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Apple has a Software Problem — Why I’ll be Switching to Android (kevinsookocheff.com)
49 points by soofaloofa 1631 days ago | hide | past | web | 74 comments | favorite

I don't think Apple has a software problem. I think Apple has a data problem.

From the lack of movement on Siri to the numerous problems with MobileMe (or whatever it's called this week), the utter mess that was/is Apple Maps, Apple have proved time and time again that they can't excel where big data is concerned- sometimes they will be sufficient (the iTunes store, perhaps) but never great- and often subpar.

But the "scale" part of iTunes is just a CDN, isn't it? The other problems are proper big data problems.

iTunes has search, and it has some rudimentary suggestions. It's a store, like Amazon, but Apple just hasn't bothered to make it as smart as Amazon.

And the CDN part of iTunes is done by Akamai, I think.

And yet, just 3 hours before the post, the author apparently tweetspammed his followers for a chance to win an iPhone 5:

  Kevin Sookocheff ‏@soofaloofa 3h
  Enter to win a brand new iPhone 5 from @iPhoneinCanada and 
  @TELUS! http://bit.ly/188DQzL
So maybe take this with a grain of salt?

Guilty ... a free phone is a free phone.

And there's no crime in that. I'm firmly in the iOS camp, but have several Android devices for testing/playing.

Unfortunately, there's been a rash of proclaiming! (iphones, androids, standing desks, whatever) posts submitted to HN, and you go back a week or a month later and the poster is back to their old ways.

I would rather see submissions that are something like "6 months ago, I switched to x, and I'm never going back!". To me, these are the more insightful posts.

I completely agree. Except, unfortunately, there is no Android phone I can switch to. Apple gets most things right in terms of hardware.

Switching to Galaxy S4 would be downgrading my experience because of ugly and bloated Touchwiz and a display with wrong, exaggerated colors. Switching to HTC One, would be downgrading my camera. Switching to Nexus 4 would be basically be downgrading everything (camera, battery life, call quality, display) but the OS.

The hardware on the HTC One is impeccable! Hold one in your hand and tell me that it doesn't meet and surpass even Apple's design standards. I couldn't bring myself to even put mine in a case, it feels so amazing in the hand. My Apple-philiac family are considering switching after the next unimaginative iIteration comes out and fails to impress (again).

>Switching to HTC One, would be downgrading my camera

At worst, the iPhone vs One camera battle is a push. These things are somewhat subjective, but the HTC One's camera is far from a downgrade.


Though I never had a chance to hold it, I dislike the fact that it is heavy and thick for modern smartphone standards. I also don't know about the display quality. For some reason, Displaymate never tests HTC devices.

Personally, I like the weight. Between the weight and the all-aluminum, it feels very sturdy, unlike many or all other Android phones. I was coming from an old HTC Evo I'd had for 2.5 years, and that thing weighed a lot more, so to me it was really light!

As for thickness, it technically is a bit on the thick side, but the back tapers towards the edges, which are quite thin. This curvature makes the phone feel much thinner than it is, and also makes it fit nicely in the hand.

If you get a chance to hold one, I think you'll see what I mean and why I for one don't consider these elements to be drawbacks.

Sony phones have a mostly-unmolested Android (and an officially unlockable bootloader), a 1080p LCD screen with decent colors (there's a "vibrant mode" that's a software toggle only), and the camera uses the exact same Sony sensor as Apple's phone but with a physical shutter button and more camera app settings. And the hardware on some of their phone is even waterproof.

The camera might be using the same sensor but the lens is worse and it takes worse shots. The display fall short in many aspects (brightness, contrast, viewing angles) according to gsmarena tests. It also looked washed out to me.

That's interesting, I have the iPhone 5 and I have a friend with a Sony, and the Sony takes way better shots at night - I'm always jealous of the results she gets.

RE: TouchWiz UI - Did you know that you can use your own launcher and apply any theme you wish (legally; without even rooting the device). While I agree that it is not as polished as iOS, it can look great too. You can even make it look like iOS or Windows Phone with some effort.

RE: Display - Just like normal TV set, you can select your preferred display mode on the S4. According to DisplayMate, the movie mode gives you the most accurate colours. Please read their detailed display shootout between the S4 and iPhone 5: http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_S4_ShootOut_1.htm

RE: Battery Life - Are you kidding? From my experience, iPhone 5's battery life is shorter than that of many Android phones.

RE: Call Quality - Wow. Really?

  RE: TouchWiz UI
You're talking about just the launcher, but TouchWiz is so much more than that. It's a custom suite of apps that replace Android's vanilla apps. I'm talking about the Phone app, Calendar, Email, Messaging, Music, Camera (Although Samsung might have the superior here) and so on. A new launcher doesn't fix any of that.

  RE: Display
I don't get why people are obsessing over this so much. The displays are roughly on par. If you really care about color calibration that much, stick with an iPhone?

  RE: Battery Life
This wholly depends on your coverage area. In my area with great Verizon and AT&T LTE coverage, the iPhone 5 still bests any of the Android handsets I have tested here, including the HTC One, S3, Nexus 4, etc. The Note 2 and RAZR MAXX did hand the iPhone 5 its butt, though.

"iPhone 5's battery life is shorter than that of many Android phones"

Usually it is. But I was just comparing it to Nexus 4 in that sentence (which happens to be the only Android phone that actually runs the latest and unmodified Android).

"Apple gets most things right in terms of hardware."

Applies to Macs as well.

just wish OS X and accompanying apps were as good as the hardware they run on. From random beach balling, spending months with bad unacknowledged WI-FI issues that magically fixed after a patch, to the ever changing ever aggravating iTunes, I keep thinking it might be better loading a different OS.

Apple truly makes some impressive hardware, it seems the software side of the company has not received the same focus.

What OS are you considering? I've been running Ubuntu on my MBA for several months now and I find it to be faster and wonderful for most of my needs, but, not on par with the cleanliness of OS X. It works for me because I am willing to tinker with it and forgive things for not working at times (ex: having to point and click on 'suspend' since it would freeze in place if I close the lid or how my wifi has to be restarted every now and again), but, for the everyday 'normal' user, its not up to par just yet.

Apple gets most things right in terms of hardware--eventually. It took them a while to come up with a user-facing camera for Skype calls, as well as high-speed data access. Personal preference is everything in the digital device market, so your criteria are perfectly valid, but not necessarily universally agreed-upon.

I had to fall back on my iPhone 3GS for a couple weeks while my Android phone was at the doctor's, and I was surprised at how viable a device it still is, despite its advanced age, but I simply couldn't believe that the only way I could use it as a hotspot was to physically tether it via USB, or connect via Bluetooth ("And you really don't want to use Bluetooth for your hotspot if you want to pull any large-ish chunks of data down," the Apple Store genius told me.)

It's good to have options...and options are what the market is providing to us.

I don't see how anyone who makes an open-minded choice can go wrong when selecting what best fits _them_.

That's not fair. You can switch, you just have to decide between whether you want the better software, or (for you) the better hardware.

I don't want better hardware. I just want acceptable hardware without significant flaws and issues.

Really? I thought we had established that pretty much all hardware nowadays is "good enough"? And that's why "software matters", DELL is private and "the personal computer is dead"?

That works for servers and desktops, but it turns out that when you have something in your actual hand, then things like construction quality and battery life are much more vivid.

Isn't that exactly what the article is saying?

Switching to Galaxy S4 would be downgrading my experience because of ugly and bloated Touchwiz and a display with wrong, exaggerated colors.

Ignoring the color comment (given that the GS4 passes display tests with flying colors), have you actually used the "ugly and bloated" Touchwiz, or are you just going on the purist talking points (as you clearly did with the AMOLED talking point)?

I regularly use a GS3, Nexus 4, and Nexus 7 (having previously used the GS2, Galaxy Glide, Nexus One, HTC Dream and HTC Magic). Both the GS3 and GS2 offered better functionality long before Google got around to it (notification area quick controls, hardware-accelerated browser, etc), and I absolutely prefer the GS3 to the Nexus 4 from a pure software experience perspective. I haven't used the GS4, but given how hollow most of the pure experience prattle is I wouldn't be surprised if it's again ahead of the Google experience.

Galaxy S4 display was tested by Displaymate[1] and even in the most accurate calibration mode (Movie Mode), it is still significantly less accurate. The maximum brightness is also significantly lower than that of iPhone 5's, which matters a lot to me. There are also other serious issues, like Dynamic Brightness Reduction based on APL.

I personally used a Galaxy S4 and immediately noticed another very serious issue with the display. You can check out this thread on XDA forums[2] if you are curious. In summary, green subpixels have lower refresh rate, which causes gray (RGB 50,50,50) lines to temporarily turn into purple (RGB 50,0,50) while scrolling. This is unacceptable for a such an expensive and high end device. And this isn't the only issue.

There are things I like about Touchwiz. I perfectly understand if you find it better than stock Android, which isn't perfect either. But my personal opinion is that it just seems to lack the design taste and consistency that stock Android and iOS have.

[1] http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_S4_ShootOut_1.htm [2] http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2252445

Galaxy S4 display was tested by Displaymate[1] and even in the most accurate calibration mode (Movie Mode), it is still significantly less accurate

DisplayMate had significant criticism of the GS2s screen. They had some criticism of the GS3 screen. They call the GS4 screen excellent, giving it the same A score as the iPhone 5s screen.

Add that the GS4 screen has 3X more detail and infinitely more contrast than the iPhone 5, and it seems to be embracing a talking point to focus specifically on the color gamut (especially given that subjectively most users actually prefer it, so unless you're a graphic artist doing color matching...).

Obviously it's an improvement over previous AMOLED displays and color inaccuracy is perhaps tolerable this time. I just don't understand how Displaymate missed the issue I mentioned above, which is the main reason I went back to my iPhone 5.

The GS3 screen was destroyed by the iPhone 5's from lab tests. Maybe he's going off that (which, wouldn't be fair to the GS4, but it's an explanation to his possible bias).

To be fair, you are one of the few (actually the first for me personally) that I've seen that prefers Samsung's solution over Google's, though. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

The original reason why "skins" earned criticism was that it was perceived as the cause of update delays, back when Samsung, SE and HTC tossed devices out and quickly forgot them. This took hold, and an anti-skin sentiment was entrenched, despite vendors like HTC and Samsung figuring out how to do updates in a much more timely manner.

Since then the argument has seldom had much to do with rational evaluation (just as much of the praise for the terrible Chrome for Android is just some sort of default conclusion). People -- speaking specifically of the tech community, having nothing to do with general users -- just seem to assume that derivations from Google's pure experience = worse. Here's the paradox, however: with each iteration Google is stealing those features from the vendor skins, to great acclaim.

That criticism should be maintained. Perhaps not globally, but in the US update cadence is slowed down significantly by the carriers. It is the carriers that pay for device updates, and they have little incentive to do so when the "next" phone has already or will be released shortly.

Nexus devices, and iOS for that matter, are updated outside domestic carrier schedules, so you don't have the same delays that have given skinned phones a bad reputation.

As long as the majority of Americans use subsidized phones, the carriers will continue to be the biggest obstacle.

I still dream of world where I can combine a hodge-podge of services that intercommunicate through open protocols. Maybe the integration isn't quite as perfect, but it gets the job done. I'll gladly make that trade-off if I can avoid picking an "ecosystem" the way we pick a sports team.

The trouble is and always has been that it's very hard to monetize this. From mashups to open web services to RSS, it's hard to insert an advert into a back-end data stream the user never sees.

I think he has a good point. The first thing I do when I have a new computer is install Google Chrome and log into my Google account. All my Google Chrome apps then get synced and I am ready to get to work. When I got a chromebook and signed in for the first time I did not have to set many things up as most of my stuff synced except for Skype and a few other apps that are not available on the chromebook. The lack of Skype on the chromebook just pushed me to use Google+ Hangouts more so a loss for Microsoft/Skype. I have started to notice myself moving away from using my iPad 3 and iPhone 5 due to their lack of OS level integration with Google. I suspect my next phone and tablet will be Android based.

If Google was all I did with my devices, then sure, Android is the way to go. But this article discounts pretty swiftly that there is more to a device than my Gmail and Google Now.

As for me, I like Google Now and will continue to use Gmail integrated with my iPhone's mail client, but I'm not willing to walk away from my decade of iTunes use and migrate my media elsewhere, and there isn't an Android equivalent to my AppleTV experience yet (are they even still selling the Nexus Q?), especially over not having to log in multiple times.

You may have a point with iTunes content, but that's Apple locking you into its ecosystem. As for Apple TV, that's what DLNA and Google Play is for. Why need another piece of hardware when one will do?

You get locked into an ecosystem either way. The bet is on which ecosystem will be around for the long haul. Given how Google just shuts things down all the time, I'd have to reject that one. Right now the only way to avoid lock-in is piracy.

Definitely this. Switching to Android was, if nothing else, an exercise in finding out who really owns my data.

For a lot of users e-mail, calendar and social are the killer features of a phone.

Some people value their privacy so they don't use social apps.

Agreed on iTunes content. I switched to a Nexus 4 a few months ago and this was/is the biggest pain point, but is really only an issue in the car. I've filled the gap with my little iPod shuffle or Spotify on my phone, but it's obviously not as convenient.

I rarely stream to Apple TV from my phone anyways, so that was not a huge issue.

iTunes lock in? I thought iTunes sold DRM-free mp3 files like every other music store?

Since 2008, yeah. But the only way Apple got the license to sell the music online in the first place was if they DRM'd it, and you have to pay to unlock the songs purchased prior to the switch.

Movies, TV and books are still DRM'd though.

I actually find iOS almost universally easier to use in terms of software than Android devices. This pains me because I'd much rather use a more open device running Android, and would much much rather not go through the awful experience of the AppStore review when developing software.

But I find the experience right through the stack from the UI, to the software architecture and hardware, far better on iOS than Android.

What I think I'd really like to see is someone make an open iOS clone. Sony actually started working on this, building on GNUStep but then dumped it. I keep thinking about picking that up myself, anyone what to fund me to do it? :)

It's hardly unusual to find a 3rd party app that does something better than a system provided application regardless of platform, where better is in part dictated by personal preference and needs. What's a bit unusual is that the choices are google, google, google, google, google. Seems you have a bit of a bias there.

I am gonna chime in here. I think he is absolutely wrong. Apple has amazing software built right in and usually never fails me. Siri can be a pain sometimes but it works 90% of the time for me. Apple Maps are pretty good despite the lack of local transit routing. I have had Google Maps for iOS's turn by turn navigation fail me just as much as Apple Does. I've been an apple developer for a long time now, and just recently started developing for Android. I will say this apple developer tools/API/SDK's are far better than android hands down. I spend more time doing stuff in android that could be done in less code for iOS. The quality of the apps there fore tend to be much better and more polished on iOS than Android. and it shows.

If Apple's problem is that it can't upload my data to Google as efficiently, then I will consider that a feature, not a bug.

It does seem that a lot of people want to throw as much personal data at an advertising company. Maybe I'm the weird one , maybe I have something to hide.

Android has that feature too. Just don't use Google apps.

I find it interesting that just because someone has a different opinion, like that Medium piece on why "I won't wear Google Glass", it suddenly rises to the top.

This article basically reiterates what others have argued for the longest time. One platform is better than the other, one company better than another. Who cares if you switch what phone model you use? It's not like someone is going to be converted because of what you did. Your phone isn't a religion.

This sounds like a person who likes their Google software to work on their iPhone without ever giving Apple software a chance. In fact he skipped right over Apple's software, never mentioning iCloud or other features.

And your suggestion is using iCloud Mail instead of Gmail?

As for Safari, I'm sure he gave it a chance. I did too. However, I use Chrome on all my other devies and I love Chrome's tab and bookmark sync.

Google Voice Search absolutely destroys Siri when asking questions, unit convertions etc.

Safari has a pretty powerful bookmark sync as well, if you've set up iCloud correctly. All my bookmarks are synced across devices. I can also look up what tabs are open on other devices (provided the same user is logged in). With that in mind, I actually find it more powerful than Chrome's, and it's quite handy when juggling multiple machines for whatever reason (but I end up using Chrome 95% of the time anyway because of UI preference, and a better dev tool experience). I do prefer the Chrome iOS UI as well, but since Apple has concerns about letting people have access to JIT compilation, I stick with Safari on iOS.

Definitely prefer gmail, though.

Bookmark/tab sync is not the reason I use Chrome. I use Chrome on all my other devices and I want my bookmarks/tabs to sync with my phone as well. This is why I can't use Safari on iOS.

Gmail works perfectly fine on iOS.

and for Chrome, you can use Xmarks to sync bookmarks. I use both Safari and Chrome on the desktop, and the bookmarks are in sync completely, which makes them in sync with my iPad.

It doesn't work perfectly fine because it has no sync. iOS apps cannot do background tasks. I receive a new mail, I read half the mail in my notification, but when I tap the notification, I have to wait 10 seconds for the mail to be downloaded. For someone who switched from Android, it makes me feel like I went back in time to to Windows 95 and Outlook Express.

So, no. I disagree. Gmail (at least the app) works horrible on iOS. Likewise, Google Maps and most other Google services are worse on iOS, while with Android everything just works after logging into Google.

Author here. I've used the stock Mail App for months and I've been trying to use Reminders for at least as long. The Apple software just isn't as good.

What is the Android equivalent for Reminders?


It's amazing that Android still does not come with a note taking and reminder app.

Did the OP just get an iPhone? Sounds like he's had one a while and over time has started using more and more Google apps because he finds they work better for what he does. He's not alone, Google's apps are some of the most popular iOS apps.

I too use Chrome/Google Maps/Gmail instead of Apple's offerings, not because I didn't give Apple's kit a chance, but because Apple's apps are simply bad.

Beware, Android has its own share of software problems.

Reflecting on this, I've come to the following conclusion, let me motivate it a bit.

Jobs was a notable fan of Sony's industrial design in the 80s. But Japan's traditional industrial problem has been poor software despite great hardware. Often software so bad that it brings down an otherwise great piece of hardware.

Jobs tried to solve this, great hardware and software, tightly integrated, completes the product. Small details, from the trackpad on a Mac to the clickwheel on an iPod, to the interface on an iPad are all examples of this philosophy.

Fundamentally this puts the focus on building a product, the industrial design, the power supply, the BOM and the software (instead of all the previous bits and then later some software). But a product oriented development process means you build the product, ship it, then move on to the next product. You don't really keep revving a product after it ships.

But software is a fundamentally different beast. As a discipline it has transformed into a continuous practice instead of a discrete practice like hardware. "Cloud" computing, with continuous updates are simply an extension of this understanding. It puts tension into Apple's product focused development practice because it forcibly decouples the software part of product design that Apple has spent so much effort into coupling.

I'm not saying Apple never updates its software, to the contrary, Apple software is generally well supported and receives updates. But it feels like it's done in a begrudging kind of way. Major software updates tend to be lockstep released with major new hardware product launches, not independently (and then some older products can be updated with the new software).

Contrast to other parts of the computing industry where the system software and hardware are completely decoupled. Which is the better approach? I don't know. Apple's innovation tends to come in huge leaps, followed by slow refinement. It's easy for consumers to keep track of and it seems to have worked well. But then every once in a while competitors will move ahead, and if it's early in an Apple product cycle it can take forever for Apple to reach parity since you have to wait for the next major product release to get the next major software release. It can feel like catching up.

Some software development just simply works better with a continuous development process. Maps is a really notable example, all of the data lives outside the product and as the data improves, the product seems to magically improve as well. I think what we're realizing is that voice recognition applications (Siri, Google's Voice Search) benefit from out-of-product improvements to the fundamental algorithms as well.

And this is where Apple is struggling, by viewing software as huge steps with small shuffles in between, they struggle in cases where software development works best as a continuous reasonable walk. It can feel like Apple just can't be bothered sometimes while you wait a year or two for the next major product cycle.

(comparatively, Google suffers from the opposite, by keeping on their regularly paced march, the product ecosystems ends up horribly confused, you might be able to get the latest google tech on product A, but can you get it on product B? Who knows!? It can be frustrating as a consumer)

Overall an excellent thesis.

One quibble, though, with this: "Some software development just simply works better with a continuous development process. Maps is a really notable example, all of the data lives outside the product and as the data improves, the product seems to magically improve as well... And this is where Apple is struggling, by viewing software as huge steps with small shuffles in between, they struggle in cases where software development works best as a continuous reasonable walk."

I happened to be traveling in Italy during the last week of iOS 6 beta and the first two weeks of iOS 6 release, and was amazed to see the sudden dramatic improvement in maps on an almost daily basis during that trip. At the start of the trip, we still preferred the original maps on iOS 5, but by the end of the trip, the iOS 6 maps felt superior in most ways.

Apple was clearly updating both the "cloud" map data and the map functionality without a point release to iOS itself, and iterating incredibly fast. Seems to me if the "new maps" journalism had been delayed about three more weeks after iOS 6's release, the "first" impressions would have been markedly improved.

I also believe, based on the types of things that changed, that the iteration was driven by real world mass usage data that Apple just couldn't get from the beta or GM install base who use iPhones differently.

Yeah, I agree. I think Apple is moving towards this kind of development, but it's just not in their present DNA. I wonder how much of the rapid map improvements were the very public bad press and the apology by the CEO putting a laser focus on the problem vs. something that would have happened organically? Looking at the glacial pace of Siri improvement and the low prioritizing of the iTunes recommendation engine, I can't help but wonder.

In other words, I don't think Apple really wants to move to a more continuous software development model, but market forces are simply forcing it to do so. It is surprising that they aren't investing more of their piles of cash into expanding and improving their software development practices.

> I wonder how much of the rapid map improvements were the very public bad press and the apology by the CEO putting a laser focus on the problem vs. something that would have happened organically?

The iterations, things like building outlines, or on the iPad, 3D building textures for historic Rome, could not possibly have been produced on short notice.

I believe iOS 6 Maps was simply a month behind schedule, and iOS 6 was launched before Maps was ready, with data and features continuing to release until they hit their deliverable. After that additional three weeks, Maps seemed to stabilize into incremental improvements rather than the leaps and strides made during in the three weeks after iOS 6 release.

> It is surprising that they aren't investing more of their piles of cash into expanding and improving their software development practices.

My perception is Apple has a different dev model of sticking with comparatively small dev teams in an effort to keep product lean, focus tight, and quality and polish high. I'm not sure what the result would be if they expanded teams. Some research suggests both quality and output might actually drop.

I also feel like they are much slower in terms of innovation or exciting features. They had everyone when the iPhone was first released as it blew everything out of the water. Competitors have caught up, and in a lot of ways, are starting to pass Apple in various ways.

Like the author of this post, Google apps have replaced most of the common Apple apps I use. I too am looking to switch to Android. If I do switch to Android, this means that staying with OS X and Apple hardware is far less important to me.

Sounds logical, but Google are putting so much effort in to outshine Apple on Apple hardware that iPhone users get better Google maps and google Now than Android users.

Google's iOS team are producing some fantastic products, and I'm considering moving back to an iPhone to take advantage of them.

Why declare to the world your next phone? Buy whatever makes you happy and use whatever you like using. These discussions go nowhere quickly.

IMO, you will be switching back to apple.

I'm using an Android phone. For long, I was never satisfied with the quality of software on Android. iOS apps are much more polished and innovative.

I don't believe that right now any single Android can beat Apple in a fair fight. But it could be 1979 all over again.

If Google follows in Microsoft's footsteps -- which is, to support Android in ways that 1) provide an Apple-like experience at a lower price; and 2) make life easier for developers, especially within the enterprise -- then it might win.

One might be tempted to say Apple's design will always win. In reply I present Exhibit A - the IBM PC.

Apple has an ecosystem/infrastructure problem.

iPhone was built to be the best phone. And for a big part of the market, that's what it is.

Android was built to enable widespread unhindered access to the Google ecosystem. That's what it does.

Apple never built a competing ecosystem. iTunes is now 10 years old. The app store is 5 years old. Are there any other noteworthy achievements in ecosystem and infrastructure for Apple?

Apple has spent a ton on capex recently. One hopes a big part of that is for gearing up to provide a first class ecosystem for core user needs.

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