Friday, 21 September 2012

Softbank trade-in campaign, aka Why I won't be getting a new iPhone 5, Part II

Yesterday I talked about why the hardware on the new iPhone 5, even if another steady step forward from the iPhone 4S, was not enough to convince me to switch from my current Android phone. However, phones are about more than hardware, and the main part of the user experience is created by the software. Android's last two evolutions, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Jelly Bean (4.1) have brought massive changes and vast improvements to Gingerbread (2.3), which, while satisfying enough to most of us geeks, certainly lacked a lot of the polish of iOS. In fact, we are now at the point where the feeling is definitely that Apple is playing catchup on the software front as well as the hardware front. So, how does iOS 6 rate against the latest Android software?

  • Home Screen: We'll start here, as it's where you naturally start with the phone. In iOS 6, your only option for the home screen is a grid of icons. As it was in iOS 5, and iOS 4, etc... If you are on an iPhone 5, you get 1 more row of icons on your grid. Whoopee!
    The Android desktop allows you to leave entire screens blank. You can put icons anywhere on the grid you like. You can add widgets, such as weather displays, clocks, music player controls, calendars and pretty much anything you can think of. If you don't like the home screen ("launcher"), you can replace it with a custom one from the Play Store. Of course, if you want, you can just line up rows and rows of icons and make it look like an iPhone. But why would you do that if you had a choice?
  • Turn-by-turn navigation: Built into Android since 2008. Next.
  • Panorama mode in the camera: Has been part of the Android camera since ICS (released October 2011)
  • Siri: Last time I had a look at Siri in person was on the iPhone 4S with iOS 5. At that time it was most definitely a beta product, and of little use here in Japan, even when it did manage to recognise what you were saying. From what I hear, it has improved a lot in iOS 6, with new functions as well as improved speech recognition. On the other hand, Google has also made vast strides with their Voice Search and Google Now. It is not a full personal assistant like Siri, but will carry out a range of searches and commands when commanded by your voice. The voice recognition is excellent, and you can now download the recognition files (about 20MB per language) for voice recognition even when offline. Obviously you won't be able to search if you are offline, so this is mostly useful for voice typing. The usual "shootout" videos between iOS 6 Siri and Jelly Bean Google Voice Search will no doubt be cropping up on YouTube soon enough; in the meantime, though, I will call this a draw, while also adding that I have never seen anyone using Siri or Google Voice Search (I only use it when there is no one else in the room myself!)
  • Maps: iOS 6 removes Google Maps and replaces it with Apple Maps. I'm not going to go into great depth about this here, but particularly outside of major US cities (hello Japan), it seems to be a bit of a disaster, with streets, stations and major landmarks missing, in the wrong place, or wrongly named. Google Maps was always better on Android, and now Android has a big advantage in this department. As if to rub it in, Google released an update to Google Maps today - for Android only of course.
  • Facebook integration: iOS can now sync your Facebook contacts with your phone contacts, giving you a boatload of extra info for all your friends, accessible directly from your phone book. This is a cool, if non-essential feature. Standard Android doesn't do this (it did, until Google and Facebook fell out - sound familiar?), but some custom Android skins, such as HTC's "Sense", which runs on top of Android on all HTC phones, provide this additional functionality. You can also use the "Haxsync" app to duplicate it on stock Android.
    The other useful addition to iOS 6 is the ability to share to Facebook from any app. But this is another place where Android has a big advantage over iOS: while the list of possible outside apps to share to is decided on an app-by-app basis in iOS (decided by the developer), in Android, every app that is capable of accepting a particular type of share (URL, photo, message, phone number etc), registers itself with the system, and then is available in every other app as a share destination. Meaning you get the full list, every time.
  • Reply to a rejected call with a text message: When you can't take a call, you can now reject it and send a pre-baked text message to explain why. This is just a feature copied from Android, to be honest.
  • Add a photo to an email, from inside the email app: Frankly, I'm just astounded this is a "new" feature. It should be just common sense. In Android you can add any file, at any time, to your emails, and you have always been able to do so. Android also has a proper file system and a proper file browser, giving your phone storage a lot more power than the restrictive Apple version.

Unfortunately, as an Android user, there is really nothing to get excited about here at all. In fact, there would be a lot more that I would miss from Android than I would gain from iOS if I were to change. Apple has played catchup, but to me it is still not enough. And the world's expectation of Apple is not that they play catchup, but that they lead with new features and innovations. None of that has happened this time round. Perhaps they were too busy suing Samsung.

In conclusion then, I am going to be an Android user for at least another year. If you are on Android 4 or above, I would recommend you too to stay with it. For users on Android 2.3 or lower, whose phones have no chance of getting updated (you are probably coming to the 2-year upgrade stage anyway), the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 are definitely up there with the best Android has to offer. But I'm pretty certain that they are not better.


  1. Hello Sven,

    I agree 100% with what you've said here. I currently have an iphone 4 with softbank and I am a heavy user of google maps.

    I have a few options. "Upgrade" to the new iphone.

    Switch to Docomo and get the S3(I don't want to change my email though)

    I know I can get an S3 and unlock it and use it with Softbank. But my question is this. Do you know if I can use Softbank's LTE service with a Docomo Galaxy S3?


  2. In an interesting development soft bank began carrying Motorola's midrange RAZR m smartphone. If they followup on that with the RAZR Maxx then they'll happily get another two years out of me.