Living with an Android

At the end of October, I took plunge and pre-ordered a Google Pixel 3. Prior to November 1st, I’d never owned a smart phone other an iPhone. On July 11, 2009 I traded in my Motorola flip phone for an iPhone 3G and have never looked back.

So this switch to Android is definitely a huge, momentous occasion worthy of a lengthy blog post.

My primary reason for switching was price. Immediately after its release, Rogers was listing the iPhone XS for an insanely high $699 on 2-year contract! Thought it looks like they have drop that to a slightly more reasonable but still expensive $459. Conversely, the brand new Google Pixel 3 had a pre-release price of only $99 and came with a free Pixel Stand (a $109 value).

Combined with the generally stellar early reviews of the Pixel 3 and Android Pie, I thought now would be as good of a time as ever to give it a shot.

Stand Out Features

Cameras

The cameras are really great! I don’t really know all the photo lingo to describe how and why the photos are great. Suffice to say, my wife who has a BFA in photograph is insanely jealous. The wide angled camera on the front is especially cool – it makes big group selfies so much easier, what a smart idea. For some examples of photos take a look at my instagram. I generally don’t use filters and everything since November 1st has been taken on a Pixel.

Google Services

Google is great at web services. Apple is not. End of story.

The core Google apps (photos, maps, gmail, etc) are all essentially web apps, which means UI/UX on my phone is identical to what I see in a browser, on any device, on any desktop OS. It’s 2018, this is the way all things should be. (I know Apple is trying, but icloud.com still has tonnes of skeuomorphic and Safari-centric design baggage.)

Google Photos was especially impressive. I was concerned about exactly how I’d access 9 years of iPhone photos backed up in iCloud from my Pixel. Turns out, it was as simple as installing the Google Photos app on my iPhone 7 and enable syncing. It was able to suck in all my photos, including the thousands offloaded iCloud that were not even present on my iPhone’s storage.

Notifications

The way in which android handles notification is just so much more sane and better for my digital health. Prior to switching to Android, I’d disabled most notifications for most apps, I found them distracting and stressful. I have not done the same on my new phone.

It’s just so much more sane on Android and warrants some dissection:

  • Notifications do not pop up as frequently. There is some sort of “AI” (or something) the determines when to interrupt your current app with a notification. For whatever reason, I’m rarely interrupted by a notification popup.
  • Android does not have notification count badges. You’ll never see an “666” unread email badge. It’s not an option anywhere.
  • Pending notifications don’t linger around in the same way they do on iOS. When a notification is pending, the app gets a little icon in the tray next to the clock with the other background apps.
  • A side effect of notifications being treated the same as background apps is that they actually seem less urgent. For example, Spotify playing music in the background gets the same weight as a new text message, it’s somehow psychologically easier to dismiss the text message.
  • A “clear all” button exists and it actually clears all notifications. I don’t know why iOS doesn’t have this.

Quality of life

The Pixel has a number of little nice-to-haves. None of these features will get any press and I’m sure most Android users take them for granted by now. But add up all these features and you’ve got a phone OS that is objectively more useful. These are things that are completely impossible on reproduce on an iPhone, either natively or with an app. I am beginning to see why Android users dislike iOS.

Here are just a few I found especially cool:

  • Always on screen
    Time, date, weather and notifications are always visible on the screen. Without interacting with the phone. Without draining the battery. It’s magical.
  • “Now Playing”
    Whenever the phone detects background music playing the song/artist is shown on the always on screen and gets logged away in the “now playing” app for future reference. Google promises this happens on device without sending recordings or any other data to the cloud. Shazam was one of the first mobile apps that really blew my mind, the fact that this feature is built in to the OS without need for cloud processing is totally awesome!

  • Weather. Everywhere.
    An icon displaying the current condition and current temperature appear on the always on screen as well as the home screen. It’s great to be able to see this at a glance when checking the time.
  • Battery lasts until.
    When you tap the battery icon, it takes you to settings screen that shows you the exact time the OS expects your battery to run out. So much more useful than just a percentage.
  • Trusted bluetooth connection. Trusted locations.
    The OS allows you to configure trusted bluetooth connections, as well as trusted physical locations where your phone will always be unlocked. My phone is unlocked whenever it’s connected to the car, this way passengers can interact with navigation or music without having to ask for my finger print (or worse, faceID!). So much safer.
  • Back-side fingerprint reader.
    The back-side fingerprint is much more convenient and well positioned that I would have guessed. The ability to swipe down on it to get the settings/notifications menu is super handy.
  • Dynamic multi-screen wallpapers.
    Android supports cinemagraphs and wallpapers that span multiple home screens. This one is super minor but I’m just really not sure why Apple doesn’t allow this. Especially considering the Apple TV has cinemagraph screensavers. It just adds a little touch of life to the phone.

Misses

After a month of living with Android there are only a few minor things that I miss for the iOS ecosystem:

  • NFC Payment.
    Google Pay has extremely poor support in Canada. Neither my debit or credit card (from different institutions) is usable on the Pixel. The only Canadian banks that seem to have go support for Google Pay are CIBC and Scotia.

    Prior to switching, Apple Pay was the primary way I paid for things in-person, so this one is fairly big.

  • Car integration.
    Both my current car and my previous car (Toyota’s) support Siri Handsfree, which is a way to interact with Siri via a steering wheel button. I used this almost daily, mainly to read/send text messages. I’ve searched and searched but there doesn’t seem to be any way to enable something like this with Google Assistant.
  • Vibration Engine.
    iPhones seem to have multiple different vibration levels, you can tell the difference between a phone call, text message and generic notification. On the Pixel, they all feel the same.

That’s it. I am really pleasantly surprised at how simple and pain free the transition has been. It’s astonishing.

Privacy

I can’t write this review without mentioning privacy. I am a strong believer in privacy as a human right. I truly believe that a loss of individual privacy is a loss of freedom.

Google is a company that not generally super well regarded as privacy minded, so using Google hardware goes against my own moral code to some degree.

Apple on the other hand does seem to be making great effort to completely secure their customer’s data, in ways that I just don’t think Google could justify while maintaining a business model based on surveillance capitalism.

Here’s the thing though. As far as I can tell (conspiracy theories aside), if you install any Google apps on iPhone you are subject to the same level of privacy as you would be while using a Pixel.

For example, I can tell that Google apps track your physical location with the same frequency and accuracy on an iPhone as they do Android. I can tell because my Google Maps timeline is full of years and years of location data (correlated with photos) gathered from iPhones. However since Google apps are just web apps, they share settings across devices. So the same settings that you’d toggle to disable (and/or delete) this data collection affects your entire Google account on every device.

If you really want secure your own data privacy, simply using an iPhone is far from enough. Despite what Apple’s marketing would have you believe.

Conclusion

The Google Pixel 3 is an amazing device! I’ve experienced very little downside and a whole lot of upside by switching to Android.

It pains me to say this but… Android might actually be the better mobile operating system, at least as it’s implemented on the Pixel 3.


Note: I’ve used “Android,” “Android Pie” and “Pixel” somewhat interchangeably throughout this post. I’m not too sure which of the features I’ve written about are exclusive to Android Pie or the Google Pixel and which are generic to all Android.

What’s up with Face ID timeouts?

The Loop posted a great summary of Apple’s Face ID security whitepaper.

Two points about how the timeout works really baffled me. Face ID is disabled when:

  • The device hasn’t been unlocked for more than 48 hours.
  • The passcode hasn’t been used to unlock the device in the last 156 hours (six and a half days) and Face ID has not unlocked the device in the last 4 hours.

If the phone hasn’t been unlocked for 48hrs, it’s a good assumption that the phone has been lost or stolen. But why bother disabling Face ID? Is Apple nervous about it’s real-world effectiveness? Nervous that a thief may be able to unlock the phone with their face?

The second timeout seems more arbitrary. Why 156 hours? If I generally only use my phone once every 4hrs 5mins, then after 6.5days I will have to re-authenticate with my passcode? Why? It seems completely arbitrary.

Any smarter security minds out there have any thoughts?

TeeVee for WP: building Apple TV apps with WordPress Plugins

Imagine you create tonnes of great video content every day and publish it all through WordPress. Your viewer can watch your amazing shows everywhere…on iPhones, iPads, iMacs, but not their TVs. Wouldn’t it be great to have a branded Apple TV app so that all your viewers could watch your content in full screen glory? Well I’ve got just the WordPress plugin for you…

Behold, TeeVee for WP!

A straightforward WordPress plugin I created to allow content creators to use WordPress as a data source Apple TV apps. TeeVee for WP attaches video metadata to blog posts. The metadata is used to to generate TVML1 which gets ingested by a custom/branded TvOS app.

Screenshot 2015-12-06 21.01.03


On the xCode end you simply create a new TvOS single-view application, with an AppDelegate that looks something like this:

Modify the `TVDomain` to point the domain where TeeVee for WP is install and the rest is show business.

The project is up on github here: https://github.com/ohryan/teevee.

Contributions would be much appreciated.

If you have any questions or suggestions hit me up on twitter at @ohryan or email me [email protected].

  1. TVML is this cool little XML apple created for basic layout – check out Apple’s documentation for more information. []

48 hours with Apple Music

I’ve been a subscriber to rdio for a couple of years, streaming music isn’t anything new to me. So I was very interested to check out Apple’s implementation.

Here’s my take after using it for the last couple of days.

The Good

Playlists:
The curated playlists are feature I didn’t expect to use much, but I’ve spent more time listening to these than anything else. Apple is doing a great job of both selecting playlists I’d be interested in based on my music preferences and selecting tracks.

The only weird thing is that the playlist seem to skew heavily towards older music. I’m not sure why this might be, I don’t typically listen to a lot of old music.

Library:
The selection of available artist and albums is comparable to rdio. I have yet to look for something I couldn’t find.

Streaming Tech:
Apple is doing a much better job of varying the stream based on available bandwidth. We have a few mobile internet dead zones near our place that always trip up rdio, Apple Music has not had any problems in these zones.

Apple Music also seems to be doing a good job of buffering. There is no delay in switching to the next track.

The Bad

Desktop Client Does Not Work: 
I can’t get Apple Music to work in iTunes, period.

App UI:
Rdio has a really great mobile app. Apple, not so much. I find it really confusing and hard to use. More on this in a future post (maybe).

Beats 1:
Beats1 plays the ultra poppy music you’d expect a beats wearing teenager to eat up. It’s not for me.

Encryption, The Best Feature of iOS8

With today’s launch of iOS8, Apple has begun to encrypt all your things. As detailed in the new “privacy” section on apple.com, all iCloud data is now encrypted end-to-end. On Apple’s servers, in transit and presumably on your device. In other words, it’s technically impossible for Apple to comply with government or legal surveillance requests. And more importantly to the average law-abiding-citizen, a phone thief will not be able to access the data on your phone, through any means, without your passcode or finger print.

In my opinion, this definitively ends the Google vs. Apple war, period. At least until Google can change their business model such that it’s not dependant on collecting your personal information to target you with ads, etc.

Good show Apple, good show.