I may be having the most boring mid-life crisis that any man has ever had, or I may be opening a whole new chapter of my computing life. I don’t know.
This year, I decided to make a change. I switched from an iPhone X to a Google Pixel 2XL phone, and then switched from a combination of Apple portables - a 12.9” iPad Pro and a 2015 MacBook - to a Google Pixelbook.
This change has been so surprising to some people that I am told that friends are asking friends if I’m psychologically OK. Don’t worry about me - I’m absolutely fine. I thought I would try and get back into longer-form writing by trying to explain my thinking here and see if it’s really what I think.
There is no single reason why I decided to make these changes, and the reasons are different for the phone and the laptop cases. Some have been brewing for a long time and others are more recent. In this post, I’ll concentrate on the phone question and come back to the laptop question later.
The phone story is perhaps simpler, and mostly revolves around price. I had misgivings about the value of the iPhone with the release of the iPhone X and it breaking the £1000 barrier. I wondered if Apple would be able to continue to increase the price of iPhones much more. Still, I ended up with a new iPhone X last December. That deal ran out and I wondered about what to do next.
This year, Apple released iOS 12 and along with that came a feature called Screen Time. In iOS 12 you can look in Settings and find out how much time you spend in particular apps and what you really do with your phone.
I always imagined myself to be a high-end iPhone user. I had all the powerful iOS apps installed: Keynote, Pages, Word, Excel, Ulysses, OmniFocus. Then I turned Screen Time on early in the beta versions and started to watch what I really did with the phone.
It turned out that, consistently, what I did with my phone was exactly this, in order of screen time:
- Google Maps
- Overcast (although Screen Time doesn’t count screen-off time, which would have put Overcast at #1 by a country mile.)
Everything else was typically minutes per day at most. This started to sow a seed of doubt in my mind - why do I have this £1,000 phone to do such, well, basic things?
Then the iPhone XS and XS Max came along. The iPhone Upgrade Program prices in the UK ranged from £51.45 to for the 64GB XS to £73.95 for the 512GB model - this is without any carrier service added. Even the lower-cost XR ran from £41.45 to £48.95.
At the same time as this, I have three children - two of whom are old enough to be phone users now too. I suppose I just started feeling the pinch, imagining how I would be able to fund even infrequent iPhone purchases for three people.
As I was coming to the end of my year on the iPhone Upgrade Programme, I decided to see what life might be like on the other side. I saw a deal for the Google Pixel 2XL phone which was £33/month. I was already paying £18/month on top of my iPhone program costs for carrier service on my iPhone, so this was effectively a brand new flagship Google phone for £15/month.
So one Friday, armed with my Screen Time data and the knowledge that all but one of my most-used iPhone apps were also available for Android, I just took the leap and signed on for a 2 year plan on the Pixel 2XL.
My expectation was that I would find it almost entirely fine but that I would eventually come across something that I really hated about it. So far, that honestly hasn’t happened.
I’m aware that I’m still using Android with a heavy iOS accent. My launcher is organised to be mostly like an iPhone; I can’t stop opening Chrome before starting a search and I cannot swipe-to-type for all the tea in China. I have no clue about home screen widgets. However, I’m getting used to it and I’m as productive as I need to be on a phone.
Like many others, I thought that the loss of iMessage would have been a serious limitation. It simply hasn’t been. I never cared about iMessage stickers or apps and it turns out that, in Europe at least, almost literally everyone is also on WhatsApp. Chats with some American friends have moved to Twitter DMs as WhatsApp doesn’t seem to be so big over there.
I replaced Overcast with Pocket Casts. I still liked Overcast better but Pocket Casts is honestly fine. I replaced OmniFocus with Todoist. Honestly, I was doing a terrible job of my GTD system in the six months before the switch, so there was practically nothing that had to be moved over there.
Virtually every app that I used on my iPhone also exists on the Android side of the house and they’re all virtually identical - not just at the feature level but almost down to the pixel level. It’s interesting that so much of Google’s Material Design influence had rubbed off on iOS apps - particularly Google’s apps but others too - that the shift from iOS to Android hardly even looks different in many apps.
One thing that is very alien, but very interesting as an iOS user, has been watching the various parts of Google update their Android apps on a rolling basis. As Apple users we are used to watching WWDC with the hopeful expectation that whatever part of iOS or macOS that you particularly care about will get its moment in the sun this year.
Unfortunately, several parts of the Apple ecosystem seem to go years and years without being significantly improved. Look at Mail, Calendar, Contacts and even Safari. They’ve had virtually no engineering resources devoted to new user-level features in multiple years now. At the same time, though, I watch the updates rolling through on this Android phone and I see the Contacts app getting an update, the Calendar and Gmail apps getting regular feature improvements. Even the Camera app just delivered this incredible new Night Shot feature in an overnight update.
Maybe I’m just old and boring now. Maybe I just want to clear my inbox and go home earlier and maybe I don’t want to do any of this in an Augmented Reality battle-scape. This is what I want now - I want my email to help me go on a trip. I want the lock screen of my phone to surface useful and timely information. I love being able to just quickly and precisely search my email on my phone.
I also like that it came with a rapid charger in the box. The physical design of the phone is fine to me. It’s another black rectangle. The placement of the fingerprint sensor on the back is weird to an iPhone user but it works OK - although it’s much less forgiving than Touch ID ever was. The only thing I really don’t like about the physical design of the phone is that the only shortcut to launching the camera when the phone is locked is to double-press the power button. The button is small and narrow and I find it very difficult to do the double-press accurately and fast enough for the OS to recognise it.
Honestly, the switch from iOS to Android has been fine. Much, much easier than I expected and far more interesting. The iOS 12 team should take great heart - I am spending much less time on my iPhone since I started using it!