Why I find it hard to recommend an iPhone
Yesterday, my colleague Paul shared a number of insights as to why he found it increasingly difficult to recommend Android devices to people who ask him what their next smartphone should be. I found many, if not all, of his points to be valid observations. However, I have a different persective when it comes to making such recommendations. Like anyone in the industry, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances that ask similar questions, “Max, what should I get next?” Almost as often, I’m also asked, “Should I just wait for the next hot gadget?”
I never answer the first question directly, and I always respond to the second question with “No.”
Addressing those questions in reverse, the reason why I tell people to not bother waiting is because 99.9% of the time, they are not gadget geeks like me, so as much as I would like to get in the weeds with them over detailed specifications, I know that is not a primary concern to them. Plus, we all know that in the arena of technology, something new is always right around the corner, so there is no point in feeding the “Osborne effect,” as aptly pointed out by my other colleague, Victor. Therefore, it really comes down to what they do with their device to begin with, and that’s why I do not directly respond to the first question without asking a couple of questions in return.
The easier, softer way
First, if a friend or acquaintance is heavily invested in the Apple, Google, or Windows Phone experience, has had such devices for years, and they are concerned about being able to maintain all their content, purchases, and apps, I usually recommend to them that they stick with the platform they have and upgrade hardware at their convenience. Yeah, they may be bored with the UI, or feel that “seven year itch,” but in the end, it’s a perfectly sound decision unless you really have a compelling reason to leave.
If someone is genuinely interested in trying something new, or they have more than a couple minutes to discuss their next purchase, I usually respond to their “what should I get next” question with my own question, “What are the two most important things you do most with your current smartphone?”
Without fail, the desire for a camera that takes good pictures is one of the two responses. The other item is generally something related to consuming media, or social networking. I can’t remember the last time someone said to me, “Well I use it to make phone calls,” and no one has ever said to me, “I’m really concerned about software updates.”
I also ask them what their budget is, if they have one.
First thing (camera)
Back to the “advice” column, when someone says they want a really good camera on their smartrphone, there are so many great options, that it almost doesn’t matter. I am not the best photographer in the world, but I know good pictures when I see them. Indeed, the team at PhoneArena.com goes to extraordinary lengths to share insights about the camera quality in all device reviews. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have great cameras, so do the Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4, and many other devices.
For people that live to take pictures and share them, the latter two have an edge when it comes to having more control over the camera features and settings, potentially giving you more artistic freedom.
The other thing(s)
For the “second” most common use my friends or acquaintances point out (media consumption, social networking) I am pretty ambivalent. Generally, though, when it comes to social media integration, and ability to “share” things, the Android platform and associated apps are far more flexible.
Cloud back-up connectivity for just about everything, from contacts, to game data, to media, has parity across all platforms. Nearly all the big-name apps are available across operating systems too (nearly, Windows and BlackBerry are definitely lacking in areas).
This is where the real value of Android devices comes into play - price points and depreciation. I have had more than one person ask me what they could get with a budget under $300-400. The options are aplenty, and they often compromise little. It is a value proposition that simply does not fit Apple’s model. Devices like Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol 3 and the ASUS ZenFone 2 are incredibly powerful mid-rangers that are easy on the wallet.
I also encourage people to look outside of two-year contracts. The technology price curves are seeing enough downward pressure that even in a market like the US, where people still cling to subsidized pricing with the tenacity of a drug addict, paying full retail price for some devices is far more feasible. For those that want the top-shelf gear, reliable secondary retailers are often the first to start marking down prices. If you look carefully, there are near-new flagships in flawless condition available through sites like eBay and Swappa with steep discounts off new-retail prices.
That economic reality is a bane on Android OEMs, but it is a boon for consumers. The depreciation of Android devices makes the latest technology far more accessible. That bodes well for the bottom line on service plans too.
Updates are not end-all-be-all, computers get old and tired
Just like our desktop and laptop computers, smartphones get old, not in the sense of linear time, but they physically wear out. Flash memory has a finite lifespan with increasing error rates, the conductivity of the metal that carries the electrical impulses gets fatigued, and batteries start losing their ability to hold a charge. Limited ventilation traps heat which will cause wear on everything else.
When a computer begins to slow down, it is not simply because of the complexities of software updates over time, the insides are nearing a real end-of-life threshold. The same holds true for cars, people, really any physical entity when you think about it.
Apple patented a technology that enables firmware to detect the age and condition of the circuitry inside so that it may adjust operational parameters to aid performance. Naturally, all that doesn't mean Android manufacturers don't have room for improvement when it comes to software updates - they can certainly do a lot in order to improve user experience, and getting updates to consumers faster is one of the possible ways.
User experience – your mileage will vary
Once upon a time, it was the unwritten law of the land that new iOS updates ran smooth as glass, while Android could be counted on to be an endless foray of bugs, bricks, and battles. The rollout of iOS 8 was anything but smooth, and with each fix, as if peeling away another layer of the onion, there seemed to be a new bug (the latest being GPS connectivity) revealed. Android updates continue in a stifled, fragmented march across the various manufacturers, but HTC and Motorola have made notable strides to stay current, and the Lollipop update itself has not been terribly eventful.
For everyone except us gadget geeks though, none of that matters. Most people don’t care if there is a 64-bit CPU, or when the next OS update is rolling out (they may pretend they do, but most don’t know why). They also don’t concern themselves with the notion of rooting or jailbreaking a device.
What they are more likely going to concern themselves with is how much they can make their would-be-new device theirs. Assuming they know the basics of moving apps around and using widgets, it puts the iPhone last on my list of recommendations every time. Take the iOS user experience, that grid, oh that static grid of apps, 4 across, fill from the top left, no matter what. I’ve already opined on Apple’s obsessive insistence that the single-layer iOS interface is as boring as Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher (as played by Ben Stein).
That UI will fit some people’s personalities, others will gravitate to something more customizable, even the ability to position a simple app icon anywhere on the screen. For the gadgeteers, we recognize the pros and cons of manufacturer “skins” on Android. Some look better than others. In just about every case however, they add features and functions that leverage the flexibility of the platform as a whole, something the iPhone cannot do.
Something for everyone
Remember, just because I find it hard to recommend the iPhone to people doesn’t mean I never do. What the iPhone lacks in my personal preferences of usability, it makes up for in simplicity, and yes, very consistent performance. However, Android and Windows Phone do not sacrifice so much in simple operation in exchange for a much more diverse usability.
Apple conceded the need for some variety in offering different sizes of the same device. The accompanying feature set of iOS 8 and the larger screens have been around on competing platforms for years. There truly is something for everyone.
When someone asks me what they should get, I just remember they probably look at technology through a very different lens than I do. And even then, I rarely happen to recommend an iPhone.