About two weeks ago, this lowly consumerization reporter – one that happens to cover enterprise mobility for a living – finally upgraded from an LG Cosmos dumbphone to an iPhone 4S. It's not my first trip to the smartphone rodeo, having previously used an Android device up until a year ago.
A year, however, is an eternity when it comes to mobile devices. Becoming a member of the smartphone club once again, but with a different mobile OS, seemed like a good opportunity to personally dive into the tech segment I cover. I ended up splitting this post into two parts because, holy shit, I had a lot to say and reading 2,500 words on this seemed like a lot to stomach.
Now, it's worth noting that my LG Cosmos was a perfectly acceptable tool for ignoring phone calls, sending texts, setting a reliable alarm clock, and peace of mind if I ever needed to bludgeon someone to death courtesy of the phone's brick-like design. Man, on the other hand, the iPhone 4S actually elicits "ohs" and "ahs" from strangers and family even though everyone supposedly has an iPhone and this specific device was released back in 2011. The hardware is indeed unparalleled and the retina screen impresses me every time I look at it.
In short: yes, the iPhone more or less just works. Yes, I'm able to stay hyper-connected to my digital world. Yes, iTunes Match is probably the greatest $25 you can spend as a music lover with an admittedly ridiculously large music collection. As a platform for applications iOS is superb. However, two weeks in, I'm still not entirely sold on iOS or most of Apple's bundled services.
I want to embrace the iPhone as a productivity tool, but I too often feel guilty that I use the device to mostly delete junk email, scroll through Twitter and Facebook, and play video games when I'm not physically in the office. My device has enough computing power to send someone to the moon for crying out loud and the best I can do with it at the moment is no different than what I do on my laptop. I'm hopeful this will change in due time as I break the device in, but for know I feel like Luke Skywalker trying to harness The Force in 'Empire Strikes Back'. I know the the potential is there, but I'm not sure I know how to unlock it.
The power of the apps side
What I need and want from a smartphone is quick and easy access to the apps and information I need in an organized fashion. That means having one location for all the games and puzzles I play, having another folder for work and productivity things, and another folder for entertainment apps, etc.
It's all about being able to quickly get in and out of apps to get the data I need when I need it. Whether it's checking the weather, email, my calendar or finding a contact I don't want to futz around in the app to get the information I need.
I understand this is also a good argument for constantly updating informational widgets or live tiles on the home screen, but I don't need my phone to double as a stock ticker. I want to control the flow of information and access it on my own terms, rather than have it shoved in my face. This is purely a personal preference and differs for everyone.
Also, battery life is important. I'd rather launch an app for the information I need if it means having the battery last a little bit longer throughout the day. It's a trade-off I'm willing to make because the extra ten-seconds needed to launch an app instead of just having it AVAILABLE NOW isn't the difference between life or death.
As of this writing, I'm mostly relying on the built-in email and calendar app for my TechTarget stuff courtesy of Apple. They're not great, but not terrible. They remind me of a Soviet Cold War-era utilitarian building -- perfectly useful, but it ain't the Bilboa Guggenheim Art Museum, either.
I've heard most people with smartphones have like 80-100 apps on them and use only 15 regularly. I'm a Spartan-type of person where I try to pare down everything in my life to the uncluttered essentials. I don't want to waste intellectual effort deciding what winter coat to wear every morning.
I'll be taking the same approach for my mobile apps. Why use Yelp and Foresquare when just one will do. Why have Rdio, iTunes Match, Pandora, Spotify when iTunes and Rdio meet my needs. With that in mind, here's what apps I am relying on (this could change, but maybe not):
- Gmail for my personal email, but hoping to try out Mailbox soon.
- Evernote. It's perfect for taking pictures of receipts, organizing notes and files and keeping me organized more than I've ever been.
- Dropbox and Box for file syncing, obviously. I have both SkyDrive and Google Drive accounts, but haven't bothered installing those apps yet.
- Safari and Chrome are currently battling it out for my browser of choice. Leaning towards Chrome because I'm very Google-centric for my services.
- Google Maps has replaced Apple Maps.
- The official Facebook and Twitter clients for my social media needs. Facebook's app is good enough to keep, Twitter's client is on the chopping block once I find a replacement.
- CloudOn is my Office productivity app at the moment, but let's be real – extended editing of documents on an iPhone is no different than getting a colonoscopy. It's installed merely as an emergency needed type of app.
- I'm using a few food-related apps like Chef's Feed, Nara, Epicurious, and Untappd.
- Clear is the app I use the most for managing to-do lists. Rise has become my alarm clock app and Solar is my weather app.
- Letterpress for smart fun, Infinity Blade for mindless competitive fun.
- Timbre for surfacing live music events around Boston.
I'm considering hopping onto the Foursquare and Instagram wagon, but it's also two more social apps I don't have the emotional resources to invest in. I'm considering installing Camera+ to beef up the photo capabilities of the phone.
Oh, sooo that's what a crapplication is?
When Brian Katz crusades against crapplications, I now get it. I no longer have to silently nod my head and pretend I understand what the heck he's talking about. One of the dirty secrets about the tech press is we're encouraged to write about "native apps" as if that indicates the app developer put some extra thought and care into the functionality and design of the app. The phrase "native app" implies that the app in question is not a crapplication. But, it doesn't matter to me as a user how the app was compiled -- whether it be HTML5 or Objective-C or whatever.
What I've come to realize is that the UI and UX paradigm (barf, but it's the best phrase I can come up with) of mobile devices is vastly different from Windows or OSX and matters a whole lot more than the programming language used to write the app. Brian previously wrote about how touch and swipe gestures changes how software should be constructed on a mobile device because it's so different than the interaction a user has with a mouse and keyboard. It's worth revisiting in light of what I'm about to say.
Clear, Rise Solar, and Timbre are exquisite examples of developers building a limited-purpose application that relies strictly on a mobile UI/UX. Those four apps are some of the best computer software I've ever used on any platform because they only use touch and swipe to navigate through the application environment. They are intuitively mobile apps, not just an app on a mobile device. It's an important distinction.
If you use those apps, you're probably nodding your head in agreement. There is a remarkable difference between the UX for Clear and Apple's native task reminder app. Many apps are still designed as if they were simply ported from its desktop version. It sucks. If you design your app like this, do us all a favor and just stop!
For example, CloudOn is practically useless since it crams the Microsoft Office ribbon into a mobile app. Why should I have to pinch and zoom in the app to guarantee my clumsy sausage fingers will tap the functionality I need? Even Gmail, which is one of the better designed email clients, still feels like most of its design cues are ported from the existing web app. Why am I trying to check tiny little boxes to select an email in order to delete it? These apps are so unintuitive and I would argue borderline crapplications.
Conversely, this is why I've come to love Evernote. The designers have managed to create a unique experience for using Evernote on the web versus on a mobile device, but it still feels like a great, cohesive experience regardless of the platform. The Apple's, Google's, and Microsoft's of the world should take heed of this new reality.
Tomorrow, we'll dive into my experience setting up my new iPhone (not as easy as I'd hoped) and have a few comparisons between my experience with Android and iOS.