November 28, 2012

Why I Ditched My iPhone (but probably not iOS)

I’m a huge fan of the iPhone and iOS for a lot of reasons, but I just picked up a Lumia 920 for my next 2-year AT&T contract. As a developer, I have no intentions of abandoning iOS–it still has the best ecosystem by far, and it’s a lot of fun to tinker with (once you get everything set up). I’ve published three apps for iOS, one for WebOS, and none for any other platform. Part of my desire to switch comes from wantering to tinker with something new, but that’s not enough reason to abandon the most robust mobile ecosystem.

When thinking about smartphone usage, I break things into a couple of categories: how often do I do something and how important is it that it be awesome?

Critical Tasks:

  • phone calls and texting: maybe 5% of my phone usage
  • driving directions: maybe 10% of my usage

Medium Importance Tasks:

  • finding restaurants / phone numbers for ordering takeout: 5% of my usage
  • listening to music while driving: 20% of my usage
  • reading email: 10% of usage
  • showing people pictures of my kid: 5% usage

Casual / Not So Important Tasks:

  • reading twitter (and occasionally FB) feeds: 10% usage
  • looking up random things on IMDB/Wikipedia: 5% usage
  • playing games / using other misc. apps: 30%

How has the iPhone treated me over the last 4+ years at each of these tasks? Pretty well. In both phones that I’ve owned, though, there has been a steady degradation of performance for anything web-related over the two-plus-year lifespan of the phone. Apple, bless their hearts, does not give two shits about backwards compatibility (backwards performance, maybe? is that a thing?). They are in the business of selling phones, and it is in their best interests to keep you on the upgrade treadmill. I fucking love gadgets, so I’m actually fine with this. But I need the phone to last at least two years. For both my iPhone 3G and my iPhone 4, I feel like I got about a year and a half of amazing phone and six months of pissed-off frustration. My wife was able to grit through the slowness of her 3G (we got our original phones at the same time) and get a 4S, so I’ve actually been able to compare my iPhone 4 against her 4S.

I can’t count how many times in the last few months I’ve searched for something in the browser only to get a timeout. Or been unable to calculate directions. Or unable to perform a search on google maps (I held out from upgrading to iOS 6 in the hopes that performance wouldn’t degrade even further, never mind the maps “upgrade”). My first instinct would be to just blame AT&T for shitty cell service (even though I usually have full bars). But this go-round the blame was squarely on Apple–for the past month or two whenever I get “stuck” on my iPhone 4, I’ve been grabbing my wife’s 4S and performing the same task (with, theoretically, the same cell coverage). No problems.

To be fair, I’ve never had any problems with the phone as a phone–but from my shortlist above you can see that the two things I care most about in a smartphone are reliable maps and the ability to use the phone. For the whole two year lifespan of a phone. Even in the medium and casual-importance tasks, though, I’ve been getting frustrated. The iPhone mail client is a disaster and hasn’t been updated (as far as I can tell) since my original iPhone 3G. It takes me forever to get into a photo album on Facebook (not strictly Apple’s fault, but the internet degradation plays into the slowness), which I’m doing more and more now that I have a kid. Twitter and FB time out all the time (internet). The only place I haven’t gotten frustrated is with Spotify (which is great) and with the wealth of apps available. If you subtract all those great 3rd-party apps, though, I’m mostly left with a bunch of 5-year old, half-baked, un-delete-able apps that all get thrown into a folder called “Default Shit.” Except that you can only put 12 apps in a folder, so Newsstand gets its own page behind everything else.

With this in mind, I decided a few months back to switch to a Lumia 920. I haven’t had it long enough to form a full opinion of the hardware/software, but here are my initial thoughts:

Apps: Facebook, Twitter, Kindle, Netflix, OneNote, Chase (bank) — all seem about the same as the iOS counterparts except the FB app, which kind of sucks. I love that it pushes photos to the lock screen, though.

Missing Apps:

  • Pleco (a Chinese flashcard/dictionary/OCR translator that I paid $50 for on iOS… well worth it!) — I also have this on my Kindle Fire, so I’m still using it.
  • Mint — I’m a compulsive balance checker. I hope this is coming.
  • 8Tracks, Spotify — Nokia Music seems pretty inferior so far, but I’ll give it a few more weeks. I downgraded my Spotify back to the $5 plan until they get a WP8 client (they have one for 7.5, which is weird)
  • Nike+ Fuelband — can still synch at my computer, but it’s not as cool
  • Scramble With Friends — (WP8 has Words w/Friends & Draw Something, but no Scramble) I’m liking Wordament better so far. Most of my friends beat the shit out of me in Scramble, but the nervous “need something to do and i like spelling” compulsion is nicely served by Wordament
  • Tiny Wings/Bejeweled Blitz/Robot Unicorn Attack — these are my “keep coming back to” games, which I’m giving up
  • Starmap — another pricey iOS purchase ($10? it’s been awhile). there are a couple for sale on WP8, but none seem as feature complete
  • Ecobee — my thermostat has an iOS app to let you set the temperature without leaving the couch. it’s neat, but i never used it that much

Camera: supposedly a lot better, but I haven’t noticed a big difference in still yet. the videos seem much better (i’m not the most steady)

Notifications: silence! Obviously I haven’t bloated my lumia with as many apps as I had on my iPhone, but so far I’m enjoying the lack of notification barrage.

Pinning Contacts: when I say using my phone as a phone is important, I mostly mean calling/texting with my wife, which is probably 95% of how I use my phone as a phone. The ability to pin “her” to the home screen is awesome.

Email: still getting used to it, but so far it seems a lot better than the iPhone mail client. I also like how easy it was to synch my google calendar. Each synched mail account also gets its own tile, so no more wondering if it’s a work or personal email from the notification jewel.

Maps: so far I’m not in love with Nokia’s maps (despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews). i haven’t used them a ton yet, so the jury’s still out. the search seems much worse than the search in Google Maps for places of interest, but luckily the Yelp app works fine for that. i haven’t used the turn-by-turn yet.

Ringtones: for what’s supposedly one of the “customizable” phones, I’ve had a hard time getting my ring-tones onto the phone from my iMac. I’ll dust off a Windows machine and give it another go, but that’s been a sore point so far.

So now, one day in, I’m cautiously optimistic. The only major step backwards has been the lack of Spotify (for how I use it, at least). If I decide that I can’t do it, I can always return the phone (within the next 30 days) or hock it on eBay and buy an iPhone 5. As for keeping up with iOS ( critical for both work and as a gamer ), I’m not sure yet. My old iPhone 4 works fine on wi-fi, and I’m rarely away from my desk. If I can ever let go of my grandfathered unlimited plan with AT&T, the new mobile share plans all allow tethering. Most likely I’ll pick up one of the new iPod touches or the iPad mini. I still like iOS. A lot. I just don’t think I can rely on an iPhone for two years for my critical-use cases.