Why I couldn't keep an iPhone

August 20, 2016

Why I couldn’t keep an iPhone (or why I think Android is better)

A fortnight ago our sewerage started overflowing into the garden. Bugger. Off to bunnings I went and bought a drain cleaning tool

As I was trying to unblock it, that thing happened which I knew one day would happen. My phone fell out of my pocket and landed on the concrete. Luckily it didn’t go down the drain into sewerage! Unluckily it did smash the corner of the screen and sure enough a crack appeared from one corner to the other.

Lesson one - if you get a blocked drain - get a professional to fix it.

What’s this got to do with an iPhone? Well I struggled through for a week - my Xperia Z3 still worked - at least half the screen did. I very quickly became adept at rotating orientation so that the part of the soft keyboard I was interested in appeared in the half of the screen that did work. Also did you know you can plug a mouse into a USB OTG adaptor and Android gives you a cursor? My wife found me walking around with my phone and a USB mouse out the side pretty funny, to say the least :)

After a week of this I thought - I know - I’m always wondering if I would like an iPhone better than an Android. Apple seems to know a thing or two about hardware design. It sounds like their phones are secure too (none of these android fragmentation problems). So off I went to the Apple store and bought myself a new iPhone SE.

My iOS background

So this iPhone is not my first iOS device. I own a iPad and find it fantastic for larger screen activities that I don’t want to use my phone for - for example, reading blogs, Moog Model 14 and a host of other iPad only apps. No qualms there….

I’ve had Android phones for years - and it’s probably fair to say that I’m a bit of an Android purist. No matter what phone I’ve bought I’ve usually put Cyanogenmod onto it or as close to Google’s clean android as possible. On the Xperia Z3 I’ve been using the Sony Concept rom for a while now - it’s android 6.0 almost vanilla with as few things that get in the way as possible. A pretty nice experience.

So I’m not a complete iOS newbie. Why - after 8 days with an iPhone did I feel physically uncomfortable using it?

It comes down to - Apple and Google have two fundamentally different philosophical approaches to user interface design.

Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and Google’s Material Design spell these out.

I think Tyler Harris sums it up best for me -

Google has been inspired by the flat design movement and believes that humans should interact with their components as if they were sheets of paper stacked on top of each other. The depth is tactile and makes the user feel that they are holding each screen in the palm of their hand.

Apple believes that mobile devices should be seen as a window in to another world. They embrace infinite depth in their applications and use components such as their alert buttons and text messages with blurred background to create the feeling that the items are floating and exist in their own space.

On the other hand, Google’s material design standards lean on the humanist’s side of design. They believe in creating a tactile OS experience that makes you feel like your are holding each screen in your hand. They delight users by using animated techniques that users can relate to every day objects.

Apple believes that your interaction with iOS should feel like you’re interacting with some magical world where physics, depth and motion are not based on real world principles. For me that’s really really uncomfortable.

Google has gone the other way and believes that the feel of Android should be directly based on the way we interact with the real world.

It’s just different…

I’m not trying to suggest one is better than the other. For someone like me who is very used to the Material Design UX it felt very uncomfortable - not just annoying but the idea of using the iPhone for an extended period made me not want to use my phone. Yikes!

I spoke to a number of friends and colleagues who are devoted Apple iOS users and none of them shared my discomfort. Infact things that I found incredibly annoying (scrolling for example - OH MY GOD WHY IS MY FINGER COVERED IN MOLASSES AND THE PHONE HURTS MY ARM) they described as “smoothness”. Despite the fact that for me it was the device ignoring my intention to enforce some abstract concept of smooth scrolling…

This experience highlights to me why design is so important and makes me wonder if Apple’s pursuit of “purity” is going to really harm the experience in the long run.

At the end of the day I could probably get used to a number of iOS bug bears:

  • Action words preferred to clear icons (eg Send in iOS vs an Arrow in Android)
  • Navigation all over the place (is the back button that tiny text in the top left? or top right?)
  • Customising the home screen (iOS no, Android Nova Launcher)
  • Lack of colour, pictures in the interface (messages is so booooring!)
  • Pretty poor inter-app integration
  • Apple Pay is the only NFC payment platform supported
  • No widgets (really?!)
  • Chrome is handicapped for “security” reasons

But the clincher for me was the scrolling issue. That actually physically felt painful.

I’d prefer to use an Operating System that puts user intent ahead of interface smoothness.

At least Apple has a 14 day return policy. I’ll stick to my half working Android for now.