A week ago, I jotted down some of my initial thoughts after using an iPhone for a day. Thanks you for the public and private comments I’ve received!
What I liked
The overall design is beautiful. Looking at the phone, you see a blank, black slate—no logo, no brand names—and a button. This is different from Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Samsung. (The Google-branded Nexus and probably the Pixel are not branded on the front, and don’t even have the button!) The handset is balanced and always feels good in your hands. It’s well made and durable, thin—almost too thin.
The camera functions are also very fast and very easy to use, although the camera quality is outside the scope of my review, since models change and leadership bounces around from Nokia to Microsoft to Apple to Google, and on.
Apple Pay is really fast. While Microsoft Wallet provides similar functionality, Touch ID makes much more sense if you’re using Apple Pay. With my Lumia 950XL, I have to authenticate using PIN (slow) or iris scan (slow and awkward). Touch ID shines at the register.
WiFi and Bluetooth connection stability was better than on my Lumia, but (1) I’ve been using beta software and (2) it still wasn’t quite as perfect as I’d like, particularly before giving up the headphone jack. On Windows phones, generally I have to manually disable my wifi before driving away, if I’m still in range and playing a podcast or music. The iPhone’s connections were more stable.
The UI is smooth
Apple has obvious paid a lot of attention to the smoothness of the UI, transitions, the way menus move. I love the automatic full screen when you rotate the phone while playing a video. Night Shift is really great and easy to use.
I also liked that, in the latest version of iOS, Apple supports third-party keyboard, as I find the system keyboard very difficult to use at speed.
This lived up to and exceeded my expectations. The iOS app catalog is rich, varied, and I was making constant discoveries. It’s not just a matter of needing an app for Five Guys, which I don’t, but really good apps in visual art, music, parental controls, and just plain creative apps on iOS that don’t exist on Windows, and some don’t even exist on Android. (I’m sure when I write up Android, I’ll have found some exclusives for that platform.) The App Store is full of things I didn’t know I needed, which is also a bit dangerous.
To be clear, the infamous “app gap” on Windows phone is not as bad as reported. Most of the apps I used on a regular basis work decently on Windows phones, too, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, Napster/Spotify/Deezer Music, Facebook, Instagram, Open Table, Insteon (and Homeboy), Yelp, Starbucks, Zomato, Fandango, Vimeo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Disqus (which used to be a Windows phone exclusive), Wunderlist, Slack, WSJ, Steam, CBS News, NPR One, Flipboard, OverDrive, etc.
Here were some of my favorites app discoveries on iOS (what are your favorites?):
- Overcast is a good Podcast app, better than the built-in one.
- Microsoft Selfie and Pix; why aren’t these built into the Windows phone camera app?
- Other Microsoft apps such as Sway, Visio viewer, and Flow. (Have you seen Flow?? It’s an IFTTT killer focused on business productivity.)
- Prisma photo editing and face-changing apps such as MSQRD and FaceRig. I had a lot of fun using these with my younger daughters.
- Stop-motion animation apps such as Loop by Seedling.
- Lots of store and restaurant apps such as Wegmans, Panera Bread, Zoe’s Kitchen, Costco, REI apps, etc.
- Lyft, which means I’m not always stuck with Uber any more (definitely a first-world complaint).
- HBO apps, which don’t exist on Windows mobile (but are on Windows 10, including Xbox, tablets, desktops, laptops, etc.)
- Insurance and financial apps including Allstate, Vanguard, Capital One, and Bluebird.
- H__R (formerly “Hear”), which is a great white-noise app for work environments or sleeping.
- Bible study apps, particularly Olive Tree, and related apps. Even my church has an app!
While there were plenty of apps that work on Windows phones just or nearly as well as they do on iOS, there are also many apps that exist on both platforms but which are much better on iOS—including some of Microsoft’s own apps such as the email client (the Outlook app on iOS). Other apps better on iOS include Life360 (Windows phone app now retired but still functional if you have it installed), Domino’s Pizza (which used to be a huge supporter of Windows phones but plans to retire their app), Fandango, and Netflix.
What I did not like
While overall stunning, there are a few things in the hardware that I’m not quite sold on.
- The location of the power button—on the side, directly opposite the volume and mute buttons—makes it harder to use. If you grab it naturally and squeeze, you’re likely to trigger a volume button. It made more sense on the top, but then you wouldn’t have that lovely unbroken edge on the top.
- The proprietary ‘lightning’ cable, while well executed, is still proprietary. Depending on an iPhone for me meant always worrying about having a cable with me or knowing where there were others at work that I could borrow.
- I’m very surprised that the iPhone still only has the one, monaural speaker, even on the latest models. Windows phones and Android phones tend to be stereo (both the speakers and the mics).
- The battery appeared to be pretty good—until I used the phone. Other platforms have gone to OLED/AMOLED, which is more power efficient.
- The screen doesn’t have the black levels that most other phones now have. (It’s rumored that the iPhone X/8 will use AMOLED.)
Can we talk about design vs. aesthetics?
Looking in on iOS from the outside, I had always been told that Apple was the gold standard when it came to good design. I’m beginning to think that’s no longer the case. Some of the decisions seem to go against usability in favor of aesthetics. This leaves the impression that their approach results products that are beautiful but not quite as smart as could have been. While ever more beautiful and wonderful to hold, many of the interactions just don’t make sense.
I first noticed this on the MacBook Lite that only had one USB-C port, which seems to have started the slide towards Apple adapters everywhere. And the decision to get rid of the headphone jack just reinforces this conception.
…although the products are indeed even more beautiful than before, that beauty has come at a great price. Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read. We have obscure gestures that are beyond even the developer’s ability to remember. We have great features that most people don’t realize exist.
The operating system & UI
One of the things I’ve heard criticized about Windows phones is the animated delay from when you tap to when an app opens, and that in an iPhone the app just starts right up. Not true. iOS is very good at giving that impression, but all that’s going on is a screenshot being displayed while the app resumes (or more likely restarts) in the background.
There are also some real head-scratchers in the UI. For example, the tray that I get when I swipe up contains buttons for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. But pressing-and-holding them does nothing (at least on the iPhone 6; perhaps it does something on the 6s). On Windows and Android, this usually results in a shortcut directly to the relevant settings (for Wifi, etc.).
With the phablet Lumia 950XL, I was able to do most things one handed, but with the iPhone, I’m constantly having to use both hands, sometimes to try to navigate back a page (within an app), since the back button/square/x/whatever is often in the upper-left corner, the worst place.
In part 2: Things that didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and what I missed most from my Windows phone.