A year ago, I wrote a post titled “Silicon Valley Slowly Awakens To Android.” Recently, I purchased a Nexus 5 as we develop and begin the early tests of Swell for Android, and I wanted to share some of my initial user experiences carrying phones on both mobile platforms. What I want to focus on in this post are the elements of the Android experience I enjoyed and the elements of the iOS experience that I missed — what I don’t want to focus on is the “Android is better” or “Android sucks” debate. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way…The last time I really spent time on Android was in the Spring of 2011. That was a frustrating experience for me. Now with a brand new Nexus, it’s a new world.
Here’s what I like about having a Nexus 5 so far: The larger screen is enjoyable for reading Pocket and watching YouTube videos. Notifications are easier to digest. The integration of Google Services makes things significantly easier. I found it easier to multitask and switch apps on Android. Having Google Now just up and running is obviously nice. I have SwiftKey but haven’t fiddled enough with it yet. My personal favorites so far are products which can only be built on Android: Cover and Aviate. Cover, as many of you already know, is a lockscreen app which leverages sensor data from the handset and predicts which apps users may want at specific times. It’s surprisingly good at presenting me with the app I want to use at a given time. One of the great attributes of Cover is it reduces the time to get into an app and the cognitive load of sorting through apps. While our phones are cluttered with apps we rarely use, Cover intelligently elevates the apps we engage with most-often. As Cover spreads, it will reward apps with organic daily active engagement. Aviate is similarly elegant, a new homescreen interface with tons of cool options. (I’m also excited to try Ingress, Agent, Cogi, and any other apps you could recommend.)
Now, here’s what I missed not using iPhone all the time: The slightly-smaller form factor for typing. The retina screen, of course. The responsiveness of the touchscreen glass. There are many apps (especially from startups) that just won’t be on Android for a while, as it’s more efficient for small companies to build new products and experiences going iOS-first. I also like that there’s no “back button” on iOS — that was a confusing element for me on Android, as I don’t think of going back to a previous screen on mobile (seems more like a browser), though I can see how some may like this.
I’ve been carrying two phones for the last few weeks, largely for work but I’m enjoying experimenting with the new device and operating system. Recently, I started to think — what would it take for me or other iPhone users actually switch, to actually give away or sell my iPhone and just carry around this Nexus 5. Here’s what I came up with: Some will bolt for Android out of curiosity for something new, some will prefer cheaper and/or more flexible data plans, some will find all the apps they need on Android, some will want a bigger screen, or the ease of Google’s integrated services, or and so on.
However, what will get people moving en masse? That’s a trickier question to answer, and it’s also not clear that’s in Google’s best interest.
As killer apps like Google Now improve, these type of native anticipatory services may be enough to bring iOS users into Android. Or, since Android provides developers with more root access and data collection capabilities, app makers may create an entirely new mobile experience that’s both not possible on iOS and also vital to users. (That said, with hardware advancements like M7 and TouchID in iOS, the same could be said of Apple’s mobile platform — and, therefore, what we’re more likely to see is increasing divergence in the type of mobile experiences between Android and iOS.) Now, assume Google Glass becomes a consumer-level success – that entire phone-to-glass experience could end up being better powered by an Android, though Google can continue to write great iOS software and expand their reach across platforms, even if the functionality is limited or not as well-integrated within iOS. On Twitter last night, @robustus suggested Android’s killer app opportunity may be Bitcoin wallets after Apple’s moves to block some Bitcoin apps, though wallets could be open to more attacks. It’s a provocative thought, no doubt, and one that we shouldn’t dismiss. Or, maybe this isn’t about one platform versus another, but more about two platforms peacefully coexisting and preserving choice and competition for the benefit of consumers. Let’s hope that’s the case.