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Monday, 14 February 2011

from iPhone to Android or from Android to iPhone: two Switcher's Guides

Two tutorials for switchers on

 From iPhone to Android

If you're sick of Apple's walled garden but have yet to make the jump from the iPhone to an Android handset, here's what to expect, how to adjust, and how to cope with certain app withdrawal.
Pictured app is SlideScreen.
Let me preface all of this by saying that for many—not all—the switch from iPhone to Android will feel like being covered in band-aids and ripping each one off over the course of a few weeks. This is not because there's anything particularly wrong with either mobile operating system, but because they have different paradigms. Android and iPhone feel different, look different, and accomplish things in sometimes very different manners. Nonetheless, they're both mobile operating systems with touch interfaces, so it's hard to avoid comparing the two and finding similarities between them. If you decide to ditch your iPhone and give Android a try, be prepared for a little culture shock.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide

The Good

While some things are worse and others just different, there are quite a few things Android does best, and you'll want to be sure to check them out.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide
You've Arrived with Google Maps Navigation
Welcome to getting to your destination safely, courtesy of Android's phenomenal free turn-by-turn navigation. As much as I love beating a dead horse, I won't go on endlessly about the fantastic Google Maps Navigation app. The app has found new routes to places I frequent that save 5-10 minutes over what I learned from my iPhone. It's great, it's built-in, and it costs you nothing.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide
Your Voice
Voice capabilities are also new and exciting. The iPhone's Voice Control exists, but it's limited to music, apps, and a few other areas of the phone. Android gives you surprisingly accurate voice search that lets you enter text into any field with your voice, get directions while you're driving, make calls to businesses just by saying their names, or find pretty much anything on the web.
Freedom of Choice
On the iPhone you have the App Store; on Android you have the Android Marketplace. One of the reasons you may want to switch to Android is the choice of carrier and hardware it provides, along with its much more open app market. This has its disadvantages, which we'll talk about it later, but the upside is the freedom developers have to bring you all kinds of apps. There are apps that look exactly like their iPhone counterparts, but also apps that dig a lot deeper into the OS, letting you customize all sorts of uses and notifications, and have a seductive level of control over what you can do.
Instant Web
On Android, the web is here. On your iPhone, you have to bring it to you. If you're an eager Google service user and you supply your Android phone with your Google credentials, you'll quickly find your phone is filled with all sorts of information. You'll have e-mail, calendar items, contacts, bookmarks and more. I found out I had calendars and contacts in Google I didn't know existed. You can also connect to Facebook and Twitter to pull even more information into your phone. When Android detects contact information that should belong to an existing contact, it'll suggest you link it. While the way it displays everything isn't so great, and you don't always have easy handles on what you don't want to see, information is in constant sync with your web apps.
Passively Notified
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide If you were asked to pick just one complaint about the iPhone's interface, there's a good chance it's about how it handles notifications. Nobody loves frequent pop-ups, and it's almost bizarre that Apple has implemented such an archaic notification system. Android handles notifications passively, allowing you to check when you want and be otherwise uninterrupted—but, if you'd like, set specific notifications to ring, vibrate, or flash your trackball light for attention. If you're new to Android, you might not know where to find these updates. Just drag the down on the status bar up top and you'll pull down your notifications drawer.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide

The Bad

It's not all good news when you switch. Android has its issues, too. Fortunately, you can work around most of them.
Apple insists their walled garden of an App Store is necessary to keep everyone safe—and, infamously, offers freedom from porn—and in some ways they may be right. The Android Marketplace has begun to see a potential spyware problem. How big of an issue it is may be up for debate, but it exists as a potential problem. When you download an Android app, you'll need to consider its source and note the warnings about the sorts of data it can access. Be prudent and think before you install.
It is worth noting that Apple's App Store isn't bereft of spyware. I may not have done an adequate job of expressing that so I'm going to let Lifehacker reader Tom B. explain:
There is not a shred of evidence of a spyware problem on Android's app store. The article you link to just points out that 20% of the apps on Android have access to information that could be used by spyware. Guess what: on iPhone, 100% of the apps that you install have access to that information. The difference between Android and iPhone is that Android can guarantee that 80% of its apps are not spyware; you can install any of them without worrying because they never get any permissions that they shouldn't get.
And calling Apple's store a "walled garden" is really misleading because there is nothing "walled" about it. It is impossible for Apple to determine for its apps whether they are malicious or not, except for the most trivial cases; Objective-C is simply too complex and unsafe a language.
The risks from spyware and malicious apps on Android are considerably less than on iPhone.
Blame the Manufacturer
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide Carriers and hardware manufacturers can sometimes add to the Android experience, but in most cases you'll wish you could get rid of that Sprint Nascar app (for example). HTC likes to add their Sense layer on top of the standard Android experience, as a means of beautification and betterment, but you might find it more cumbersome than helpful. Of course, you may be the minority that loves mandatory carrier apps and added interface layers. If not, you can relegate carrier apps to the app drawer by simply dragging them from the home screen to the trash (and then further banishing them through the "Manage Applications" section of Settings/Applications). Better still, if you don't like the home screen, change it.
Low Battery Warning
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide
Certain Android phones (that'd be you, Evo) have embarrassing battery life. While the iPhone's battery isn't endless (even though it's more battery than phone nowadays), due to Android's true multitasking, the battery life falls a little short. You may be able to eke out a little more longevity by utilizing apps like TasKiller (see #6) to quit processes you don't want running, or the buggy-but-brilliant JuiceDefender app to cut back on data and screen usage. There's a debate over TasKiller's efficacy, and you don't want to abuse its power in fear of killing off an important background task you actually want running, but I've found it helps me keep the phone on a little bit longer. If you don't want to take such extreme measures, just make sure you actually quit apps when you're done with them. Unlike the iPhone, you need to be a little more active in your app management.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide
The good and bad aside, you'll most likely be uncomfortable until you hit the other side of the learning curve. Switching from one OS to another isn't supposed to be, so stay patient and stick with it.
Bad Touch
There's something about (multi)touch on Android that isn't quite as elegant as the iPhone. The animations aren't as smooth, touch doesn't always respond the same way and things just don't feel right. In some cases you'll find yourself adjusting to the little differences, such as sliding down to unlock your phone rather than left to right (as you're used to with the iPhone). In other cases you may find things just don't feel the way you hoped, like when scrolling and you hit a hard stop at the bottom of a page (whereas an iPhone will bounce a little to let you know you've reached the end). How hard it is to adjust to the touch, the feel of cotton Android will depend on you, but remember this: It's different. It's not an iPhone, so don't expect one.
Different Strokes
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide When you buy a new keyboard for a computer, the displacement of a single button can become very frustrating. Once you memorize key locations it's hard to switch, because they're embedded in your muscle memory. Depending on the Android phone you choose, you'll either be adjusting to a physical keyboard with its own layout, or you'll be presented with a familiar but notably different touch keyboard. The number/symbol selector may be on the right side (it varies), your spacebar is a bit smaller, and you have a microphone button that will let you speak what you want to type instead of typing it. It's slightly different and you'll slip up, but you'll adjust with practice. But once you get the hang of it you'll discover keyboard shortcuts that'll help you type faster. Here are a few shortcuts, but note that they may or may not work based on your hardware:
  • Alt + Spacebar lets you insert special characters
  • Alt + Delete will delete an entire line
  • Pressing Shift twice will initiate caps lock.
  • Menu + X will cut all text, Menu + C will copy it, Menu + V will paste clipboard text and Menu + A will select everything in the current field.
  • Alt + Q inserts a tab space.
The upside to Android? If you want to try a keyboard that's vastly different, like the gesture-based Swype, you have that option as well.
Consistent Expectations
Consistency of the interface is another piece of culture shock. Maybe staring at a grid of iPhone apps felt like staring into your probable future as a member of the Apple occult, but at least you knew what you were getting. On Android, you have several pages with different items and you may find yourself swiping around blindly. Just like you would with a grid of apps with no real immediate notification of what's what, you'll get used to the differing pages of your home screen. If not, you can always replace it with a nifty app like SlideScreen (something the iPhone could really use).
Localized Settings
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide On the iPhone you've come to expect some of your app settings in, well, the global Settings app. In Android, you'll always find them in the actual application. To get to any app's settings, you'll need to go into the app, hit your phone's Menu button, and then hit "Settings." This applies not only to apps you download from the Android Marketplace, but settings for your text messages, email accounts, and other features you may think of as part of the OS.
Real (or Unreal) Buttons
Speaking of the menu button, you'll find that navigating an Android phone requires the use of those four buttons below the screen. This can be very off-putting at first. You might wonder what purpose is served by offering dedicated buttons which, on some handsets, aren't really even buttons at all. As you get used to them and memorize where they are, you'll adapt, but initially you may want to pull your hair out wondering why everything isn't part of the touch screen. Simply put, iPhone apps have been designed for some time now as single environments with multiple screens to page through, while Android apps function a bit more like traditional desktop apps—a single screen, with buttons and options, made to be switched into and out of regularly.
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide
Out of Sync
Jumping Ship from iPhone to Android: A Switcher's Guide What about syncing? One of the benefits of Android is that, for the most part, you won't need to sync. You can copy media from your computer over USB if you need to. But do you miss the painful tethered syncing of iTunes? Then get doubleTwist (here's our first look), which can be described pretty accurately as iTunes for Android. If you don't like Android's media player, doubleTwist offers an alternative. If you're longing for iTunes after the switch, a couple of downloads should have you covered.

From Android to iPhone
So the iPhone is finally here and you've ditched your stop-gap of an Android phone for what you really wanted all along. But wait—where are all your beloved Android features? Where's your awesome, free turn-by-turn navigation? Your retro game emulators? Your freedom? Welcome to the iPhone. We're here to help.
Before we get started, you should know that switching to an iPhone means there will be restrictions you'll never get around. You are never going to have the same flexibility as you would on Android, but there are ways to gain back the functionality you miss. Some of this functionality can be regained through apps you can find in the iTunes App Store while other functionality will need to be acquired through jailbreaking your phone. First we're going to take a look at the stuff you can do right now and then check out the jailbreak options that will give you full control of your iPhone.

Apps to Help You Make the Transition

Let's take a look at stuff you can grab from the iTunes App Store—mostly for free—to get back some of the stuff you loved about your Android phone.

Google Apps

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideWhile this wasn't the case in the past, most of the Google apps you've come to love on Android have made their way to iPhone. iPhone users have long had access to the Google Mobile app, which provides some nice features like voice search, and Google Earth has been available for awhile as well, but Google Voice is really the most exciting addition. Aside from all the drama surrounding its long-awaited appearance in the iTunes App Store, it was highly anticipated because it's awesome. While it can't become your native phone app on your iPhone, you can pretty much use it as a phone and text messaging replacement. You'll recognize the interface for the most part, even if it is a bit more iPhone-y, and you can enjoy using your main Google Voice almost as seamlessly as you did on Android by just dialing from the Google Voice app instead of the iPhone's native phone app. While a little less exciting, Google Shopper was recently announced so you don't have to give up the nifty product identifying features of your Android device.

Google Sync

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideI can't complain enough about how much I hate plugging in my iPhone to sync with iTunes (it's my biggest iPhone annoyance). I've gone so far as to try and avoid ever syncing with iTunes again, but no work-around is going to prevent you from syncing your phone once in a while. However, you can sync less-frequently by pushing certain information to your iPhone. Apple's MobileMe service is designed to do that, but it will inevitably screw up. It also costs $99 a year, which is reasonably price by Apple's standards but pales in comparison to free. Instead, you can set up Google sync by setting up your Google account like a Microsoft Exchange account. This will provide the push sync you're used to without the added cost of MobileMe.
Also, if you're a Chrome to Phone user, you can pretty much get that exact functionality on your iPhone with Chrome to iPhone. Chrome to iPhone now works with multiple browsers, so if you're not an iPhone user you still have options. If you're willing to pay, you may want to consider trying the more feature-rich MyPhoneDesktop.

Free Turn-By-Turn Navigation

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideThere's nothing quite like Google Maps' turn-by-turn for the iPhone, but there are a few free apps that'll get the job done. Skobbler seems to be the most favored, what with its map caching (in cas you lose your data connection) and automatic re-routing (in case you get lost). It's far from perfect, but it's the best free option out there at the moment. If you've tried Skobbler and really don't like it (read our review to see the issues we had with it), previously mentioned MapQuest 4 Mobile is another free option that comes highly recommended.

Jailbreak Options

Jailbreaking is really what's going to bring you most of the functionality you want—at least in terms of customization and flexibility. You should know, however, that jailbreaking can void your warranty (if you're caught) and potentially brick your shiny new iPhone. I've jailbroken more times than I can remember and have never come across an unfixable problem, but you've nonetheless been warned. When you're able to jailbreak your Verizon iPhone, make sure you know what you're doing before you dive in.
To jailbreak, you're going to need the latest version of Greenpois0n. Once you've got it, use these instructions to complete the jailbreaking process.


Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideInterface customization (aside from your iPhone's wallpaper) is basically impossible without jailbreaking, but boy do you get a lot of options once Apple's restrictions are removed. Cydia, the "App Store" of the jailbreak community, already comes with a bunch of themes you can buy. Another app called Theme It provides some pretty thorough and beautiful themes as well. If you want a beautiful implementation of true multitasking, check out Multifl0w, an app that gives you Exposé- or webOS-style app switching. Once you're jailbroken, you'll be able to search through Cydia for many more enhancements as well. Custom lock screens are a big favorite, and you'll find plenty of people creating custom lock screens on deviantART (or make your own). Basically, once you're jailbroken you can customize whatever you want. In some cases there will be really great tools to help you out, and in others you may have to dig into the filesystem yourself. Nonetheless, your efforts will be nicely rewarded with an interface of your choosing.
UPDATE: There may be some security concerns about the Theme It store, so read this to learn more.

Better Notifications

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideOne of the best parts about Android is the pull-down notification bar at the top of the screen. With it, you don't get any annoying popups, and you don't have to act on a notification as soon as you get it. You can pull down the status bar at any time and see which notifications are calling for your attention, and deal with them when you want to. There are quite a few ways to get this functionality on a jailbroken iPhone (we've featured one before), but the best is probably an app called Notified. It doesn't stop the normal iOS notifications from popping up; instead, it works with them. You get notifications as normal, and it keeps your last 50 notifications in its drawer, and sorts them by application. The free version only lets you access those notifications by opening up the Notified app itself, though if you grab the $2.99 Pro version, you can access the drawer with a swipe, just like on Android.


Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideLike notifications, there are a number of ways to get widgets on your iPhone. They work a little differently than Android widgets; instead of being integrated in your home screen, they show up on your lock screen. We've previously featured an app called Intelliscreen that presents calendar, email, SMS, news, and weather on your lock screen in a very attractive way. It's a bit pricier than it was when we featured it—$9.99—but it has a free trial if you want to check it out.
Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's Guide If you're looking for something a bit cheaper, an app called SmartScreen does something very similar. While Intelliscreen's widgets integrate themselves very nicely with the lock screen (they almost look like they were designed to be there), SmartScreen's are much more widget-like. They essentially grab information—data, graphics and all—from apps like calendar, weather, and stocks. It even has a flip clock similar to the one that comes with HTC Android phones. SmartScreen is only $5, and also has a Lite version available which, among other things, limits the number of widgets you can use to three. Both are great additions to your iPhone if you miss the widgets feature of Android. Note that if you want to try SmartScreen, you'll have to add their repository to Cydia first, as described on their home page.

Quick Settings

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideWhile the above apps will get you quite a few great widgets, they won't get you (what in my opinion is) the greatest widget on Android: Power Control. The Power Control widget lets you save battery by quickly toggling settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Brightness, Airplane Mode, and other things. To get this functionality on the iPhone, you'll want to download previously mentioned SBSettings from Cydia. After installing, you can access quick settings by swiping to the right on your status bar at the top of the screen. You'll be able to toggle all sorts of settings right from a popup window without having to dig through menus.

Retro Game Emulation

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideThe Android Marketplace is open, so finding and downloading a retro game emulator is easy. On an iPhone, it's impossible unless you jailbreak. We've shown you how to add an SNES emulator to your iPad—instructions that work just the same for iPhone—but you can get other emulators as well by searching for the platform you want in Cydia.

Wi-Fi Sync and Mobile Hotspots

Jumping Ship from Android to iPhone: A Switcher's GuideWhile your Verizon iPhone comes with a mobile hotspot—a feature Android picked up quite awhile ago—you have to pay $20 a month just to use it. Simply put, that sucks. As an alternative, you can spend $10 on MyWi and use the data connection that you pay for however you want. Getting back to Android's wireless sync, you can actually get the best of both worlds with a jailbroken iPhone. One of the best jailbreak applications is no doubt Wi-Fi Sync. The current version is $10 and lets you sync to iTunes without plugging in your phone. It works very, very well. A new version is around the corner (which appears to be free for current owners of the original Wi-Fi Sync) which promises a bunch of new features, including easier connections, background syncing, and syncing over 3G. You might not want to actually sync over 3G because the speeds will be fairly slow, but remote syncing can be pretty handy if you're on a Wi-Fi connection at a friend's house and forgot to grab a few things you want synced to your phone.

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