A question I got a lot on this site, especially when talking about anything that involves interaction between Android and iOS, is why I don’t just pick one. Normally this comes from Android users who seems to be convinced that iOS is the devil itself, and that Android is fully capable of replacing iOS in every way. That’s simply not the case, so to get this question answered properly once and for all, here is why I use both iOS and Android.
I wasn’t a proper Android user until about a year and a half ago, when I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Before that I had avoided Android, because I hadn’t been able to find replacements for the software I used on my iPad on Android. At that time I didn’t really use my phone (an iPhone 3GS) much at all, so phone software wasn’t something I even looked into. When I did get my tablet, I didn’t really do anything productive on it, as I couldn’t have been more spot on with the lack of the software I needed. Still, it lead me to pick up a Samsung Galaxy S II as an iPhone replacement a few months later. The logic behind that was that since I didn’t use my phone, there wasn’t really any software to replace, and having a phone capable of acting as a WiFi hotspot would allow me more flexibility with my 3G plan rather than have one for the iPad 2, one for the iPhone, and nothing for the Galaxy Tab.
As 2012 progressed, I eventually started looking into Tasker. The reason was that I was looking into ways of making to-do lists work better. I rarely made task or to-do lists at that point because it was always an exercise in guessing what time it should be set to in order to remind me when I needed it to. I wanted a way to tie notifications to things like leaving the house, and Astrid together with Tasker. I turned out to be able to do that. That was more or less what I used Tasker for at that point, which was early April of last year.
Gradually though, I started looking into more and more aspects of Tasker, experimenting and reading the scattered information available about it. I started writing more about it, and eventually started writing my own guide for it, increasing my own skill as I went. All that time I also used my iPad 2 on the side, the way I always have. Throughout 2012 nothing at all happened to change Android’s usefulness as a productive tablet OS for my personal use, and I eventually sold my Galaxy Tab and iPad 2, and bought an iPad mini to replace both.
That leaves me to where I’m at now. I have my iPad mini, and I have my Galaxy S II.
Android on my phone
My S II is completely unique and unlike any other phone that anyone else has, because 80%+ of what I do with it happens through the use of my own software. By using the tools available in Tasker and plug-ins for it, I’ve created my own solutions for more or less everything I do.
The to-do list problem that got me into using Tasker to begin with is now a fully custom Tasker-based system that allows me to manage several to-do lists both on the phone and remotely without it using any commercial to-do list app; Astrid went out the door long ago. There isn’t even a way to add time-based alerts in that system, as I don’t need them.
Every single thing I could possibly need to do is better handled by an intelligent trigger, like leaving the house or waking up. Many of the same triggers also control various profiles and actions on my phone, ranging from turning off my PC while I go to bed, to fetching information from my home automation system’s connected temperature sensors and placing it on my home screen when I leave the house. Home automation is a big part of it now as well, thanks to my TellStick Net, and I only use custom creations via Tasker for controlling the system (via a plug-in available with Remotestick). In total I have dozens and dozens of individual and interconnected Tasker creations, handling most of what I do on my phone – or what my phone does on its own – using my own custom creations. It’s not about having a home screen that has a custom wallpaper; it’s about having custom apps, controls, widgets.
Despite it only being a year since I last had an iPhone, I couldn’t go back, and the reason is all I just listed that my phone does. Tasker doesn’t exist on iOS, and there’s nothing even remotely close to it.
With an Android phone, I can leave the house, have my phone warn me that I have some grocery shopping to do, and put the current outside temperature (useful here in Norway these days, when the temperature creeps well below 0 degrees F on a daily basis) along with my current bank balance and the actual shopping list on my lock screen (and remove it when I come home). On an iPhone, I can check the temperature manually, check my bank balance manually, and check my grocery list manually. By the time I’ve done that in this weather, either I or the phone will have frozen to death.
It’s the same thing for practically everything if I were to go back to an iPhone: I can go from having everything automated, to doing everything manually. Most of what I do on my Android phone, I can do on an iPhone, but so much slower that it’s absolutely not funny. I hesitate even calling an iPhone a smartphone, as that would require a whole new term for what my S II currently is. Generally speaking, once people have a washing machine, the idea of taking a washboard and going down to the river to beat your clothes with a rock becomes rather unappealing. It’s the same thing for me when asked about going back to the iPhone.
That’s the reason Android is so important for me, but that leaves iOS.
iOS on my tablet
Like I said, I had an Android tablet for a year. During that year, I tried harder than what’s considered sane to find a way to replace my iPad with it. Every time I found a new way to use Android on my phone, that was a potential feature I would gain on my tablet if I went all Android. AutoRemote just made the possibility of an all-Android setup that much more appealing; the ability to have Tasker on different devices talk to one another would mean things like always getting notifications on the device that was last used, being able to set alarms across devices automatically to have a backup, and so on. I searched for software for countless hours, tried out new ways, made compromises. I stood in front of a class of students with my iPad resting on the table while I tried to use the Galaxy Tab the way I use my iPad. I failed. Miserably.
Android is, without any doubt in my mind, completely and utterly pointless, useless, and a waste of space for what I do with a tablet. The two absolute biggest issues are note taking and PDF reading. There are a ton of note taking apps on Android, but nothing like what I use on iOS; nothing that allows me to use handwriting with a stylus as a replacement not only for pen and paper, but for a keyboard as well. Such an app would have to be smooth, fast, and stable. It would have to have partial zoom mode, a technique used by a lot of iOS apps to allow you to write more accurately with a huge inaccurate stylus than you can with a ballpoint pen, simply by magnifying part of the screen so you can write big and have it be shrunk down. That particular feature is art; even with all the apps that do this on iOS, only a handful work well enough to be a true replacement for pen, paper, and a keyboard. From how the zoom box is activated, to how the auto-progression works, it’s all about the details. On Android, I haven’t even been able to find a single app that has such a zoom box, making the problem of finding an actually good one a non-issue. The closest I came was some proprietary software pulled off another brand of tablet (I think it was an Asus app) that did do a form of magnified writing, but executed it horribly.
Why is handwriting such an important thing for me, when there are keyboards around? An iPad mini with a stylus is for me a complete note taking tool. It’s not a setup that even requires a tablet; it can be moved around at will, and works with any form of note I want to take. Write lines of text? Sure, though a keyboard would be better for that. Make bullet point lists? No problem, and this is where handwriting starts overtaking machine text for me, as you don’t have to fumble around for the bullet list option or fight to get it to stop adding them when your list is done; you just make a dot. Annotate on top of images, documents, presentation slides? Definitely prefer a stylus, as this would essentially leave you moving text boxes around otherwise. Make a mind map with machine text as quickly as you could with hand writing, I dare you. Do any non-text type note taking, like highlighting part of an image with a highlighter, write formulas, correct grammar, or just draw arrows between things? Now this is where the notion of a keyboard really just becomes ridiculous. A keyboard is great for certain types of text, and completely useless for others. I need the equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife for note taking, not a hunting knife that cuts like a king but couldn’t screw in a screw if its life depended on it. That’s a stylus, not a keyboard.
At this point there’s sure to be some Galaxy Note fans out there about to leave a raging comment about digitizer pens. I’m well aware of their existence, have used every device in the Note series, and find the Note 10.1 quite an interesting device, hardware-wise. Problem is, a digitizer pen won’t fix the problem. It will remove the need for magnified zoom mode, but it won’t remove the need for all the other features in the software I use. I need software fast enough to let me scan documents and insert them as a new page in the 20 seconds I have from when the paper is given to me to when I’m expected to read or write on it, not software that is kind of capable of doing that if you just give it time. I need to be able to annotate a PDF file with a combination of notes and handwritten annotations, and I need to know that when I leave the document, it’s going to be saved to Dropbox.
I need to be able to do that while having 5-6 documents open in different tabs, and I need to have access to the tools I use on the screen, not hidden away in a settings menu because the app is really a phone app and isn’t designed for showing a toolbar all the time. I need to be able to do all of these things, not some of them, and not something that is “kind of like” this. This is what I have on an iPad, now, while it’s a distant dream on Android.
PDF apps are another great example here. I searched high and low for something similar to Goodreader on Android, and found nothing. Well, I did find something “similar,” and by that I mean that it’s similar in a way that a flaming pile of shit is similar to a Fabergé egg. ezPDF is a perfect example. In theory, it’s just like Goodreader; it lets you open documents, reader, annotate, sync with cloud services, and so on.
When you actually try using it, though, it makes you want to throw the device you’re using out the window. It’s so ridiculously slow that you can just forget about “flipping” through a several hundred page PDF file like you would a paper book. Goodreader doesn’t care if you have a bunch of 1,000 page PDF documents open in various tabs in the app, or that you’re using an iPad mini with what’s technically two-year-old processing hardware; it still lets you skip from page 1 to page 1,000 in less than a second. ezPDF, and similar apps, is a never-ending mess of individually loading each page, unless you’re been on the current page long enough to pre-cache the next. Forget about tabbed documents; it can’t even handle single documents right. Are we to believe Goodreader, though, that this is really just the way Android is? Simpler PDF apps are faster, but also, well, simpler. For an exam I had a couple of weeks ago I had an 1,100 page document full of annotations, highlights, and notes, and Goodreader treats it just like it treats a 2 page document. You just cannot throw raw processing power at a problem and think it will go away, which is the only method Android has at its disposal for things like this, because of the way it’s “open.” Jack of all trades, master of none.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, have a look at this video. In it, the quad core 1.6GHz beast that is the flagship device Galaxy Note II is thoroughly beaten by the older, last generation iPad 3 in a PDF loading test.
That covers the two biggest software complaints I have, but it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the software issues I have with Android tablets. I have an iPad full of apps that had poor or no substitutes on Android, or that were only available as phone apps. Apps I use as a teacher, or apps I use as a student. Several years into the life of Android tablets, finding apps that are actually tablet optimized is still rare. I had my tablet for a year, and like I said, nothing of significance happened in that area in that year.
This is of course highly dependent on personal preference, needs, and usage scenarios, and I completely understand that some people prefer sticking with only one OS.
I just wish that people would respect those of us who use multiple OSes, instead of instantly jumping to the conclusion that we’re not aware of the capabilities of each OS. Perhaps the most ironic thing of all is that people seem to think that making the compromise of using two OSes is somehow so much greater than the compromise of sticking with inferior software on one or the other.
My Galaxy S II and my iPad mini have never once fought, and they’re actually pretty good friends. If my iPad needs something that my phone has access to, it can ask for it and get a reply. If my WiFi-only iPad needs 3G access, the S II can provide that. Goodreader is set up to fully sync with Dropbox, so when I’m done taking notes on my iPad, they’re accessible to my phone if I want to check something when I don’t have the iPad with me. They share the same Bluetooth accessories both for audio and input (keyboard). If my iPad needs some files off a USB drive, its bag contains a USB host adapter for the S II, allowing it to retrieve the files and send them over. Similarly, if my S II needs to have its screen displayed on a projector, the VGA adapter I carry for my iPad mini works perfectly well for displaying a VNC app connected to my phone. My iPad mini can scan most documents using its own 5 megapixel camera, but my S II is happy to provide some light with its camera LED if needed.
I would love to be able to use just one OS, but that’s simply not an option with the way I currently use my devices. Both OSes have their strengths and weaknesses, despite what any fanboy will tell you. There wouldn’t be any competition between them if the world was as black and white as some people believe.
Personally, I’m more concerned with a device being able to do what I need it to do rather than what logo it has on the back, and if that means that I’m currently stuck with one device from each OS, so be it. Given the choice between a phone that is the perfect PDA-like device for me and a tablet that is the perfect tool for me as a student and teacher, then yes, please, I’ll take one of each.