Apple's iPhone 7: Impressions Of An Android User

Image: Apple

Until recently, I hadn't ever used an iPhone as my primary phone. I use iOS every day on an iPad, and I play around with each new iPhone when it comes out, but having jumped into Android early my everyday phone for the last six years has either been made by Sony or LG (or Samsung, that one time). After using the iPhone 7 exclusively for around a week and a half I have a greater appreciation for all the things it does well, and I appreciate that I've underestimated some of the smoothness that iOS' focus brings to a phone.

But on the flip side a lot of the phone's restrictions feel kind of mean after so long being in charge of my own stuff. Other parts of the experience feel arbitrary or downright old, and while I can see why there are many hardcore iPhone fans, I suspect there are also many users that stick with the brand simply because it's designed to lock them in.

#1 Apple's way or not at all

The most jarring thing about moving from Android to iPhone is having to do things Apple's way, with many things I'm used to tinkering with (like default apps) set in stone. A very close second most jarring thing is having to deal with the fact that every non-Apple app is its own siloed-off world.

Some of this is just a bit annoying -- like having to use Apple's Messages for SMS, which treats your non-iPhone-having friends like second class citizens -- but some of it makes my smartphone life significantly clunkier.

An example: If you use a password manager -- and you really should -- you can pretty much stop worrying about passwords when you're using a PC, Mac or Android phone. Websites and apps just log themselves in, and it's awesome. Yet while most good password managers have an app for iOS, they can't talk to most of your other apps or browsers. It's copy-paste all day. Basically if an app is going to have anything to do with another app in iOS, both developers have to specifically build their software that way.

iOS has got a little better in this regard in the last few years, adding things like the ability for apps to refresh their contents in the background, but there's still a lot here that reminds you of the systems one-at-a-time roots.

For people that only want to use Apple devices, there are solutions to make some of these issues easier (like iCloud Keychain for the password issue), but it's an all-or-nothing ultimatum. As someone who likes to switch up my tech every now and again, Apple's doing very little to encourage me in.

#2 Apple doesn't get enough credit for some of its stuff

I know this sounds like a ridiculous thing to say about the most successful phone brand in the world, but I think it's true.

The most common criticism thrown at Apple is that it merely takes ideas tested by others and implements them in a more refined way. While this is often true (I am glad iOS has widgets now!), the most recent iPhones also have some hardware tricks that I don't think anyone else is doing as well.

The sensations delivered by the so-called Taptic Engine, for example, are really great. I admit I took it for a gimmick at first, but giving the tactile impression that your scrolling web page has physically bumped into the bottom of the screen -- or that a rotating dial is clicking through numbers as it goes — is an immersive trick I wish all phones had. Even for notifications it's a much more subtle way to deliver feedback than the aggressive and noisy buzz of your standard phone vibration, and when used cleverly in apps it can ground abstract smartphone operations and make them much more intuitive.

3D Touch is the other one that stands out. I know some Chinese phones can do this as well, but Apple's integration is superior. While I wish there was an easier way to tell when something could be pressed firmly to access more options, this method of essentially adding a contextual "right click" to a smartphone is a really elegant way to add functionality.

#3 Apple seems to spend as much effort keeping iPhone the same as it does moving it forward

Even given the above, some of the most interesting tweaks to the iPhone circa 2016 when compared to older models feel like over-engineered solutions to keep Apple's phones familiar even when the rest of the world is moving on.

The new Home button is a great example. So much time, money and engineering spent to perfect a fancy new gizmo that feels and works exactly like an old-fashioned mechanical button! The illusion is undoubtedly well implemented, but at this point you wonder why the huge circular button is still there at all.

And speaking of old-fashioned, the insistence on keeping the Home button means the screen still only makes up around 65 per cent of the front of the phone. I generally prefer small-screened phones because I like to use them one-handed while walking around, but ever since the iPhone 6 Apple's standard phone has been much tougher to manage this way than Android phones, despite having one of the littlest screens around.

In addition the huge bezel your thumb has to reach over before it gets to the screen, the lack of standardised navigation controls in iOS means you typically have to tap the top of the screen to move around an app. Apple's solution, rather than lowering the size of its bezels or making a 'back' button, is that users can double tap the Home button to drag the entire contents of the screen down and put the top corners within thumb's reach. Again, it's a very clever solution to a problem that doesn't need to exist.

#4 One unified system has its benefits

Of course there is one aspect of iPhone's snail-paced evolution that makes sense: keeping things mostly the same means software that's released today should stay compatible for many many years to come.

It's annoying that all the apps I bought on the Google Play store are locked away on iOS unless I pay for them again, but that's not Apple's fault. What is cool is that virtually all of the stuff I bought years ago on my iPod Touch or over the years on my iPad are here ready to go, and many have been significantly improved since I paid for them.

Moving from iPhone to iPhone is also, obviously, much less painful than moving from Android device to Android device, especially if you're changing brands. A mix of Google backups, whatever the manufacturer has come up with and third party apps is often needed if you want to move everything from one 'Droid to another, and sometimes it's easier to start again altogether. By contrast, if you've backed up your iPhone recently you can be pretty much assured you can restore all your apps, settings to be just the way you left them.

This article originally appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald

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