About Those Public Platform Swatchers

March 8th, 2013

Every so often you hear from one tech commentator or another about how they converted to a different platform. At first it was a PC to Mac switcheroo, mostly where someone who had used Windows for years decided to give a Mac a try. The results were usually the same. Most things worked about the same or better, but there might have been a few apps (we called them applications then, by the way) that they couldn’t use unless they installed a virtual machine (Parallels or VMWare Fusion) to allow them to continue to use Windows.

A current level of switching is from personal computer to tablet. The goal is to attempt to replicate all or most tasks on an iPad or someone else’s tablet. The results are predictable. Most tasks can be accomplished, but typing longer messages or documents is a chore without an accessory keyboard of some sort. In a sense, it’s about trying to do things pretty much the same way, except for the touch interfaces. The solution may require rethinking the work process, perhaps using Siri or some other dictation method to put your words on the screen.

The other popular switching story is about jumping to and from the iPhone. Sometimes it happens as an experiment, where a tech columnist simply wants to see how the other half lives as fodder from an article. Recently, for example, Macworld’s Lex Friedman decided to give a Windows Phone device, the Nokia Lumia 920, a 30-day trial, and, so far at least, finds that it’s working  better than he expected.

What this means, for the most part, is that the most popular desktop and mobile platforms are at the very least decent and usable. The issues of excellence and elegance spark debate. I have long preferred the Mac and iOS, but I understand, from personal experience, why millions prefer other platforms. There are often enough similarities that it may not matter to people who aren’t steeped in the game of inside baseball we tech writers play.

The most recent defection involves a high-profile tech journalist, Andy Ihnatko, who switched several weeks ago from an iPhone 4s to a Samsung Galaxy S III. Now Andy appears to have done this simply because he felt the Galaxy S3 was a better product, not to get hits for his site, which is something other tech commentators are known to do.

He’s written a multipart feature on the reasons for Macworld. But unlike some tech pundits, he doesn’t come up with some outrageous reason for ditching Apple. He continues to use Macs, for example. The key reasons for his switch are well explained in the course of his articles. I understand his reasons in a very direct fashion, since I set up a Galaxy S3 myself several weeks ago, probably about the same time Andy made his move, though I don’t necessarily think my decision somehow influenced him.

In my case, it’s more of an experiment than a life-altering decision, and I also plan to give the Galaxy S IV a try when Samsung makes a unit available to me, and that will probably happen after the product is launched next week.

The difference, of course, is that my move isn’t meant to be permanent. I just felt the need to become more familiar with the most popular mobile platform on the planet, and I can understand why some people might indeed prefer Android, although it’s clear the platform has ongoing difficulties.

Two of Andy’s key reasons for the switch: The 4.8-inch display on the Galaxy S3 provides way more comfort than even the 4-inch iPhone 5. Although it’s not suited to one-handed operation, being able to just see more information on the screen at one time is a huge plus. He’s also pleased that he has a choice of keyboards. If he doesn’t like the default Samsung layout, he can download others from the Google Play store.

The keyboard is one area where I find fault with Andy’s decision. I am still getting my feet wet with the Android keyboard, though, to be fair, I haven’t tried the low-cost alternatives. Andy prefers the SWYPE keyboard scheme, where you swipe instead of tap letters, which may be a more flexible alternative for some of you. But I did find such apps in the App Store, so you don’t have to switch platforms to try this alternative.

But the ability to customize an Android handset or tablet to a fare-thee-well may be an important plus. Apple prefers to give you a simple, elegant user experience out of the box, with minimal configuration options. That works fine for people who just want things to work, but if Apple’s settings, or the limited choices for change, aren’t sufficient, where can you do?

Looking at Android, you can see features that Apple ought to adopt, not necessarily when it comes to more expansive customization schemes. It would also be nice, for example, to be able to store apps in alphabetical sequence, so that ones you buy aren’t just tacked onto the end of the list.

The upshot of all this is the fact that Android has grown much better over time, and in many ways is a dead-on competitor with the iOS, although security is one issue that still needs plenty of work. In any case, Apple needs to pay attention, and maybe the rapid fall in the stock price will help. But that doesn’t mean that Apple should crib features from Android, although it’s clear the reverse has happened. On the other hand, there are various and sundry shortcomings that can and should be addressed in iOS 7.

Apple also needs to be a bit more open in accepting apps for the App Store. The sandboxing restrictions work fine from a security standpoint, but apps need to talk to one another. You should, for example, be able to choose a default email or browser that isn’t made by Apple.

Let me give you another example: The network that carries my two radio shows, GCN, has had problems posting software in the App Store. The latest complication involves supplying separate apps for each show. Evidently the powers-that-be in the Apple Store review department don’t consider the same app, with different artwork that streams a different show, to be unique enough. Yes, you can get separate apps for my shows in Google Play, except there’s a bug that prevents them from working on some versions of Android and some handsets. Fragmentation is rearing its ugly head again, but that doesn’t make Android useless. But apps of that sort should find an easy road to acceptance in the App Store.

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2 Responses to “About Those Public Platform Swatchers”

  1. Peter says:

    Looking at Android, you can see features that Apple ought to adopt […] But that doesn’t mean that Apple should crib features from Android, although it’s clear the reverse has happened.

    This is becoming entertaining. Apple ought to “adopt” features from Android, but they shouldn’t “crib” them.

    So, like, the split keyboard on the iPad was “adopted” from the Motorola Xoom?

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