iPhone thoughts after a week (2 of 2)

This is the second part of a two-part post. In the first part, I discussed generally what I liked and didn’t like about my use of the iPhone for a week. Here are the rest of my thoughts on how the week went.

Disappointments

Coming from Windows phones, one can get discouraged, hearing about how this feature or that feature doesn’t work as well as it does on other operating systems. This is largely a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side phenomenon. Given the declining market and mind-share of Windows phones, and the relative ‘morale’ of the other operating systems, it’s natural to believe the worst. The truth is, Microsoft is constantly improving the operating system, adding major features and refining others. As some apps leave, new apps are arriving all the time, too. I’m not saying Windows Mobile isn’t getting the short end of the stick from Microsoft, particularly on apps, but the OS itself is still vigorously being supported and developed.

The point here is that some things don’t work as well as one might believe when looking over the fence. Science is hard, and technical problems don’t magically disappear just because you’re on Android or iOS. Each platform solves problems differently and leaves some on the table.

If you participate in the Windows Insider program (the open beta program for many Microsoft products) you are more likely to see things break or not working right. That comes with the territory. For example, on Windows Phone 8.1, if you were an Insider, encryption was briefly broken. More recently, paying with your phone through Microsoft Wallet was broken, but is now fixed. Most consumers should stay away from Windows Insider, and my thoughts will try to ignore things broken in these beta releases.

Some of the key features of iOS aren’t quite as fabulous as they appear. They’re not bad, but they’re nothing to boast about either.

  • Touch ID isn’t quite as fast as I’d been led to believe, sometimes requiring multiple tries. (It’s reportedly faster on newer devices. No kidding.) Touch ID is brilliant for point-of-sale/Apple Pay, but it’s not a differentiator compared with other fingerprint and biometric systems. (And it’s nowhere near as fast/convenient or secure as Windows Hello facial recognition on Microsoft Surface products.)
  • The OS stability and reliability wasn’t what I expected. I had to do a hard reset this week, and the “Bloomberg” app is still there, not installed but unable to be removed, too, in limbo, cluttering up my home screen. (Someone want to tell me how to fix that?) Sometimes individual apps seem to become unresponsive, but I switched out and back in and they worked. Apple products do not “just work” any more than products from other vendors, or at least Windows phones.
  • Siri just doesn’t quit do it. It (not she) will probably get much better, soon, but right now neither the recognition nor the functionality is as good as Cortana. For example, I was discussing homework with my daughter, and I asked Siri “How tall was Andrew Johnson?” Siri gave me Internet search results; Cortana gave me the correct answer (5’10”) directly. Siri connects on the back-end to Wolfram Alpha, which is great; Cortana relies on Wikipedia, which is a much larger data set.
    • Siri doesn’t support person-based reminders. (As in “the next time I talk to my wife, remind me to ask her about her day,” which on Windows phones kicks in regardless of whether I’m calling, taking a call, or texting.)
    • Siri still doesn’t support text input. You have to talk to it. I’d rather have the option of being quieter.
  • It’s also a bit ridiculous that Apple supports NFC for Apple Pay but not for transferring data or making connections with other devices. More lock-in, more closed systems.

What I missed most from Windows

Regardless of what Apple does well or not, some things are just going to be different. For example, Windows Mobile generally supports a dark theme that applies across applications and the operating system. I prefer that to most things being white and light grey, something I don’t think can be turned off on iOS.

There IS, thankfully, a Cortana app for iOS, but it’s limited since iOS is a very closed operating system. The only way to invoke Cortana is to click the app icon (or the gadget in the tray). The app works as expected, responding to typed or spoken input just as it does for Windows 10. It doesn’t scan your disconnected email for delivery notices or travel plans, like it does on Windows devices. That means you need to use Outlook.com for Cortana to know what a good personal assistant needs to know. This looses one of the nice differentiators for Cortana over Google Now and Siri.

When you plug an iPhone into to a USB connection you get…an under-utilized data connection. You can transfer files or, if you have the right adapter and supporting devices. By contrast, Windows phones support Continuum, giving me a full desktop experience (either through a standard USB-C connection or wirelessly over Miracast), supporting keyboards, mice, a full HD display that’s close to Windows 10—even a joystick/Xbox controller or touchscreen.

Continuum really is a spectacular feature, and there’s really nothing else quite like it. Even if Android starts delivering a desktop experience, it won’t be the same. It’s probably what I would miss the most about Windows phones. For example, at work, I have a dock, just like the picture below, connected to my second desktop monitor. When I take a break and use my device instead of my work computer, I just toggle off the second display (Win+P), and Continuum pops up, ready to go. Much of this blog was typed through Continuum; I’ve done my taxes through it.

The homescreen on iOS is very basic. When a number appears on my inbox icon: Is that spam or an important email? Is it urgent? Who’s it from? What does that indicator on my social media app mean? Windows’ Live Tiles are one of its best features, since Windows Phone 7, allowing the most pertinent information to be seen at a glance. Yes, iPhones have notifications now, but that still requires extra steps. Android has full widgets (not just a widget tray), which is a decent stand in, but still not as full-functioning as live tiles. (Hey Microsoft: On your Android apps, make live-tile WIDGETS for each of them!)

And then there are Windows phone’s wonderful third-party apps. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Since there are well-supported vendor apps on iOS for Reddit and YouTube, among others, no one needed to write one. On Windows Mobile, these apps are lacking, so others had to write them—and they wrote better apps than the vendors might have made. ReadIt, BaconIt, and MyTube are better than anything I found on iOS, and they are available on full Windows 10 (and support Continuum on the phone). If you’re reading this and aren’t particularly concerned about Windows phones, give these great apps a try on your Windows 10 computer.

It’s tricky to achieve a high level of integration between iOS and Windows (and the Microsoft cloud). That’s by design, exactly the “lock in” Steve Jobs described and which hs been central to Apple’s strategy for decades. To fight this, you should start by installing OneDrive and enable camera uploads. Disable iCloud for everything except phone backups. But with a forced default browser of Safari, you’re not going to get much further. The Groove Music app on iOS is good—but the background downloads are meager.

There are also little features in Lumia phones that are really convenient, and they’ve been there for years. I love being able to double-tap my phone on and off. To turn off my iPhone, as far as I can tell, I either had to wait or wrestle with the awkward power button. The Glance screen on Lumia phones is fantastic; I always know what time it is.

Adjustments I made

There were three adjustments I made to acclimate myself to iOS, from a Windows user perspective.

First I stopped using Groove Music, because the app wasn’t great at background downloads. (If that were fixed, I’d probably keep it.) I instead opted for Spotify Premium. It turns out the Spotify catalog was better in some—but not all—circumstances, and the app worked better than Groove on iOS, although it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing. (Spotify has a Windows mobile app, but it’s reportedly buggy although functional.) Spotify also offers a family membership for up to five people for $15 per month. I am very surprised that Microsoft hasn’t offered a “family complete” package that would include movies, music, Xbox Gold, and MS Office for five people. (There is an Office365 package for about $100/year IIRC for up to five computers/people, but it doesn’t extend to media.)

Second, I used Chrome because there was no Microsoft Edge app for iOS. (I could also have used Firefox.) This probably means I’ll switch my desktop browser to Chrome or Firefox as well, to integrate the two. (Neither is available for Xbox, but MS Edge is.) On iOS, many apps supported opening links in a choice of browsers—I wish Apple let you switch the default. In order to take advantage of Microsoft Family Safety controls on Windows, my kids will need to stick it out with Microsoft Edge, for now.

Finally, and surprisingly, there is no Microsoft Movies/TV app for iOS (or for Android)! This was a shock to me, since the app works SO well on Windows phones, desktop, Xbox, etc. Its absence flies in the face of how other Microsoft services work cross-platform. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see MS release an app eventually, but there’s nothing there today. Fortunately, Disney Movies Anywhere covers many of my movies. It looks like I’ll be going back to getting my movies through Vudu in the future. Walmart (Vudu) has a great Windows 10 app, including XBox, and their quality has improved recently.

Coming up

Soon, I’ll try an Android phone or two, hopefully with Project Fi, for a week or so and let you know what I think. I might try a longer trial with iOS or Android, time permitting, and I’ll write up summaries of app availability and pros & cons. I might write about security from a user perspective. Tell me what you’d like me to cover!

I also plan to address my larger concerns about Google, security  and privacy for each platform, and my experience with more recent Windows phones.

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