Some significant Android regret

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I’m going to admit something pretty difficult now. It’s something that’s been bothering me for a couple of weeks now, so this post will serve as a kind of confession.

really regret selling my Nexus 6P.

You hear that? I’m sitting here, listening to a podcast on my iPhone 7 Plus and I’m pining after a phone that Google doesn’t even sell anymore. W the actual F?

If I’m honest, it’s less about the Nexus and more about Android. I miss Android. I miss Google Now and how it understood virtually every single verbal instruction I issued. It worked. The interface was so much more usable than previous iterations of Android and the first I’d used that didn’t feel like an experiment.

So what the hell is wrong with my new iPhone 7 Plus then? Absolutely nothing. It has an amazing screen, a superb camera and is lightning fast. That said, Siri still sucks. Especially when compared to Google Now (or Google Assistant, as it’s now called on Google’s new Pixel phones).

I have a three year old Nexus 7 tablet, and it does a better job of understanding my verbal instructions than my brand new iPhone. That’s not right. And yes, I’ve tried may different combinations of speaking to the iPhone and even when it does understand me, its responses are very limited compared to Google.

I challenged it to tell me the names of some capital cities from around the world.

United Kingdom? London! France? Paris! Ireland? Mega-long pause and then “here are some articles I found for you on the web about ‘what is the capital of Ireland'”. Seeing as Apple makes all its billions in Ireland (the magic of accounting), I’d have thought Siri would know what its capital is…

I know this is probably some form of sacrilege, but I felt slightly disappointed when Google announced its new Pixel phones. Disappointed in that I wanted one so badly. Yes, they’re pretty much as expensive as a new iPhone, but with the power of Google built right in. The Google app on iOS is severely limited compared to its Android equivalent.

But, here I am. An iPhone, an Apple Watch, an iPad and two Apple computers. They’re not going anywhere any time soon. But I have to admit that in a year, I’ll be seriously considering walking away from iOS and moving to Android. It will of course depend on the state of Google’s handsets (I’m not interested in anything from Samsung – no matter how cold it gets in London each winter, I don’t need a mobile that sets itself on fire to keep me warm!), but given how I’m using my phone, the leap to another platform would be more like crossing the street.

The vast majority of my apps are cross platform. I use Google Photos over Apple’s photo service. I don’t use Apple’s Podcasts app. I use Google for my contacts, calendars and email. I use Spotify, not Apple Music. I could go on, but you get the picture…

As for the Apple Watch, it’s a thing of beauty. But I got almost as much use out of the considerably cheaper and more ‘fun’ Pebble watch. Its battery lasted for days and days and it didn’t pretty much everything I needed from a smartwatch.

So why the hell have I once again found myself knee-deep in Apple devices?

The impact of Apple’s marketing. Honestly. I was sucked in, hook, line and sinker. I don’t think I was mis-sold anything (apart from Siri, which really doesn’t behave as advertised), I just managed to convince myself that I had to go with the upgrades.

Yes, the old tech was sold and it took the sting out of my new purchases. Plus, my phone is a business expense, so didn’t come out of my personal pocket. But really, it’s about the principle of the thing. I didn’t need that upgrade. I simply lusted after it.

And if I had my time over again? I’d go for one of the new Pebble watches and a Pixel XL.

Boom. There you go. My confession for the week. And I feel better for sharing it.

In the year ahead, I think we’re going to see an arm’s race in terms of verbal interfaces with technology – or ‘speakables’. Apple has Siri, Google as its Google Assistant and Amazon has the Echo. So far, it looks like Google and Amazon are light-years ahead of Apple in this space. Earlier this week. Nilay Patel and Walt Mossberg discussed this very topic on their excellent podcast and Siri was found to be lacking in several areas.

I really enjoyed speaking to Google Now on my Nexus 6P – setting timers, setting reminders, adding appointments to my calendar, searching the net. Attempting the same with Siri is simply a chore and I’ve all but stopped doing it.

I think what it boils down to is this: my iOS devices mostly work as I need them to. I get stuff done and they’re there when I need them. They’re slick and beautiful.

But they’re not fun to use.

I miss Android.

iPhone 7 – taking the plunge?

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I missed yesterday’s Apple Event as it was streamed, but followed it via the liveblog from the Verge and sporadic tweets, all the time on a slow-moving train from Nottingham to London.

There weren’t too may surprises (Mario aside) and the phone and watch announcements were as expected. Yes to new black colours, yes to water-protection and no to inclusion of a traditional audio jack. Harrumph. It’s digital or bluetooth from now on, folks.

While I was impressed with the new iPhone 7 Plus, I was initially so annoyed by the the change to the headphone jack that I dismissed all thoughts of upgrading. I was a lot more interested in what the Series 2 Apple Watch has to offer. (The ability to wear it in water, for a start!)

The inevitable

But here we are, 24 hours later, and I’ve read a lot more about it and listened to a few podcasts. And I’m leaning towards getting one. Before you descend on me with an overpowering torrent of “I told you so!”, hear me out…

Here’s what I think the iPhone 7 Plus has going for it:

  1. Better battery life, which you can never ignore. I’m never happier than when I have some fully-charged gadgets about my person and never more anxious than when I’m down on single-digit battery notifications.

  2. A superb camera, which is something quite important to me. I’m not a photography buff, but I use the hell out of my smartphone cameras. The advances included in the 7 Plus are quite something.

  3. More memory, which I fetishise quite a lot. I’m opting for the 256GB model, as the volume of music and videos I carry around is fairly significant. I will never fill it, but that’s the point.

  4. It’s water-proof, (or thereabouts) so I don’t have to live in fear of its destruction every time I enter a bathroom with it. You know you do too, so don’t be so judgemental…

And yet

On the flipside, the need to use either the bundled earbuds (bleurgh) or something bluetooth has me far from impressed. I’ve never been able to use Apple earbuds – they continually fall out of my ears and cause pain after even short periods of use.

The bluetooth airpods Apple announced look laughable. I’m as geeky as the next guy (geekier, if I’m honest) but I could never imagine myself walking London’s streets with those things hanging out of my ears. Public humiliation aside, they look insanely easy to lose and of course, represent just one more thing that needs charging.

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That said, I’m confident some third-party vendors will release some appropriately designed and suitably affordable alternatives. I’ll just need to use Apple’s ear buds for a while, or keep using my Bose earphones and the disgusting dongle Apple are packaging with the new phones.

Although it’s good to know I’m not the only one with strong views on these ear-monsters, as evidenced by this tweet e xchange I had with Jeff Jarvis:

But wait, there’s more

Unless I have a real change of heart overnight, I’ll also be getting myself a new Apple Watch. I’m opting for the space grey model again, as I like the one I have. But a faster, waterproof model with built-in GPS is too hard to resist.

I used my Nexus 6P and Pebble Time in combination for weeks and loved it. But the Pebble pales in comparison with the new Apple Watch. The above purchases will be in-part funded by the sale of my Nexus 6P, Pebble watch and existing iPhone 6s Plus.

This means, a little sadly, an end to my Android experiment. I’m still using Google Apps for business and personal use, but I’ve come to the conclusion (with some gentle…ahem…”encouragement” from @FrankDJS) that life is simpler with Apple, macOS and iOS.

I’m taking this as a sign of my inevitable age-related decline. Going with the path of least-tech-resistance.

Now. Let the inevitable mocking begin. Go on, do your worst…

Torn between iOS and Android? Kind of.

The experiment isn’t over!

Some of you may remember I got myself all Androided-up a few months back. I bought a Nexus 6P and fell in love with it and its OS, Android. I kept my iPhone and Apple Watch in a drawer and lived a Google-focused existence.

Since then, I’ve moved between the two devices, as well as a Nexus 7 tablet for a couple of months. The good thing about buying your mobile phones unlocked is that you can simply switch SIM cards between them when you want to. All of my apps are cloud-based, so it doesn’t take long for one to catch up with the other (Calendar, contacts, Spotify etc).

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not living in one ‘world’ or the other. I regularly use my Nexus 7 while I’m at my desk, to flip through Twitter or to look at ToDoist. I’m still using my iPad Pro when traveling for business, paired with a bluetooth keyboard. I still wear my Apple Watch (most of the time), which means I have my iPhone 6s Plus on me too.

Torn between the two?

I’ve realised that you don’t have to pick a side, but you can pick and choose from within the two major ecosystems. I’ve regularly gone out for coffee bringing an iPhone and the Nexus 7. Not an iPad. Because the Nexus 7 is what I found useful at the time.

I don’t think it’s a groundbreaking thing to say that both ecosystems and operating systems have their strengths. For iOS, it’s the millions of apps and with iPhones it’s the easily-available multitude of accessories. My bank balance is testament to the latter. I have a drawer full of various iPhone cases, covers and stands.

For Android, (for me at least) it’s Google Now and just how accurately Google understands me when I speak with it. It’s uncanny. It’s also the flexibility of device set-up.

On the other hand, Apple devices cost a lot more than Android ones (mostly). And Android isn’t supported as widely as iOS (for now, at least). I’m talking very broadly here, before a fan-boy from one tribe or the other decides to have a pop.

My tools of choice, app-wise, are available on both platforms and are pretty comparable: Evernote, ToDoist, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Slack, WhatsApp etc. My mail (iCloud, business and gMail), contacts (Google) and calendars (iCloud and Google) are also ‘out there’ and not tied to a single device.

So in theory, I could swap phone devices on a daily basis, if I had the time and inclination. What stops me doing this is messages. Unless you turn off messages on all your Apple devices, there’s a good chance text messages from others will fail to show up on the Android device. It’s happened before. And it’s very, very annoying.

A second screen

But there’s nothing to stop me using my Nexus 7 alongside my iPhone, for example. The information on both is up to date and the only major difference in content is in Google Now, which is far superior on the Nexus.

Similarly, there’s nothing to stop going out to work with my Macbook and the Nexus 6P. For exactly the same reasons. And as both work off USB-C chargers, this seems to be an ideal pairing.

But what about the “third screen”? My Apple Watch. This is where it gets a little complex. I also got myself a Pebble Time smartwatch at the same time I bought the Nexus 6P. And while are both smart-watches, they’re hugely different. The Pebble’s battery will last for days at a time, even with heavy use. Whereas the Apple Watch needs a nightly charge. The Apple Watch display is a thing of beauty, while I have to regularly squint to see the Pebble’s screen.

It looks like the next update to WatchOS is going to make there Apple Watch even better (in terms of speed, at least), so I’m not tempted to make the switch permanent.

And seeing as an Apple Watch will only work with an iPhone, I’m ever so slightly stuck with the iPhone 6S Plus as a my ‘daily driver’. This is no hardship, by any means, but it does take some of the flexibility out which device I use each day.

Some very full pockets!

Now, there’s no way in hell I’m going to become one of those guys who carries more than one mobile phone out of choice! (As opposed to those poor souls who have to carry a work handset and a personal handset). Neither am I going to wear more than one smartwatch. I mean, I’m a geek, but there are limits – even for me. Yes. Even for me.

In reality, either the iPhone or the Nexus 6P offer enough speed and power to be the only thing I need with me for my mobile needs. Frequently, a tablet is a luxury, especially hen I’m trying to lighten the load of tech I find it my bag.

That said, I’m still leaning towards the world of Apple – if I have to make a choice – due to the Apple Watch pairing and my need to leave one handset at home.

So what does the future hold?

We’re about to see updates to both operating systems in the next couple of months. Google will roll out Android N (Nougat) in the next few days, if the rumour mill is correct. And Apple is going to release iOS 10 and WatchOS “in the fall”. Hopefully, that means September.

I’m going to update all my devices when the time arrives and do another comparison. Meanwhile, it looks like I’ll be using the iPhone 6s Plus combined with an Apple Watch and a (3 year old) Nexus 7 tablet when I’m out and about.

How’s that for eclectic?!

(In fact, I think a blog post all about the Nexus 7 is in order – it’s one of my favourite devices right now).

It works for me. It combines everything I like about iOS, allows me to use my Apple Watch, and gives me access to pure Android and Google Now. And before you ask: yes, you can install the Google app to access Google Now on your iPhone, but its functionality is severely curtailed compared to the Android version. Believe me, I’ve tried it.

Any questions?

I’m also aware that very few people get to buy handsets like this and compare them. I’m lucky like that. So any questions about working in two operating systems are very welcome. Maybe I can help you make up your mind!

Organising the Nexus 6P

The adjustment from iOS to Android isn’t as significant as it used to be. As I said previously, Android is now a lot more polished as an OS and there are so many more cross-platform apps available.

One of the big differences that still exists between the two platforms is the flexibility of the Android interface. You can choose your own launcher, layout, colours, default apps and a ton of other settings that iOS keeps firmly under lock and key.

You could spend far too much time on setting all this up, but I’ve just had a look at the apps I use the most and organised them into some on-screen folders under what I think is a logical categorisation.

(If you have no interest in reading about other people’s mobile phone settings, you may as well stop reading at this point. And frankly, what sane person would blame you.)  Continue reading “Organising the Nexus 6P”

The Android Experiment: one week in

Okay, so strictly speaking I’m not a full week in to my “new life” with Android rather than iOS, but I started using a Nexus 7 this day last week and my new Nexus 6P arrived last Tuesday.

I fully intend to do a full comparison between Android and iOS – a very subjective and incomplete comparison, if I’m honest – but for now, my main take-aways are the following:

Continue reading “The Android Experiment: one week in”

An Android experiment

Right. We’ve been here before. I once impulsively bought a Samsung Note phone in Heathrow Airport while on my way to New Orleans and lived with it for several months. Before swiftly moving back to iOS as soon as Apple launched a new handset.

While I loved the stylus and handwriting recognition, as well as the (then) enormous screen, the Samsung-infused Android interface just wasn’t for me.

A lot has changed since then, including the phone I use and how mature Android is as a platform. Watching the video of Google I/O last week encouraged to give the Google apps another try and I was quickly impressed.

I use Google Apps for Business to run my own firm and find it really excellent. So I took it a step further and started using a combination of my personal Gmail account, Google Calendar, Chrome and assorted extensions and other apps. They work together really, really well.

Continue reading “An Android experiment”

Really, really plug and play…

Last week, I set up an ‘old’ Apple TV and an ‘old’ Chromecast in my parents’ house. Each took about 10 minutes, most of which was downloading apps. My folks can now watch their Netflix content on any of their TVs, accessed via apps on their iPads and iPhones.

This afternoon, I remembered I also have an ‘old’ Chromecast, stuck into the back of the wall-mounted TV in my study. I rarely even turn this TV on as its screen is smaller than the iMac sitting right next to it.

But I turned it on and reactivated the Chromecast in seconds – and now I’m quite happily watching video podcasts on the TV while I catch up on some work on my iMac. (The always excellent Gina Trappani on ‘This Week in Google’)

I also discovered (I admit, I’m slow on the uptake here) that I can stream tabs from the Chrome browser on my iMac to the TV, via the Chromecast. I’m yet to think of a use case for this, but it’s nevertheless pretty cool.

Multi-media streaming is finally easy to use.

@FrankDJS installed our ‘new’ Apple TV a few weeks ago and I’ve been blown away by its ease of use from day one. Controlling it with verbal commands, scrolling using a touchpad on the remote and accessing media content from another room with a bare minimum of set-up time.

Tempted to experiment?

Well the old model Chromecast can be had for just a few pounds where it’s still available (less than £20 on eBay) while the new model is just £25. You don’t have to be an ‘Android’ household, as their are Chromecast apps available for iOS too. You just need a TV with an HDMI port and a home wifi signal and you’re good to go. In just 5minutes, you could be streaming YouTube videos to your home TV.

Happy streaming!

Still doing with ToDoist

This post, from over a year ago, has turned out to be one of the most popular on my blog. In it, I describe how in my move from iOS to Android, I was looking for a replacement for OmniFocus. After evaluating some options on the Google Play store, I opted for ToDoist.

Well, a year and a bit later and I’m still using ToDoist. I’ve since moved away from Android (which was strictly a temporary arrangement!) yet still use ToDoist despite being once again able to rely on OmniFocus.

Why?

Simplicity. ToDoist is my favourite productivity app (closely followed by Evernote) as it allows me to make life as simple or a complex as I want. Hierarchical ordering of projects, colour coding of prioritisation, sharing of projects. It’s all in there.

And after a year of solid use, I can say quite confidently “I’m hooked”.

It’s on my iPhone, my iPads, my Macbook and my iMac. Basically, every screen I look at during the working day has access to this app. it’s that useful. When I set up my new Macbook the other day, it was the very first app I installed! Anything I want or need to do gets added to Todoist within seconds. Either by typing in a reminder to myself or simply forwarding an email to a unique email address.

Using ToDoist, I can stop “remembering to remember” and just focus on what’s in front of me now. I can manage my workload, get reminded of what needs doing when and maintain a sense of control when it’s really important.

ToDoist is the first app I open in the morning (yes, even before I look at email) and the last thing I look at night. Seriously.

In a world of seemingly unending choice when it comes to managing your tasks, ToDoist wins it for me. If you’ve not tried it out and feel the need to start keep track of your life, then give it a go. It has both free and premium versions.

And I’m in no way affiliated with them – just a big fan 🙂

And as of a couple of hours ago, it’s also available on the Apple Watch:

It’s not just a phone…

Every time Apple launch a new phone, there’s a predictable chain of events:

  • The media make a big deal out of the crowds queuing up outside Apple Stores around the world.
  • “Commentators” mock people in these queues, calling them all kinds of names and pointing out all the things they could be doing if they weren’t in a queue for a mobile phone.
  • Everyone complains that the new phones are too few and/or too expensive, while pointing out the large “black market” for handsets thriving in countries where the phone isn’t already available.
  • “Commentators” complain about lack of functionality in the new phones (e.g. inability to remotely launch Space Shuttles) and make long lists of things they would have included if only they were in charge of design at Apple.
  • Someone, somewhere, does something incredibly stupid with their phone and the media jump on this story as some sort of proof that Apple is responsible for its customers’ actions and hint at the decline of civilisation as a result.
  • Predictably, commentators then bemoan our “modern obsession” with “mobile phones” and wonder why we can’t return to a “simpler time”.

Apple’s launch of the iPhone 6 Plus basically followed the above cycle, and despite its predictability, it annoyed me far too much. I take issue particularly with the final point above – middle-aged commentators, who still use a Nokia 3210, moaning about why others seem to live for their phones.

(Disclaimer: I’m not being ageist or critiquing others’ use of older phones. I’d ask older Nokia users to reciprocally take the same approach when discussing phones.)

They seem to adopt a Lady Bracknell attitude to anything that wasn’t created while they were 25 and express faux-confusion at any technology that wasn’t launched while the Sony Walkman was still clipped to the waists of their baggy stone-washed jeans. While conveniently forgetting all of the inconvenience this older technology caused.

My point is, the iPhone 6 (like its predecessors) is not simply a phone. Smartphones of all shades are basically small computers in our pockets, allowing us to do so much than make calls and play “Snake” (sorry, Nokia fans).

A quick brainstorm while awake at the crack of dawn this morning generated the following incomplete list:

  • Reading and creating emails and managing multiple calendars to run a business
  • On-the-go access to the internet and all the information is contains
  • Apps for everything from music creation to health tracking
  • Cameras to record a lifetime of memories (stills and video)
  • Video conferencing apps to stay in touch with friends and family around the world

I could go on. But my point is this: people aren’t using smartphones to simple call people to tell them they’re going to be late (we have messaging apps for that after all).

They’re writing blog posts, sharing holiday photos with their friends, sharing music tracks, recording videos of babies and pets and planning their doctoral theses. They’re listening to music and audio books, planning their holidays, bidding for antiques and doing their weekly grocery shopping. They’re managing their personal finances and reading the news and looking at maps.

If you had a single small device in your pocket that could do all this (and more) wouldn’t you develop a slight attachment to it?

And yes, while it can all spill over into a more unhealthy attachment to technology, by and large I have to ask the critics: so what? So what if people are so excited about new technology that they want to queue up in the rain to get one of the first models? So what if they want to capture the moment on camera and high-five others as they leave the store?

How is any of this different to fans queuing to see a boy band, a football team or a film premiere? It’s passion. And (religious maniacs aside) I don’t think we have enough of this in the world.

Ignore the haters – if you’re excited about a new phone (be it iPhone, Android or even a Blackberry) walk tall and proud. Be creative, use it to do wonderful things and show others how.

Just don’t sit on it.