Why I Liked the Android 10 Update

This can only go well, right?

This was actually a video I made in September but didn’t feel like posting right away. As the description and title cards try to make exceptionally clear, this is not a video bashing Android, it’s just fun to see Android folks praise the virtues of things iOS either has or has had for literally a decade. The Android 10 update was really the “let’s add a bunch of things iOS does to make things safer for our users” update, and I think that’s why I liked it.

The Delicate Nature of Comparing Smartphone Cameras and a Dash of False Equivalence

Here’s how most smartphone camera comparisons go:

  1. Frame up two phones with the same shot
  2. Take photo

That’s it, no editing or tapping the screen to focus or set exposure, just point and shoot. In many ways that probably the most fair ways to do it, and it does line up relatively well with how many people use their cameras.

But here’s what gets me: this is not how we review any other camera, and if someone did it this way we’d call them the worst camera reviewer in the world.

I completely agree that mainstream smartphone cameras should get a great shot when you point and shoot, there’s no question about it. But at the same time, if that’s all we allow these cameras to do then we’re selling them very short and are providing a very limited view of what they are capable of.

What if by default an iPhone exposes better for shadows and a Pixel exposes better for highlights? Photo comparisons are going to make one or the other of those phones look bad just by selecting types of shots that favor one’s default behavior. Whether intentionally or not, it’s going to happen. But what if you can simply tap on the thing you want exposed correctly and then snap? Does this make the comparison unfair? Yes? No? Maybe?

I guess what I’m saying is that a camera is a tool and I personally use it to take what I hope are good photographs. The problem is that these aren’t the sort of photos that I use in photo comparisons. I, and pretty much everyone else, take relatively bland shots that don’t do anything exciting.

Takeaway: I’m reassessing how I do camera comparisons. I want to do less of this:

And more of this:

And this:

And this:

My photo comparisons are going to try and be more fun and yeah, I’m probably going to run them though Lightroom here and there to add some style (which I will of course always disclose). Does it make things less “objective,” sure, but it also lets me get a little more creative and have a little more fun with them.

Product Management and the Apple Watch

In 2015 smart watches were not a new thing, and some commentators at the time even said that if Apple didn’t release a smart watch within a year that the whole company would go under. Even in April 2015 there were smart watches with always-on displays. Yet, the Apple Watch shipped without it.

Between April 2015 and now, the Apple Watch differentiated itself from other smart watches on the market and has come to truly dominate the space. Not only in unit sales either, but in quality. There is no serious reviewer out there today who is going to tell you that Wear OS from Google is better than watchOS. You might get some Samsung Stans tell you the Galaxy watches are better, but I’ve used those too and oof, it’s not even close.

So in 2019 when Apple released the Apple Watch Series 5 with an always-on display and some reviewers roll their eyes when they say “Apple should have had this from the start, I mean Android watches have had this forever,” because what this shows is not how out of touch Apple is, but how well their product managers prioritized the right things in the right order.

We celebrate designers and developers all the time, and rightfully so, but so much credit for product success should go to the product managers guiding these teams to do the right things.

I Want An “Exciting” Phone: or An Appreciation for Iteration

This is the Estwing 16 oz. Cureved-Claw Rip Hammer:

Doesn’t look that crazy right? Surely this is just a random hammer I found at Home Depot, right? Nope, according to The Wirecutter, this is the best hammer money can buy.

There are plenty of other hammers you can buy that are bigger, have crazy materials, and more interesting designs. These exist and that’s fine, but if you’re just looking for the best tool for the job, this “boring” hammer is where The Wirecutter says you should spend your money.

I think about stuff like this when I see reviews for the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. These phones took everything good about the iPhone XR and XS from last year and…

  1. Added lots more battery
  2. Improved the camera system a ton
  3. Improved the build quality
  4. Shipped the fasted chip in any smartphone (or most PCs)
  5. Added WiFi 6 and a billion other wireless bands that help people today

And of course these phones run the mobile operating system that has the best library of first and third party apps that will actually take advantage of these new features.

So what they did was take a very good phone in the iPhone XS and made everything about it better in meaningful ways people will appreciate every day they use these phones.

And yet, many reviews have a tinge of boredom to them. Snazzy Labs said he was almost embarrassed to say he loved the phone and thought it looked like it came out in another decade from the just released Note 10+, which is patently insane because this is what an iPhone from another decade looks like:

But I digress. I think that it totally makes sense that enthusiasts like Snazzy Labs, me, and probably you (yeah, you) to get excited about new hardware and unique devices, but when we review products and want to even pretend that we’re talking to a mainstream audience, I think a lot of us come up short. We talk about these things like enthusiasts, not as people trying to help people make informed buying decisions.

Is any real person besides the jackyls in the YouTube comments section going to pick one phone over another because one has a 30% smaller notch? Hell no! Is someone going to buy the OnePlus 7 Pro over the iPhone 11 Pro because the screen-to-body ratio is higher on the OnePlus? Nope.

Smartphones are a hobby to us, but they are a tool to most people. A tool they’re proud of and a tool that they would like to look nice as well, but a tool nonetheless. And so when Apple takes a very good phone and makes everything about it better while adding features that will specifically make its users lives better every single day, all while staying up to the bleeding edge with 90% of what other phone makers offer, and while maintaining its huge lead in first and third party software quality…well that’s a pretty good update in most people’s eyes.

I’m sure the 2020 iPhone will indeed have a new design and a whole host of new goodies, but there’s something to be said for the last version of an iPhone design style. The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are as good as these designs could really be and there’s value in that. Just because it’s not the flashiest phone in the world (although I’d contend this thing is gorgeous) doesn’t mean it’s not also the best phone for many people and you certainly don’t need to feel guilty or embarrassed for liking it.