My Smartphone History
Smartphones ascended to being an indispensable tool that most people owned as I was in high school. After a few feature phones, I considered myself privileged enough to get my first one in 2010, an HTC Incredible. The primary appeal for me at first was not apps (though they were exciting and constantly advertised) but to be able to send texts longer than 160 characters without them breaking apart, and conversation threading. Since then, I’ve owned an iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
I enjoyed the earlier iPhones a great deal, having previously used an iPod Touch. I eventually jailbroke the iPhone 5 and enjoyed some increased functionality. The size and battery life of the Note 2 were very appealing to me, but that phone lasted a very short while. It developed a problem where it would drain batteries quickly and the refuse to be turned on while charging. After a number of replacement batteries failed to solve this, I gave up on the phone as a repair would have cost quite a bit and our family plan had an upgrade credit rolling around.
I can only think of three phones that have really excited me from their announcement in the past few years. The first was definitely the iPhone 6 Plus, which I would have got instead of the 6 originally if I had not been in marching band and found it unfeasible to high step while keeping it in my pocket. It was just a little bit bigger than the Note 2 actually, but the 6 served me well.
The second phone announcement that excited me was the Google Pixel. I think Android is a great platform, but I personally find its fragmentation annoying from a user’s perspective. I remembered constantly checking for Android updates that had launched quite some time ago on my Note 2. Regardless of the advice of any tech sites, I tend to update my OS on all of my Apple devices on the day they launch. I’d had my iPhone 6 about two years when the Pixel drops, and I seriously considered getting one.
The Ecosystem Chain
The reason I stuck with my iPhone 6 was that I valued the features it added to my Mac too much. I wrote about how I’ve found my MacBook Pro to be the best computer I’ve ever used, and there’s a lot of reciprocal value with my iPhone. The first is being able to text from my Mac, both iMessage and regular SMS. I do most of my messaging with the people I’m close to through one of the two, and cutting off SMS would be frustrating. Today there are decent applications to allow texting from your computer if you’re on Android, but I didn’t see any of them as being nearly as functional in 2016. I also get a lot of use from AirDrop, mostly from my iPhone to my Mac as a way of transferring videos and photos directly rather than having to wait on a cloud service. It sounds small, but it saves so much effort and time.
As I began to try and use my iPad a bit more, my iPhone became even more essential. Yet, despite adding value to my Mac, I felt like my Mac chained me to staying with an iPhone. I was a bit dissatisfied with iOS at the time, and the iPhone 7 did not seem like a worthy upgrade at the time. I resented my iPhone just a bit, and wished for a smarter digital assistant, and better handling of notifications. While I saw flaws in the Pixel, it certainly looked good. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the features on my Mac though, and I still don’t see myself leaving the Mac platform.
Learning to Love my iPhone Again
As I’ve gotten more and more out of my Mac find the apps that work best for me, I’ve also adopted them on my iPhone. OmniFocus, Airmail, and Fantastical in particular are critical to how I work every day, and all three are incidentally exclusive to the Mac and iOS platforms. I’ve gotten more and more into finding the best apps for what I do, and I’m increasingly finding that the some of the best tools available (whether they’re what I choose or not) are not available on Android.
Maybe it’s silly to like my platform more because of a deficiency in the competing platform. I know the developers of many of these apps have no intention of ever making them available on Windows or Android though, and at the end of the day, it’s not a deficiency that I see disappearing. But as iOS 11 has expanded my iPad’s usefulness and I’ve gotten an Apple TV, I’m starting to see the Apple ecosystem as more of a boon than a chain. Despite bugs I do think that iOS 11 has expanded the usefulness of my iPhone, particularly in letting me take tasks down on my commute in OmniFocus through Siri.
The fact that my phone runs well with its age makes me appreciate it that much more. I’ve never wanted a Samsung phone again after my Note 2, and the Pixel 2’s bungled launch made the grass look less green. And with the money I’ve dropped on iOS apps, I’m far less inclined to switch platforms than when I was younger. And maybe some maturity has made me less envious of the platform I’m not on (and would be true if I were on Android now).
I’ve named two phone announcements that have excited me out of three; the third isn’t actually an announcement, but rather the preliminary leaks of the 2018 iPhones. While they’re obviously subject to change, a plus-sized edge-to-edge iPhone I personally find worth holding out for. Even though the iPhone X has a screen larger than the iPhone 6-8 Plus, it’s not as wide, and I would love to get a phone with a Plus-sized form factor and a screen even bigger than the X. No single iPhone release since the 6 has been terribly impressive to me as of yet. However, when you add the upgrades up, jumping from a 6 to a 2017 iPhone is a major upgrade. I’ve tried to compile these differences for my own benefit (my partner also has an iPhone 6, and I thought it would be helpful for her as well; I can’t guarantee the accuracy, all based off of my own research). Adding whatever additional upgrades the 2018 iPhones bring will make that all the more impressive, but the ideal form factor of an iPhone is enough for me to upgrade regardless of specs.
I don’t want to pretend I’m some guru that everyone goes to asking about tech. But if I were recommending smartphones right now, it becomes very dependent on what kind of user someone is. It’s worth noting that I’m only taking into consideration “premium” or “flagship” handsets, I’m not familiar with other availability, but there’s better resources out there if that’s your price point. For someone getting their first smartphone or someone less tech literate, I would certainly recommend an iPhone. Which specific model depends on personal factors (keeping their phone in a pocket, purse, etc.) but certainly a 2017 model. The polish and review of apps, and how simply functional the phone is with only stock apps make it a good fit for those who feel less equipped to deal with making informed decisions on their devices.
I think for anyone who considers themselves to be more adept at technology who does not have buy-in to the Apple ecosystem, I would recommend a Pixel 2 despite its screen issues. I’m not some journalist who gets previews of phones, and I haven’t used an Android phone since my Note 2, but as I understand it, there’s still a lot of bloatware on Samsung phones. Between Bixby and useless Samsung utilities, you’re better off getting Google’s imagining of what a smartphone should be. I haven’t done much investigating into HTC, Motorola, or Huawei lately, but nothing’s come my way to make me second guess my recommendation of a PIxel for those who would benefit most being on Android.
Android is a great operating system, and the customization is great for most of its users. Yet if you have the resources and you consider yourself a power user, I find that if you can be in Apple’s ecosystem on Mac and iPhone, it’s well worth it. The exclusive apps to iOS are incredibly powerful, and work amazingly well with a Mac. None of the phones I’ve had provided meaningful synergy with Windows, no matter how many web applications I was using on my PC. Moving between devices was generally an obstacle and at best out of the way. In addition, the rest of the Apple ecosystem provides benefits. It’s my perception that the iPad has matured much farther than Android tablets are ever going to. Apple TV remains a bit overpriced in its market, but it’s a powerful box all the same. And while I don’t own one (yet), the Apple Watch seems to be leading the wearable market.
If you’re not in the Apple ecosystem and want to get the most out of your device, I don’t know exactly how much I can recommend the iPhone. Many of the apps I use would be less effective if I couldn’t access them on my computer, and they’re only available on Macs. That said, despite the deserved bad press Apple has gotten this year, I find my iPhone more and more useful. Between the long lifespan of my current phone and other strengths of the platform, I don’t think anyone is going wrong picking an iPhone right now, and it’s been long enough that I’ve used an Android phone that I can’t say what strengths are present on the platform. Equipped with more Apple technology though, I truly feel like I’m getting the most out of my phone.