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Greener Grass

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Marco Arment wrote a good piece yesterday about how Apple could become the next Blackberry in the smartphone world if they're not careful.

If Google is wrong, and computing continues to be defined by a tightly controlled grid of siloed apps that you poke a thousand times a day on a smooth rectangle of manufacturing excellence, Apple is fine. They’re doing a great job of what computing is today, and what it will probably continue to be for a long time.

But if Google is right, that’s a big problem for Apple.

Yes, Google is ahead of Apple when it comes to AI and big data, and I also think that is a big problem for Apple. Is this going to hurt Apple in the short term? I don't think so. Most people don't use Google Now or Alexa or any of Facebook Messenger's bots, and AI is something that they consider to be futuristic and creepy. They're also convinced that Apple is collecting more data about them than Google, which is just (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

If AI is indeed the cornerstone for the future of smartphones, then you don't have to look much farther than Siri's excruciatingly slow improvements to see that this is going to be a problem for Apple. AI either isn't something they're good at, or it's something they don't care too much about. Neither one of those options is good for them if this is where the industry is going.

But here's the thing, Android always looks good at I/O. Just like iOS 10 is going to look perfect at WWDC next month, Google sets everything up to make sure that their software is framed in a way that makes it look like the only way forward, and the demos they show off are idealized versions of what they think people's lives are like, so that their examples work great. You're not going to hear Google show the limits of their software at a conference like this, you're only going to see that in a few months once people actually get to use this stuff.

One of the biggest clichés I can think of is that "the grass is always greener on the other side," but I think that cliché perfectly encapsulates what's going on right now. From the outside, Android looks like it addresses some of our concerns with iOS, and the demos we saw looked like the software functions great! Meanwhile, we are actually using our iPhones and iPads and are acutely aware of every little thing about them that annoys us. We think that Android is way ahead is pulling away because the checklist of features they're showing off look impressive, but our opinions of these features would be far more tempered if we were actually using Android everyday.

I know this because I'm one of the few Apple bloggers who has spent meaningful time with Android as my daily driver. Long time readers know this, but I've ran a Samsung Galaxy S, Moto X, HTC One M8, and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge as my daily drivers in between my iPhones. Every time I've switched to Android, it's been because I got really excited about the new things that Android was doing that I thought Apple was lagging on, and every time I have been disappointed by those features when I actually used them. Here's a quote from my Galaxy S6 Edge review that sums up my typical Android experience:

So where do we stand? I have this loaner phone from Samsung for another 2 weeks, and I’m going to keep using it as my daily driver for that time. Android Pay is rumored to launch in a week, and I really want to try that out (if my bank is supported, at least). I also want to mess around with some of the more bizarre launchers out there to see what unique experiences Android has to offer.

But I long for my iPhone. I want to get back to complaining about esoteric iOS issues and not going down an extremely long laundry list of things I can’t stand about Android.

And if you don't take my word for it, go listen to Android-centric podcasts like The Berg or All About Android and you'll see Android fans complain about a ton of stuff in Android. You'll even hear them routinely talk about things that their think iOS does better than Android and how they wish Google would steal them.

Neither Android or iOS is perfect, and it's good to remember that anything can look good on a stage, but it's a whole different story when you get that in your own hands and find all the quirks. There are plenty of people who have tried both platforms and prefer Android, and that's totally fine, but it's good to remember that the product you don't actually own and have used extensively will usually compare favorably to the product you own and know intimately.