Choosing a new phone

In the vein of a previous post exploring why I chose to move my email over to Office 365, I shall today be exploring how I chose my new phone.

Or, more specifically the OS of the phone (given that hardware doesn’t interest me as a thing – one black fondleslab is much like another black fondle slab).

As that previous post indicated, I currently have a BackBerry. Not one of the new BBOS10 ones, but an older one (although it was new when I took my contract out).

The phone market today is radically different from the one where I first switched to BlackBerry (4 going on 5 years ago). BackBerry has essentially died a death ( in the consumer market anyway, we’ll see if their refocus back on enterprise, and the opening of BBM to other phone OSs makes a difference). Android has risen to become the dominant phone OS – although the device manufacturers haven’t quite got the hang of OTA updates and multi-year support (I’ll get to the issue of so-called bloat-ware in a minute). IPhone and it’s iOS has seen a more sedate rise, but has figured out OTA updates that cut the carrier out of the picture. Windows Phone has also emerged as a serious contender.

Between them, these 4 OSs have the overwhelming majority of the market – few people could name any other OS that is still going today. This post will take each in turn to weigh the advantages and disadvantages, for me according to my needs and desires. I make no claims that my answer is the one true answer, or that even my disadvantages won’t be someone else’s advantages. (although I am right, and everyone else is wrong).

BlackBerry

There’s no denying that BlackBerry has had a rocky road recently. Their latest OS 10 is a major shift from their previous direction. A major UI overhaul, coupled with keeping their excellent security features should stand them in good stead in this battle. But alas, I don’t want another BlackBerry – their troubles don’t speak well for being around much longer, or at the very least that consumers will not have the focus they once did. BBM is something I rarely use, and even if I did there’s no longer any need for a BlackBerry itself. Even email, the killer feature it handled exceedingly well, is no longer a differentiator – the competition has caught up, and BlackBerry hasn’t advanced. Their attempt to boost their App Store by making their OS ‘compatible’ with Android apps, to me speaks of a desperation. A last gasp as it were. Perhaps it will be enough, perhaps not. But I don’t want to be take the risk that I’ll be left with an unsupported brick a couple of years down the line (phones to me are at least a two year investment, if not more).

Windows Phone 8

A relatively recent contender, Windows Phone 8 is Microsofts latest attempt to break into the mobile market – a successor to the previous Windows Phone 7 and the Windows Mobile OS family. It inherits a lot of its look from Windows 8 and its Metro UI, and this certainly makes it the most distinctive of the OSs out there. Yet it hasn’t been a massive success, although it is showing steady growth. Perhaps it came too late to the market, or perhaps it hasn’t been marketed well – a common feature of Microsofts mobile attempts. One thing is certain though – app developers haven’t gone crazy for it. Despite the fact that I only use a core set of apps on my phone regularly (mostly social media), I do like to try out apps, and part of me wonders if it’s due in large part to the fact that BlackBerry’s app selection is abysmal.

iOS 7 on iPhone

I already have many Apple devices. I use a Macbook Pro at home, I have an iPod Touch which is my media center, and I have an iPad which sees infrequent use. I have a large collection of apps on my iPod, although again I only have a core set that I actually use. So surely an iPhone is a natural next step? Well, maybe not. iPhones are expensive (I know, that’s hardware – but unlike the other OSs, Device and OS are tied together here). I already have an iPod Touch for all my Appley needs. I know of no-one who uses iMessage or FaceTime – so those have no appeal. My apps are already on my iPod Touch, and I don’t hate the wifi-only nature of it. There’s also Apples iCloud, which is very much a walled garden as far as syncing services go. I use it as minimally as I can for my needs right now (mostly to save connecting via cable to transfer photos).

Android

Oh Android. Google’s attempt at a mobile OS. Phenomenally successful. Open Source, except for when it’s not. Android. It came on to the scene with a terrible UI at the time, although the UI has improved dramatically with recent revisions. But then, with Android, the UI is kind of moot. It’s open source (except when it isn’t), people have written entirely separate launchers and themes – see many of the carrier/manufacturer branded versions for examples. In fact, this really makes it very hard to talk about Android with any meaningful detail. Google’s Android is very different from the Open Source Android – the Keyboard with the cool swipey-pathy-typey-thing? Closed source. Googles Mail app? Closed source. It’s well documented that Google has been closing down Android slowly but surely. And although you have the possibility of side-loading apps, very very few are actually distributed like this. They almost all go through Google Play Store. It seems that Open Source is a flag google wave for community support, to blind the community to just how hard it actually would be to create a successful Android fork – look at what Amazon has to go through to clone the APIs provided by the closed source Google Play Services. CyanogenMod also have to dance around the redistribution of the closed APIs that many apps assume are present, by backing up the original Google Apps, and then reloading it after their version is flashed. Also, how meaningful waving the Open Source flag is when the core platform APIs of the project are developed in private is…….. yeah.

I make no secret that I don’t trust Google these days. You are an advertising target to them. Everything they do that is intended for consumers will eventually feed back into their advertising algorithms. This is why it will surprise you that I went with Android as my next phone OS. I’m not sure yet, how I’ll remove or limit Googles tendrils on the device. Running stock AOSP? Possibly if I can get my social media apps to work without the Google Play Services. Using a separate account for Play Store things? Possibly. I’ll most certainly be limiting apps permissions as much as possible. I was surprised to learn that Android only recently got the ability to limit GPS access on a per-app basis – iOS has had Location Services control for ages. Perhaps I’ll put CyanogenMod on it, although frustratingly I can’t find a full description on their site of what changes they actually make to AOSP. I’ll certainly disable Google Now, and its always listening “Ok Google”. I’d better buckle up, because this is going to be an interesting ride. Especially as I find apps I just want to try if only for 5 minutes.

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