How Amazon and Google made me switch from Android to iOS for good

I’ve always used multiple platforms, normally an iPad + Android phone + Windows computer, but with some variation. Tasker has single-handedly kept me on Android for far longer than I would otherwise have held out, but this summer it lost the battle. The culprits? Amazon and Google.

This story starts this summer, when I had just gotten a shiny new iPad Pro 10.5″. I was loading it up with media apps, and when you come from Android, trying to use Google apps on the far more polished iOS is not a fun experience. Nothing Google makes really supports basic iOS features like split screen, and they’re not particularly well designed for a tablet to begin with. YouTube Music had just launched, and it was a disaster in itself, lacking features left and right. Not that it really mattered, as it was also missing half the music I had added to music-only playlists on YouTube. Licensing, I guess, but when YouTube Music is a worse music app for YouTube than YouTube itself, you need to rethink your approach. I liked the idea of video for my music, but the execution was just useless. Between Play Music and YouTube Music, both Google-owned, I had exactly 0 music apps worth using.

This piled onto other media apps I’ve been complaining about for years, such as Audible and Kindle. I could launch into a week-long rant about these services, but the bottom line is that they have such a monopoly on what they do that they have no reason to innovate. As an example, a decade into my Audible membership (my “anniversary” with them was actually this summer) there’s still no way to figure out how most of my book series go together, as the image you see here can attest to. It’s the closest I can get to sorting by series, by actually sorting by author. Can you tell that the books listed here are books 6, 7, 4, 5 and 3 (respectively) of the same series? I can’t.

Kindle’s role in this has to do with the book series where I’ve  moved from audio to text due to release delays on the audio versions. Despite Amazon owning both and there being an “Audible” section of the Kindle app, all it actually does is list books you have on both services. Trying to have any sort of system for organizing books across those services is useless when you’re at the mercy of how they decide to do things.

That’s when I remembered that iOS, as well as iTunes, has had an incredibly powerful offline music player since the iPod days. One that lets you import both audio and video files, and mark them as audiobooks and music videos respectively. You have full control of sorting, and on iOS they will integrate into their respective apps (Music and Books) seamlessly. Music videos can be treated as normal songs, with the only difference being that their album art is a video. Playlists, shuffle, mixing with normal songs, background playback, it’s all there. Audio books are treated like other books, and logically go in the Books app rather than Music.

What followed was days of completely redoing my media library. My Audible books were downloaded, had their DRM removed, and became MP3 files, and my Kindle books became ePubs. Songs I listened to on YouTube, most of which are from YouTube creators, became music videos. Where possible, I bought the tracks from the creators and replaced the downloaded YouTube videos’ audio track with them, both for the sake of supporting the creators and for quality. For others, mostly big artists, I already owned the music tracks and helped myself to the videos. Slowly but surely the 256GB storage on my iPad was filled with media of different types.

It worked. Well. Really well. I started using my iPad for all media consumption, and my phone lost one of its main uses. I started bringing it places where I would normally only bring my phone, and my phone became more and more redundant every day. I still used Tasker on it, but as I used the phone less and less I ended up removing Tasker creations that were no longer needed, such as those controlling my Pebble’s media controls. No need for that when there’s no media left to control! Meanwhile, on my iPad, my media library looked like this (as of iOS 12, but only the design of Books is different):

Split screen-capable music player with a library worth of music videos beats YouTube Music any day,

 

Not only are audio and text books in the same place, but they sort properly as well thanks to my manual intervention. How hard is this to do, Amazon?

 

I don’t use the covers-only mode often, but it sure is pretty. Being able to make my own collections makes it super easy to have a ton of files in Apple Books.

I soon realized I no longer had any business being on Android. The advantages of having more control of my device hands down lost the fight against being able to consume media in a manner that didn’t irritate the life out of me. I started looking at prices of older iPhones, specifically the iPhone SE, thinking of it as a suitable “shuttlecraft” to my “mothership” (the iPad). I decided to wait for Apple’s September announcement to see if a new SE would come out, and when it didn’t, I went with the iPhone 8 at its new, lower (but still too high) price. It’s a phone I’d never have considered just six months ago: it’s too expensive, the screen is small and low resolution in comparison to most phones these days, the battery is mediocre and it doesn’t have Tasker. But, it does have one thing, and that is iOS. As of iOS 12’s release on Monday it has a brand new Books app that syncs with my iPad and looks good and functions well, iMessage lets me use SMS from my iPad, and in general it’s exactly the sort of shuttlecraft I wanted. It’s now exactly as capable of handling media as my iPad, without having to rely on multi-billion-dollar companies that cannot even sort books properly.

And Tasker? Well, I miss it, although it’s still running on my now SIM-less Moto Z2 Play. The Z2 Play was updated to Oreo this summer (9 months after release – took me 9 minutes to get iOS 12), and with it came an avalanche of idiotic notifications. Everything from background battery use to chat bubbles to per-app .apk blocking were now things Android felt I needed to know about. As if I don’t know how anything works, after a decade on the platform. Android has increasingly become dumber and more hostile towards what I love(d) about it ever since Android 4, and it seems that Google has no plans to let pro users be pro users with its OS. iOS on the other hand, while it is a lot(!) more locked down than Android, has been going the other way. Apple even bought the Workflow app last year, an app that’s the closest thing to Tasker on iOS. As of iOS 12, it’s free, called Shortcuts, and a major part of the OS. It’s still not Tasker, but it’s closer now than it was last week, and it’s supported by the OS developer instead of being targeted by it like Tasker is on Android.

That is the story of how I’m now an iOS user full time, and am looking at getting my first Mac in the future when I get over how stupid the pricing of those is. If either Amazon or Google had managed to create a media app that didn’t come at the cost of my mental health, I probably would never have gone down the road that lead me here. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and in my book their entire 2018 effort is entirely outclassed by features on iOS that were grandfathered in from the iPod era. That in itself deserves some sort of Darwin award.

 

Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.