Tuesday, 11 June 2013

WWDC 2013: Reminding me why I switched to Android

I switched to Android in mid-2012 after almost 3 years of using iOS. I wrote about the reasons that prompted my switch and after seeing what Apple unveiled at this years WWDC, I'm more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. iOS has remained largely the same for 6 years. It has improved of course over the past 6 versions, adding a few features here and there along the way but it still looked the same. iOS 7 addressed that issue with a completely new design. New lock screen. New notification centre. New icons. New app interface. New colour schemes. A system-wide design revamp. If you're a long-time iOS user, you will definitely welcome the new design. Quite frankly, I'm glad Apple decided to chance the look of iOS. I would feel sorry for all iOS users if they were stuck with the same design for another year. Of course, if iOS was customisable like Android, this wouldn't be a problem, but I digress. Even with a complete redesign and added functionality like Control Centre and AirDrop, I won't be switching back to iOS anytime soon. If anything, the keynote only justified my reasons for switching to Android.

Despite a new design, iOS is still very restricted
No changes here.
The redesign of iOS perhaps is more accurately called a reskinning of iOS. It still functions in the same way; your home screen is a grid of icons. No widget support. No themes. What did change is the appearance of iOS. What Samsung and HTC do to Android, Apple has just done to iOS. It maintains the same basic functionality, but with a different appearance, i.e., a skin. This is good in a sense that we want our phones to look visually appealing, and a 6-year old design is not appealing. So good on Apple for the new look. But will it be enough to mask the fact that you are still bound by Apple's many restrictions in iOS? You still can't select 3rd party apps as defaults. You are stuck with Safari as your default browser, the native Mail app as your default e-mail app, Maps as your default map app and so on. There was no mention of Apple allowing 3rd party keyboards, which wouldn't be a problem if the stock iOS keyboard was improved. It wasn't. Again, the keyboard was only redesigned but still functions the same way. Sharing is still limited to a few apps which are built into iOS, which means inter-operability between installed apps is still absent in terms of sharing. iOS 7 does a great job of refreshing the appearance of the aging OS, but it fails to deliver more core functionality. If you are content with how iOS works, iOS 7 will be great for you. But if you were hoping for more, you'll likely be disappointed. 
Despite some additions, sharing in iOS is still severely limited.

iOS is no longer leading the way in the industry
There was a time when every phone was compared to the iPhone. This was largely due to iOS. Whenever a new Galaxy phone was released, people would say that it was copying the iPhone. But what WWDC showed me yesterday was that the roles have been reversed. iOS is now playing catch-up to the rest of the industry. iOS 7 comes with some new functionality which to be honest, surprised me. Not because I thought they were blatantly copying someone else, but because all this time I assumed these features were already present in iOS! Take the App Store for instance. It will be updated to allow for automatic app updates. All this while Android already had this functionality so I assumed iOS did too! The notification centre received an update as well making it less cluttered and a bit more functional. That's great. BTW, it can be accessed from the lock screen!! Mind = blown. Again this is something so simple that Android users have been using for a long time, and now Apple are only just implementing it. A few more things, iWork for iCloud? Google Drive. Nuff said. Control Centre? Seen it before. AirDrop? WiFi Direct. For Apple users, these additions are great. It will make their iPhones better to use. For everyone else, it's nothing new.
Great additions to iOS. Better late than never I guess.

Siri is still behind Google Now
Siri got an update as well at WWDC. A new look (of course), new voices (including a male voice), and some new functionality. Siri can now control hardware like brightness, and can pull data from Twitter and Wikipedia. Oh, Siri is also integrated with Bing. You read right, Bing. Is Apple still trying to cut ties with Google even after the Maps fiasco? In any case, I never considered Siri a true personal assistant. It's a cool voice search app, that's all. You still need to launch Siri for any information. Google Now on the other hand gives you information before you ask for it. Got a flight coming up? Google Now will update you if it is delayed. Wondering if your favourite sports team won the game last night? Google Now will tell you the score without you asking. Going overseas for vacation? Google Now will tell you the currency exchange rate, show you interesting events happening around you and photo spots nearby, all without you having to ask. That is a true assistant. Siri may look at sound pretty, but that's all you get.
Still not Google Now.

The full iOS 7 experience isn't for everyone
Don't own one of these?
Sorry, no iOS in the Car for you.
One of the things I actually like about iOS is that it is less fragmented than Android. On Android we have several manufacturers, each with their own proprietary skinned version of Android which leads to fragmentation within the consumer base. This problem isn't present on iOS, or not as much. Having only one phone a year makes updating previous models much easier. Having said that, one of the new features of iOS 7, AirDrop, won't be coming to all iOS devices. Only the iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad Mini and the 5th Gen iPod Touch will get the feature. Not even the iPhone 4s will get AirDrop even though it will get iOS 7. I actually just realised that Apple usually dilute the latest version of iOS for older models. The iPhone 4 didn't get Siri even though it was only a year behind the latest model at the time, the iPhone 4s. Now the iPhone 4s despite being less than two years old will miss out on AirDrop. Keeping old models up to date is important, but exactly how important is it if some key features are missing? Google Now can run on any device as long as it is running Android 4.1. Even mid-range and entry level phones can have Google Now. But the iPhone 4s can't get AirDrop. Another feature, iOS in the Car will only work with cars made by Acura, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Kia, Opel, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Volvo. In other words, in order to get the best out of iOS, you need to buy a new car. No thank you Apple. 

Google I/O vs Apple WWDC
As a final point, WWDC was about 2 hours long, with iOS 7 getting the most air time. Google I/O on the other hand was more than 3 hours long. And there was no update to Android at all. We are still on Android 4.2.2. Google chose to focus on improving core Google services that everyone can enjoy. Google Play Game Services, updates to core Google apps like Gmail, Maps and Google Search/Now, and a new Hangouts app. Even without a specific Android update, all Android users will get to experience what Google showed off at I/O. Compared to Apple who like always, unveil a major iOS update which unfortunately, will be a lesser experience on older devices. That to me, is a win for all Android users, but only a few iOS users.
I/O 2013 vs WWDC 2013 winner.

In a nutshell, Apple did what they had to do with iOS 7. iOS was in dire need of a refresh, and Apple delivered. The additions to iOS may not be revolutionary, but they were necessary additions nonetheless. We make fun of how Apple are now copying Google's Android but the truth is, everyone copies from everyone else. So while these additions were expected and quite frankly very necessary, Apple still failed to give us their "one more thing" knockout blow they are so famous for. iOS 7 will be a welcome and much needed upgrade for all existing iOS users. A new interface, new features and improved functionality will keep most iOS users happy. If you love iOS, you'll love iOS 7. For everyone else however, there's nothing new to see here.