Journaling a reluctant interface transition: From Android to iPhone

by Alex Schmidt

One month ago, I left my Motorola Droid Mini for an iPhone 5c. I did this for 3 primary reasons: my phone was basically broken, I got the iPhone for free, and, whereas Android’s openness was previously an appealing concept, I’ve come to value Apple’s privacy controls more (it’s easy to make privacy a central tenet when your revenue model is based on hardware and not advertising).


Plenty of folks have been through the exact transition I’m detailing. I decided to chronicle mine because I work in tech, and I wanted to do this mindfully, to notice, really, how I adapt to a new interface and be aware of my own “user journey” through that process. I’m learning a new language and I want to understand how that works.

(Note that this is written from my perspective as a user. I haven’t included much deeper analysis on why/how. Also, yes, I realize this is an older iPhone. But lots of people still use this phone. If the stuff I’m detailing has been fixed, or if you know of a solution or a better use of the phone, that’s great! Lemme know.)

I also know that a lot of people in tech/UX never develop fluency in both languages, taking iOS as the dominant or only form they need to learn (to their folly). So, I think I’ve been open to questioning assumptions that iOS worshippers never have.

Here’s how the switch went for me.


The first moments

After the shock of losing all text messages wears off (seriously how has this not been figured out?), the next thing you realize is how much your operating system had been part of your identity. Which is so dumb, but there it is. You were that kind of person, and now you’re this other kind.

Then, it’s time to start walking around the city with your new phone to guide you, which is scary!

And made scarier by the fact that you need to confirm a credit card number with Apple even just to download a FREE APP from the App store. I happened to have forgotten the credit card at home that I needed for this, so I was S.O.L. Horrible user experience right there.

We’re now one month later.

I’ve given myself some time to become accustomed to the new phone, as I wanted to be sure I’d learned enough about it to see how I feel. I wasn’t going into this to give a verdict on one platform or the other, but it’s become unavoidable:

I just can’t shake the feeling that Android is better. I miss it. Some points supporting the conclusion below.

Back Button

How people live their lives without a back button at their fingertips at all times is kind of incomprehensible to me.

Nice, friendly Android back button. Always there — bottom left.

Worse, on iPhone, it’s often at the top left of the screen, which feels way too far to move to perform such a basic action. Even worse, the back button on iOS MOVES AROUND depending on the app I’m in, faking me out (again) for an incredibly common gesture. Even even worse, sometimes there’s no back button at all — yet another fake out.

First it’s at the bottom, then it’s at the top!
Then it’s at the top, then it’s gone!

No, you can’t control what crazy 3rd party app developers do. And that’s all the more reason to pull the back button out of the app and not leave it up to them.

Scroll Velocity

The iPhone isn’t sensitive enough to it. You gotta scroll and scroll and scroll to get to the bottom of a really long article, or to get to the top of your camera roll, whereas on Android, a sweeping movement will get you there in a single gesture.

Couldn’t give me a “think,” huh?

Predictive Text

It’s so, so bad on iPhone. It probably takes me twice as long to write texts on iOS. Here’s one particularly egregious example.

Also, random bug: predictive text disappears and you have to go into settings, turn it off, and turn it back on to get it to reappear.

I miss you, skin-color neutral hand design.

Emoji Design

This has been shocking to some people when I’ve broken the news, but the emojis I see look different from what you see if we’re on different platforms. Android people see the same icons available on GChat. And really, there’s no competition. The iPhone stuff looks like it’s from 1988.

Gah! Why can’t I just put my cursor where I want it!

Cursor Placement

iPhone people: did you know that on Android, you can just tap your cursor where you want it to be, and it will go there? The magnifying glass, tap and hold thing feels incredibly convoluted after that very natural and expected experience. What’s worse, I had no idea the tap and hold thing was even possible. My sister clued me in when I expressed frustration at the poor cursor functionality. And a good friend, who has only ever had an iPhone, didn’t know until I informed her. What is that — 5 years of her life spent tapping in frustration? I think it’s a real failing of the platform that people are clueless about this incredibly important feature.

Take your chances on the Wheel of Fortune

Picker

More than anything, I don’t like using this ‘cause it feels silly and out of sync with the task at hand. It’s like a slot machine rolodex more than a date picker. But it also has a functionality problem, which is that the sensitivity to velocity is really off (in the opposite way from the other scroll velocity problem!). You need to be incredibly detailed, fine-motor-skill-wise, to get to the very next day, but move just a little faster, and it jumps several months.

So you know I’m not just being contrary, there are things that iPhone does better.

What’s available

I mean in terms of just how much more attention iPhone gets from designers. Certain apps that I had used on Android were just better on iPhone and of course apps are available on iPhone that weren’t available on Android at all.

Disclosures about privacy

Android doesn’t do this. On iPhone, it’s in your face and you can’t help but know what’s going on. I think it’s super important.

FaceTime

I don’t think I’d video chat with my Mom at all if it weren’t for FaceTime. It’s integrated so deeply and smoothly into the phone that the process is incredibly simple for her, and me.

Stupid need to download everything as a (third party) app on Android

To download something, you have to download a downloads app!

It looks nicer

My MiniDroid kind of reminded me of Darth Vader. The iPhone is like…a nice piece of Ikea furniture. Much better than Darth Vader.

On resisting the full Apple ecosystem AKA sandbox AKA romper room

One of the reasons I resisted the iPhone is that I already work on a Mac and use an iPad for reading. I wanted part of my life to be outside the bumper lane guided baby world of Apple. Android felt more like a stick shift, while iOS feels like an automatic, what with its iPhoto and iCloud auto updating. Basically, the iPhone thinks for you, and many people aren’t even aware it’s doing so.

I don’t plan to become fully subsumed by this system. I have a pretty anal, twice-annual manual cloud backup process to Dropbox and an external drive that I’m happy with and I won’t be changing that. So, thanks for the help, iOS, but I believe grown ups in the digital world should have more agency over their archives. Yeah, I actually feel weirdly strongly about this.


So, big picture, how was the change?

Fine, though some frustrations remain. I can’t say if they’ll abate with even more time. How long does it typically take to really feel comfortable with a phone? How long should it take, and how much work should we have to do to gain true ease of use? Should I set up some time at one of those newfangled genius bars to see if they can teach me a thing or two? Onboarding to a phone is a real thing, as I’ve found out.

The main takeaway for me is just how many assumptions we make about accepted “patterns” and the way things “should” be done on our phones. Questioning is a good thing, but you won’t be able to really do that if you just play with a test device for a few minutes. You really need to live with another operating system and use it for your daily tasks to get it.

Would I feel equally resistant if I were going the other way around?

I don’t know! It’s definitely possible. Maybe the whole notion of making one big switch is silly, and we’ll all be going back and forth, many times, among many platforms, throughout our lives. Maybe I’ll switch back to Android in a while, and see how that goes. Would be interesting.

In the meantime, my friend and colleague is going to give it a shot, so stay tuned for volume 2 in this series, when an iPhone person becomes an Android person.