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The Complete Guide To Switching From iPhone To Android

Sick of Apple’s restrictive operating system but haven’t yet made the jump from iPhone to Android? Here’s what to expect, how to adjust, and how to cope with certain app withdrawal.

Title images: nmedia/Shutterstock, Spasiblo/Shutterstock

The original version of this guide was written a couple of years back in the days of Android 2.3. Since then, things have changed dramatically. Amongst other developments, Apple had its Maps debacle, while Android Jelly Bean brought an incredibly smooth user interface.

While both operating systems have distinct advantages, iOS often frustrates those who want control over how they use their phones (rather than the other way around). After five years of iPhones, I found myself in that camp and made the switch to a Nexus 4. Switching was easier than I thought, but it still brought about a number of challenges. Just because you ultimately choose Android doesn’t mean you don’t want a lot of what iOS has to offer.

In this post, we’ll look at how to adjust to Android’s differences and bring in the comforts of iOS you may miss. If you want to check out a specific section, you can use this table of contents:

  • Find Your Way Around Android
  • Home Screens
  • Default Apps
  • Notifications
  • Maps And Navigation
  • Voice Command And Assistance
  • Operating System Updates
  • Battery Life
  • Rooting And Flashing ROMs
  • Find iOS App Alternatives
  • Discover Additional Benefits Of Android
  • Find Your Way Around Android

    As a former iPhone user, you’ll probably find that the biggest adjustment to using Android is navigating your way through the operating system. In iOS, pretty much everything happens with the home button. In Android, you don’t have a physical home button; instead, there’s a a series of three or four touch buttons at the bottom of your screen. They generally go in this order:

    • Back: A curvy arrow pointing left
    • Home: The outline of a house
    • Multitasking Drawer: One rectangle on top of the other
    • Settings: Vertical ellipsis (not all devices display this button at all times, or in the bottom row)

    The back button is often a source of confusion because its functionality is not always consistent. In most cases, it will just take you to the last thing you did in an app. If there is no last thing, it may take you back to your home screen. Sometimes it will do something else; you’ll have to learn which apps are the exception.

    The home button simply takes you back to your home screen.

    The multitasking drawer shows you your active apps so you can quickly switch between them without the need to go back to your home screen or open your app drawer. It works similarly to iOS’ app switching, though it provides a vertical list (instead of a horizontal one) and provides a preview of the open app. Instead of tapping and holding to close apps, you swipe them away.

    The settings button is sometimes a soft button like the others mentioned in this section, but on certain devices it will simply appear contextually in apps. If you see a vertical ellipsis (three dots stacked on top of each other), that’s where you’ll access an app’s settings. To get to your phone’s system settings, just open the Settings app in your app drawer, on your home screen (if you keep it there) or via the notification drawer (explained later, in the Notifications section).

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    Home Screens

    Like iOS, Android can have more than one home screen. On many phones, you’ll find five, but the number varies depending on the manufacturer and version you’re using. Your primary home screen (or page, if you prefer to think of it that way) starts in the middle with additional ones to the left and right.

    On Android, you can display apps and make folders just as you can on iOS by tapping, holding and dragging an app onto another app. Android doesn’t force you to place anything on your home screen, however, so you have to do a little more work to make it look the way you want.

    While this might seem more complicated and tedious, organising your Android home screen offers several distinct advantages. First, you don’t have to display any apps you don’t want. Second, you can add widgets that provide information and functionality. Third, you can download custom launchers that let your home screen do even more for you, such as customise its appearance. We’ll discuss all three in this section.

    How To Add And Organise Apps And Widgets

    Unlike iOS, Android doesn’t show all your apps on the home screen by default. Instead, you can add your most important ones to your home screen and find the rest inside the app drawer. The app drawer is a little icon (in your home screen’s dock by default) that you tap to view your entire collection of apps. Once you’re inside your app drawer, tapping and holding any app will take you back to your home screen so you can create a shortcut. Just place it wherever you want and you’re done.

    There is a second way to add shortcuts to your home screen. While on the home screen, you can tap any empty space and hold for a moment. This will bring up a menu asking you want you want to add. Just choose the app you want and it will appear on the home screen. Tap and hold to move it around.

    If you want to remove an app shortcut (which will not uninstall the app), just drag it to the letter X at the top of the screen and let go.

    Widgets work exactly the same way. If you tap an empty space on your home screen, choose the Widgets option to add a widget instead. You can also add widgets from your app drawer by scrolling past all your apps and into the widget section. Tapping and holding will allow you to place them on your home screen. In the latest version of Android, you can also change their size by dragging along the edges.

    How To Change Your Launcher

    On Android, Launchers refer to your home screen and the functions surrounding it. Unlike with iOS, you can download apps to replace the default option. Android’s default launcher is solid, but you can do a lot more with a custom launcher. We’re big fans of Nova Launcher, but there are plenty of good options. Each launcher has differing options, but most can customise icons, change home screen animations and pack more into your dock. Changing your launcher doesn’t require more than downloading your choice from the Google Play Store and opening it up. If you like it, read the next section to learn about how to set it as your default app.

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    Default Apps

    In iOS, Apple forces you to use its apps as the defaults. In Android, you don’t have to. If you prefer a different navigation app for your driving needs or an alternative mail client, you can make the switch without much hassle.

    All you have to do to change a default app is to download a new one and open it. Next time an app is required for a specific function, such as opening an image, you’ll be asked which app you want to use for the job. Simply select the new one and tap the “Always” button to let Android know you want it to be the default.

    If you ever want to undo this change, you can clear the defaults easily too. Open your app drawer, find the current default app you want to clear, and tap and hold down on its icon as if you’re going to add a shortcut to your home screen. Instead of adding that shortcut, however, drag the app to the top of the screen where you’ll see the text “App Info”. Let go and a screen will appear with a bunch of settings for that app. Under the Defaults section you’ll find a “Clear Defaults” button. Tap it and you’re all set.

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    Notifications

    The Notification Center in iOS looked like a play straight out of Android’s book. The pull-down notification drawer which both mobile operating systems offer are very similar.

    Android offers a number of additional features in its notification drawer that you won’t find in iOS. You still drag down from the top of the screen to bring it up, but dismissing notifications is a little easier. You can swipe any individual ones from left to right to get rid of them, or you can dismiss them all by tapping an icon at top that looks like three horizontal bars. Android’s notification drawer also has a handy settings menu that you can view by tapping the little human icon in the upper right-hand corner. This makes it easy to check battery status, toggle aeroplane mode and change screen brightness.

    By default, Android doesn’t offer the same range of Lock Screen notifications like iOS. That said, you can get similar features by installing an app called LockerPro. It not only provides a similar experience to iOS, but offers quick app launching shortcuts and (in my opinion) a better design.

    Overall, you’ll like how notifications work on Android. You can add any lacking functionality you liked about iOS through third-party apps and get a few bonus options the operating system adds by default.

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    Maps and Navigation

    When Apple released iOS 6, it delivered turn-by-turn navigation for free, just as Google had done Android several years prior. In many cases, Apple takes a lot longer than other companies to develop features but offers a better product when it finally comes out. This was not the case with Maps, and so you’ll be very glad to make the switch to Google’s phenomenal built-in navigation.

    You may also find yourself a little confused, as Google splits its Maps and Navigation apps into separate entities. When you want to find a place or get directions, you’ll use Maps. Maps will provide you with directions. It works very similarly to the way Apple’s Maps worked prior to iOS 6. If you want turn-by-turn navigation, you tap the navigation button after getting directions and the Maps app will launch the Navigation app to handle your request. This feels a little unnecessary, and you’ll find you’re tapping through more menus and buttons than you would on iOS — strangely, even with Google’s official Maps app for iOS — but it’s a small price to pay for great navigation that’s fully integrated with the operating system.

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    Voice Command And Virtual Assistance

    Although Siri isn’t perfect, she’s one of the better features of iOS. You can ask her to set reminders, look up directions and much more. She’s also very easy to call upon by simply long-pressing the iPhone’s home button. While Android’s voice commands (useful for search, getting directions, sending text messages and other functions) tend to be smarter, faster and generally better, you lose out on Siri’s personality and some of her functionality when you make the switch.

    In the past, we’ve offered many Siri-alternative suggestions for Android. Overall, Vlingo is our favourite. Whatever you choose, you’ll have to get used to different methods of activation (such as shaking your to start) and communicating. For example, when you send a text message, you’ll often have to do it in a single step. With Siri, you might say “Text Whitson Gordon mobile” and then specify your message when prompted. On Android you’d say, “Text Whitson Gordon mobile ‘What time is the movie again?’”

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    Operating System Updates

    When you have an iPhone, you have an official Apple device. When you buy an Android, you don’t have an official Google device unless you purchase an official Google Nexus phone. That means you’re at the mercy of your phone’s manufacturer and carrier when it comes to receiving system updates. This can be very frustrating because updates can be slow to roll out, especially in Australia.

    If you are considering switching to Android, we highly recommend purchasing a Nexus phone. This way you’ll always receive updates as soon as Google releases them. If you go with a non-Nexus Android phone, however, you might prefer flashing a ROM.

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    Battery Life

    iPhone battery life is nothing to boast about; Android battery performance varies hugely depending on the model. We’ve offered detailed recommendations on improving Android battery performance in the past; below are the most crucial techniques.

    Turn Off Radios You Aren’t Using

    Bluetooth and GPS radios will drain your battery more quickly, and they don’t need to remain active for the majority of your day. One of the first things you should do when you’re setting up your home screens is add the settings widget included with Android. It has five settings toggles: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync and Brightness. Just toggle off Bluetooth and GPS when they’re not in use and toggle them on when they are. This will improve your phone’s standby time significantly.

    Make Charging Easy

    Because most Android devices use microUSB to charge, you probably already have a cable that will work, and your friends are likely to as well. Whenever you’re leaving your phone around at a friend’s house, don’t hesitate to ask to charge it. Keep a charger in your car, in your bag, at work and a couple around the house. Chargers don’t cost much, and microUSB cables can always be repurposed for many other devices. It doesn’t hurt to have a handful of them, and it can really help you ensure your phone has plenty of charge. Alternatively, check if your phone offers an extended battery that doesn’t fatten up the phone too much.

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    Rooting And Flashing ROMs

    Like jailbreaking on an iPhone, rooting Android provides additional privileges that allow you to do even more with your device. For many iPhone users, Android provides so much more flexibility that rooting may seem unnecessary. Personally, I only root for the purpose of creating an automated backup. If you want to root, our complete guide provides instructions for the most popular Android devices.

    Rooting your Android also leads to another, somewhat riskier proposition: flashing ROMs. By default, your phone comes with a specific version of Android created by the phone’s manufacturer (that’s just plain stock Android if you’re using a Nexus device). This version of Android is your phone’s default ROM, which you can often change to another that provides additional features, speed enhancements and more.

    Not all ROMs work on all phones and you can definitely brick your phone by failing to flash a ROM correctly. If you want to give it a shot, check out our guide to choosing a ROM (or our ROM guide for Nexus phones) and then follow that ROM’s installation instructions for your phone. If you need assistance, the XDA Developers Forum is a good place to start.

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    Find iOS App Alternatives

    When switching to Android from iOS, you’ll need a lot of new apps. Our Android App Directory and Lifehacker Pack For Android provides a number of helpful suggestions in various categories, but many are the best options for Android users. For those coming from iOS, here are some options you’ll want to check out:

    • Pocket Casts: If you love podcasts, you’re probably sad to leave Downcast behind on iOS. Although not the most feature-rich and powerful podcast manager (that would be Doggcatcher), Pocket Casts still handles most anything you can throw at it while maintaining an elegant and intuitive interface.
    • MightyText: One of the hardest things to leave behind when ditching iOS is iMessage. Despite its imperfections, chances are you used it much more than you thought. MightyText provides very similar functionality through Google Chrome, allowing you to answer your text messages on a computer and even receive alerts for new calls. This is very helpful, as I often keep my phone on silent and now know when an important call is coming in even if I forgot to turn on the ringer.
    • Silence: Whether you used iOS 6′s Do Not Disturb feature on your phone, or just liked the convenience of your iPhone’s easy volume toggle, Silence fills the void (or, if you think about it, creates one). By defining a few simple rules, you can make your phone shut up when you don’t want it to ring and even let important calls through.
    • Headphone Remote Control: iOS does a fantastic job of using the remote built into many wired headsets to easily control your phone. Android does not. Although not perfect, Headphone Control will add some of that functionality back.

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    Discover The Other Benefits Of Android

    Android can do a lot of awesome stuff that your iPhone couldn’t. You’ll find it fun to discover these new features as you explore everything the operating system has to offer. Here are a few things you’ll want to check out:

    • Google Now is one of the greatest additions to Android. If you want to research something or ask a question, you just search Google Now and it will provide you with that information on a concise and attractive summary card. You can search via text or with your voice — it’s up to you. Most Android phones will have a Google Search bar on the home screen by default, but you can bring up Google Now in your app drawer or by swiping up from the bottom of your home screen. For more on Google Now, read our guide.
    • You can install apps remotely through the Google Play Store even when you’re away (or don’t want to deal with) your phone. Just visit the store, search for the app you want, and click the buy/install button. You’ll be asked which device to send the app to. Just select your phone and it will be there in minutes.
    • Smarter keyboards are an option on Android. In fact, in Android 4.2 you can use gesture-based typing. Of course, you don’t have to stick with the default. Android is flexible, and you can choose your favourite.
    • Lock screen widgets add a little extra info to your lock screen. Just swipe from left to right and you’ll find an empty box. Tap and hold that box to add a widget that will be available on your lock screen when you need it.
    • Exploring The File System is possible in Android. iOS doesn’t give you direct access, so this is the sort of thing you might miss if you don’t look for it. In Android, you can download files from web browsers and store things where you want them just like you would on a computer. Your phone will probably come with a file explorer app installed, but Solid Explorer is my favourite alternative.

    This is just the beginning. As you explore Android, you’ll find plenty of new features that you love as well as apps and methods that help you through the transition.

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