video yet, and HTML5 is a long way from having the tools or penetration necessary to make the equivalent of Flash’s incredibly popular web games. Google went ahead and demonstrated how well Flash can run on a phone – Apple claims they give you the “whole web” on iPhone and iPad, but Google is actually delivering it.
Which brings me to Froyo (Google’s cute name for Android 2.2). I’m mighty impressed by what Google is doing here. It’s very fast, has some great new developer features, integrated honest-to-goodness Flash 10.1 without compromises, tethering, and more. Of course, iPhone OS 4 brings with it a host of big changes, and it looks like video chat will probably be part of that. But I’d have to buy a new iPhone, and that may mean sticking with AT&T. The only problem is, I don’t have any confidence that Apple will implement video chat in some sort of standards-compliant way. I feel like video chat is likely to be iPhone-to-iPhone only, or maybe to Macs with iChat.
Ultimately, my reason for switching can be summed up thusly: I used to feel that, to get the best smartphone software and hardware experience, I had to live in Apple’s walled garden. Now, the walls are getting higher, and life outside the garden looks better and better. I can get a really great smartphone without some company telling me I can’t switch out the keyboard, or the dialer, or the voice mail program, or the browser. I can get a world-class smartphone without putting up with AT&T’s spotty network. I don’t have to put up with supporting a company that enforces its restrictive App Store policies in a seemingly arbitrary and draconian manner. I’m not sure I agree with those who say Google has “leapfrogged” Apple in phone development, but I certainly think they’re doing a comparably good job.
So, last week, I walked into Best Buy and bought an HTC Droid Incredible, and so far I’ve been more than happy with it. Now if only more game developers would flock to Android as customers seem to have done. Oh well, I still have my iPad for that (I’d buy someone’s else’s tablet if anyone was making a tablet nearly as good as the iPad).