It’s that time of year again, when the summer days shorten and the feel of fall starts creeping into the evenings. It’s also that time when Apple rolls out a new iPhone (September 10th apparently) and my Verizon carrier contract is up (November). Since coming to the “dark side” with my last new iPhone 5 purchase I’ve been a mostly happy iPhone user for the last year, though as my Verizon contract comes up for renewal my wandering eye turns not only to new deals but new devices. Is it time, after abandoning a DROID Razr in frustration a year ago for the iPhone to go back?
In the past year I’ve tried using tablets as my daily work machines (first an iPad, then Android, Surface RT) only to give up in favor of a Windows 8 Surface Pro, a tablet in form factor and name only. I’ve retired my 10″ tablets in favor of the beautiful screen and fast response of the newest Nexus 7 for browsing and reading ebooks. Using Android on the Nexus 7 is a joy with fast response, a configurability you don’t find in iOS and almost no application gap between the two platforms.
Still the iPhone has remained my “daily driver”. I’ve invested in new accessories with the Lightning connector like the Mophie Juice Pack. I’ve purchased new cables and adapters to plug everything together. Day in and out it has remained my one device constant while I flirt with every other pretty magnesium and aluminum encased gadget on the market. I’ve even strayed so far as to back Ubuntu’s “Edge” mobile phone project on Indiegogo* all while the my iPhone 5 charges each night on my bedstand or sits on my desk every day.
It’s a shame I don’t really like iOS.
I’d hoped that iOS 7 would be the new flavor of vanilla that could convince me all will be well with my trusted iPhone. I installed the beta builds wishing I’d get something more than Jonny Ive color gradients and thin fonts to brighten my Retina display. I didn’t. You still have to put icons on a grid starting in the upper left, you can’t remove or hide apps you don’t need, iOS 7 broke many of my current apps, Photo Stream is a joke and in the end was still just a prettier version of the same old thing we’ve been using since 2007.
Apparently I’m not alone in seeing iOS as long in the tooth either. Fred Wilson wrote today about how he’s now worried Apple’s iOS will fall so far behind that Android in market share that developers will eventually abandon the platform as they have done with Symbian and Blackberry before. Others have been writing about their switch from iPhone to Android devices because of the flexibility, customization and integration with Google services they’re already deeply tied to (though it’s telling how often the switch is to “stock” Android Google Play editions, not bloatware filled carrier devices).
So why am I not following my own love for Android on the Nexus 7 to some new smartphone paradise away from the iPhone? What’s keeping me from the curved wooden back of a Moto X or the top of the line power of the Samsung S4? The iPhone Inbox.
First off Apple has, on both the desktop with Mac Mail and on the iPhone, done the one perfect thing that makes life tolerable for an email addict like myself. The unified Inbox brings together all my mail in one view — personal Gmail, consulting Exchange mail, the Outlook.com account I only use sparingly — into one place. I can choose to see each account alone but otherwise I can wade into my sea of unreads deleting and archiving, reading and responding all from one simple, clean, basic view. The iOS 7 Inbox takes some of the clean look and feel that I liked so much with the Google Gmail for iOS app with the full integration into the Calendar and Contacts apps. My iPhone’s Inbox is my command center in iOS 7.
Google, on the other hand, seems fixated not on bringing my email together but instead to split into buckets of their choosing. Since the default Gmail app on Android only supports Gmail accounts (duh!) then I’ve got to use the other “email” app to get to Exchange, or install a third party app and hope for an integrated Inbox. That creates two buckets unless I’m willing to do the work to unify them. On top of that Google’s new tabbed Gmail interface carries over to Android so by default I’m jumping between four email filters to see what’s going on. Again the tabs can be changed or removed but I’m having to “un-configure” a feature I never wanted in the first place.
Even the Surface Pro’s default Mail app let’s me at least just get all my email grouped by account in one view inside one app, and I can quickly switch between each account with a single tap. Google wants to isolate their email, which is perhaps not surprising since Gmail has always worked a little differently than other online email providers.
Now yes I could install some third party app that fixes this problem on Android, but I’ve tried that road and given up. Either the apps didn’t like my Gmail folder structure, or they didn’t support Exchange except through IMAP. Sometimes they were just plain too slow or too ugly. Nothing provided the simple, clean, fast Inbox I needed to get work done.
So it seems that if I want to keep my email on the go habits as they are, the iOS unified Inbox still works best for me. I probably won’t care about most of the new iPhone features like fingerprint sensors, but email is so core to how I work every day that I can’t (yet) see jumping back to Android. I’ll stay with the iPhone form factor, keep using my Mophie for extra battery life, my new set of Lightning cables for connectivity and hope that eventually iOS 8 finally becomes the configurable system we need.
As long as they don’t change my Inbox.
* The “laptop” I use for playing with code is the Ubuntu Linux based Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.