My iPhone may as well be lodged in my brainstem, right between the pons and medulla oblongata. I don’t like to admit it, but Lord Tim Cook above me, it’s true: This electronic slab is connected to my mental being more than any other object on this planet, save my wedding band.
And last week, it made me crazy.
If you’ve never tried to break up with an iPhone before, I’ll tell you this much: It’s not easy. After a year on iOS following many more on Android, I wanted to prove to myself that I could leave Apple’s “walled garden” without feeling like I’d sacrificed something. In the end, I couldn’t do it, and I feel completely, painfully owned by the richest corporation on planet Earth.
Trying and failing
Here was the idea: Simply leave my iPhone 7 in favor of a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. I got my mitts on Samsung’s latest phone for just around $300 in part because I bought a recalled Galaxy Note 7 last year. I was offered about a $600 discount, and it was hard to pass up.
Plus, the Note 8 was what I wanted. The screen is big and gorgeous, the S Pen stylus is fun to work with, and I legitimately benefited from multitasking features that let you use two apps at once. The entertainment options—excessively widescreen Instapaper, emulated video games, whatever—were also far superior. It had everything you could ask for in a phone.
The problem is that iOS is incredibly sticky. Once you’re locked into an iPhone, leaving the ecosystem is torturous, especially if most of the people in your life also use iOS. Suddenly, after I switched to Android, I was missing text messages. My friends and I were no longer able to rely on the “conversations” we had set up in Apple’s Messages app. I tried to get group chats going on Signal, Twitter, and Facebook Messenger, but ultimately, we chatted a lot less thanks to the increased friction of having to chat in apps we weren’t naturally spending a lot of time using.
Apps like Snapchat and Instagram couldn’t handle the Note 8’s oddly proportioned screen, so media didn’t always display properly. Sending photos and videos to my friends required additional steps. I could no longer be sure that the pictures I took would look quite the same on my wife’s iPhone thanks to the different levels of color saturation on the Note 8’s screen.
I regretted everything, and I hated the feeling that Apple had trapped me. For years, I used Android devices without any concerns. After switching to an iPhone 7, moving back now seems impossible.
Apple exerts itself through the iPhone in a way that no other tech manufacturer can through Android.
There are, of course, basic concerns about how these devices impact our lives. The iPhone is basically engineered to addict you. Its buzzes and beeps beg you, unceasingly, to look at the screen. Social apps offer endless feeds of information and assurances—Like! Retweet!—from everyone you know. It’s a portal to a parade of minor surprises that will keep us all refreshing until we die.
But where Apple differs from its competition is in its total control over the product. On an iPhone, you don’t use standard SMS texting: you use iMessage. If Apple pushes out an iOS update, every user can access it. And if you want to use wired headphones on a new iPhone, you must use Apple’s proprietary Lightning port (no headphone jack for you).
Through all of this, Apple can encourage consumers to upgrade their devices like clockwork, perhaps unnecessarily (consider how each new iOS release removes a generation of iPhones from compatibility) and goad you into decisions you may not be comfortable with (such as using Face ID on the iPhone X).
Android, the only real threat to iOS, is different. Though developed and released by Google, it’s open source, which means any company can make and market an Android device. Maybe a company like Samsung wants to develop a tweaked version of Android, put a really gorgeous screen on it, and charge close to $1,000 for a premium handset: It can, just like Motorola can develop a less stunning Android device for $230.
Accept total control from Apple, or surrender to a mess from Android
This is great, philosophically, because the diversity of products means different consumer needs are served. (No surprise, the vast majority of smartphones in the world run Android.) It’s also kind of terrible, because it means Android doesn’t really do anything all that well.
Texting is a mess, apps receive uneven support with wildly inconsistent user experiences, and updates to the operating system are almost entirely out of Google’s hands. (Most users are on a version of Android that’s at least two years old.)
The bottom line here is that smartphone users have two options: Accepting total control from Apple, or surrendering to a mess from Android. Google’s Pixel phone, the latest of which launches today, tries to mitigate this problem by offering direct updates from Google and the “purest” form of Android out there, but it’s still not much of a comparison. After a period of resistance, I’ve accepted Apple.
Apple punished me through iMessage
Like I said: Navigating away from iOS was a nightmare. It didn’t help that almost every single person I genuinely care about uses an iPhone, which means they also use iMessage. It’s a proprietary texting service that takes the place of SMS for iPhone users, and it works very well: It is, arguably, Apple’s killer app.
The problem is that, because it is proprietary and because it replaces SMS by default, leaving iMessage puts you in a monstrously confusing position. If you switch to Android from iOS, I can nearly guarantee that you will miss texts from people you care about, and you may not be able to figure out how to fix it, exactly.
Three years ago, Apple was sued over this. In essence, your phone number would become associated with iMessage, and Apple’s system would prevent you from receiving texts on your new Android device. Apple eventually introduced a web service to help users de-register from iMessage, and the lawsuit was dismissed.
It is still an unbelievable pain to deal with. Before you switch to Android, you’ll want to make sure you disable iMessage on all of your Apple devices. Even then, you can still miss heaps of messages on your new Android device.
When it happened to me, I called Apple’s customer support. They suggested I ask all of my friends with iPhones to delete our previous text threads and then to dig into the settings for their Messages app and enable the “Send as SMS” function, which forces your iMessages to send as normal texts when necessary.
Amazingly, the customer support rep told me this setting is off by default—a fact we later confirmed on a brand new iPhone 8—because Apple is concerned about people unwittingly being charged by their carrier for text messages. A PR rep for the company did not respond when I reached out about this coversation.
To recap: I did everything I possibly could to fix text messaging. When that didn’t work, Apple suggested I reach out to everyone I wanted to message and have them go through a tedious process to fix it. The whole thing made texting feel like a burden rather than something I actually enjoyed.
I eventually got group texts to work with some people, but not others. One thread was populated by three close friends, all of whom are tech journalists, and we threw our hands up in exasperation. If we couldn’t figure it out, I can only say godspeed to the moms and dads sprinkled in isolation throughout the suburbs of our planet.
And sure, perhaps you and your friends are not iMessage people. After this experience, I certainly wished I could say the same. You may still find that so many things that worked so well on iOS simply do not on Android: Seamlessly adding media is very easy in Apple’s Messages, and essentially not possible in the popular Textra app for Android. The Samsung camera app requires a master’s in physics to use properly. The aspect ratio of your Android screen may be different enough from the iPhone, such that Instagram Stories crop words off and Snapchat Discover looks like digital vomit.
Perhaps all of this is to say that Apple has designed the perfect smartphone. It is in many ways a miracle device. But it is one you may find you are locked into, one that may take a legitimate mental toll if you should ever try to escape it. And that is an incredible price to pay indeed.