Do You Swipe Your Thumb at Me, Sir? (The Big iPhone vs. Android Problem)

I miss my iPhone, but there’s a few small things and one big thing keeping me from going back. 

To recap, I had traded in my iPhone to T-Mobile to get out of my AT&T contract and lower my monthly payments substantially, and switched to a cheaper, unsubsidized Android device, which is now a Moto X. (I’m actually back on AT&T now because they offered far better coverage, an even lower rate thanks to a new discount, and I’m still not on contract.)

The Moto X is a great phone. It’s as thoughtfully designed as an iPhone, free of the crapware that plagues the Android universe, and full of genuinely useful, subtle features. 

But I really miss having an iPhone, and I’m considering seeking out a cheap, used one I can just drop into my existing plan (meaning no new contract). There are two big reasons:  one being ergonomic (even being a smaller phone for an Android, the Moto X is still not quite small enough for my wee paws), and the other being access to my music library. No matter what I try to do, I can’t get my music listening experience on Android to come anywhere close to the way it was on iOS. And that wasn’t even all that great, but it was a dream compared to the hacky kludge-fest I’ve been living through with Android. No, I won’t subscribe to Spotify. 

But! On my Moto, I have an app that disables the PIN code lock screen when I’m on preapproved WiFi networks. I can activate its voice commands without ever touching the phone (“Okay, Google Now…”). I can share data from any app to any app. Those are quite nice, and would be sorely missed if I were back in iPhoneland. 

The big thing, though, is the keyboard. Here’s an explanation from Andy Ihnatko from when he made the iPhone-to-Android switch:

[T]he real Win of an Android keyboard is its enhancements to the classic “tap and type” mechanism.

Android offers Swype-style typing as a built-in option. By sliding my finger from key to key instead of lifting and tapping, I’m sending more information about my intentions to the OS. It makes this mechanism faster and more accurate than tap-tap-tap. Swipe-style typing also makes the phone easier to manage one-handed. I can search for a name in my contacts without even slowing down my walking.

And if you don’t like any of the keyboards that ship with Android, you can install one of your own. My add-on keyboard of choice is SwiftKey. It’s doubleplus-brilliant and costs just four damn dollars. …

I find that typing on an Android device is faster and much less annoying than typing on my iPhone. It’s not even close.

This example also points out some of the philosophical differences that often allow Android to create a better experience for the user. Why is the iOS keyboard so stripped-down? Why can’t the user customize the experience? Because Apple’s gun-shy about adding features at the cost of simplicity and clarity. They’re not wrong; it’s a perfectly valid philosophy, and usually an effective one.

But sometimes, an Apple product’s feature lands at the wrong side of the line that divides “simple” from “stripped down.” The iPhone keyboard is stripped-down.

This is huge, and it’s by far the biggest thing keeping me from running back to Apple. The difference between tap-typing and swipe-typing on a phone is night and day. Swipe-typing is much faster, much more accurate, and even a little fun. It’s perplexing to me that the folks who work at Apple don’t want this functionality for themselves. This is not some geeks-only niche add-on, it’s a fundamentally superior way of inputting text on a smartphone. And guess what one does a whole hell of a lot on a smartphone.

The wisest thing for me to do is wait, see what Apple comes up with for iOS 8, or hope some developer at least makes a quality standalone word-processing iPhone app that uses swipe-typing. I don’t expect it, though. It’s not like this is a new idea. Apple’s had plenty of time to add this feature, and if they haven’t yet, there’s no reason to suspect they will. 

I still think the overall experience of using an iPhone is a superior one to Android, with less friction, more general enjoyablilty, and with a nicer class of apps. But goddamn that “tap-tap-FUCK-taptaptap” keyboard. Goddamn it. 


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