19 March 2017

iPhone and iPad reconsidered

I don’t really do religion. Not in the faith-based belief sense, at least. I can’t imagine believing or supporting something blindly, in the face of evidence.

I don’t do brand loyalty as religion either. I lack the brand loyalty gene, or something like that. I bought Sennheiser headphones for years, but after a couple of duds I switched to Shure and Philips. I went years without ever buying the same brand of cell phone twice. I’ve had a great experience with our Toyota, but that doesn’t mean my next car won’t be a Chevy Bolt or Tesla 3.

People often assume that I’m a religious Mac fanatic, just because I’ve been using Macintosh computers for 30+ years. That’s not really true either, though. I bought a Macintosh back in the days of the classic Mac OS because it offered the best GUI on any computer, and the best rapid development tool in the form of Hypercard. I stuck with the Mac during the painful OS X transition because I happen to like Unix. I only ever got fanatical about ensuring the Mac remained an option; I don’t care whether it “wins” against Windows or Linux or anything else.

I get that some people hate Unix. I get that some even like Windows, or at least don’t have strong feelings about it. It’s just a personal thing; I’ve always found Windows ugly and annoying, and I stay familiar enough with it at work to know that it’s still ugly and annoying today. If you like Windows, I think you should go ahead and get a Windows computer.

A lot of people seem to be angry about Apple’s latest MacBook Pro, but I don’t have any more of a problem with it than I did with the previous generation. Sure, the graphics processor is disappointing, but that’s been the case with Macs for about a decade now. The keyboard isn’t great, but it’s better than the keyboard on the MacBook Pro I’m typing on now, in that it requires less force. The LCD touch strip is a gimmick, and I’m not wild about the lack of a physical Esc key, but using the touch strip for Esc is OK, and you can remap the useless Caps Lock to be Esc. The lack of hardware upgrade options is bad, but again, that’s nothing new. The switch to USB-C ports? I love that. My phone is USB-C, and I don’t want to buy anything with legacy ports at this point. I’d rather buy adaptor cords.

I do wonder why some enterprising PC manufacturer doesn’t start building laptops which have the same chipset and other hardware as a MacBook, but with a decent GPU and upgradeable RAM and disk. They wouldn’t have to openly advertise them as Hackintosh machines, they could just let word get around…

Anyhow, last year I decided it was time to get a new tablet. My Nexus 10 had served well, but it wasn’t great dealing with large PDFs like my Scientific American subscription, and it was no longer getting software updates and security patches.

Here’s the problem, though: Google have pretty much given up on Android tablets. Their only model now is the Pixel C. Have you ever seen one? Ever seen an ad for one? Me neither. It’s also more expensive than an iPad Air, while being thicker and heavier. The reviews aren’t exactly stellar either. When it comes to software, Google didn’t bother to make Allo compatible, and they’ve said that they have no plans to make their new Google Assistant work on tablets either. They’ve given up on selling tablets to schools.

I gave up and bought an iPad. And it’s pretty awesome.

Sure, when the iPad came out, I wasn’t a fan. It was basically a $600 web browser. Six years on, though, they’ve fixed a lot of the bad design and turned it into a reasonable platform. The initial locked down Steve Jobs control freakishness has been relaxed under Tim Cook, and you can now run your own software on your computer. You can even use iOS without really needing iTunes, which is great because iTunes still sucks.

The iPad hardware is fantastic. The battery life is great, even when the GPU is in use. The Nexus 10 battery life was adequate, but as soon as you started to do anything that required OpenGL ES, the battery would drain in minutes; this doesn’t seem to be a problem with the iPad.

So now I have an iOS device, and I’m getting used to it. So I find myself wondering if it isn’t time to switch to an iPhone too. As with the iPad, I was extremely unimpressed by the initial product, but they’ve refined and improved it a lot since then and lightened up on the control-freakery.

See, it’s not just tablets that Google have sidelined. My last few phones have been Nexus devices, and they’ve killed the Nexus program. Instead of making affordable midrange phones with vanilla Android, they’ve decided to focus on premium phones and compete directly with the iPhone. The trouble is, the Pixel phones are more expensive than an iPhone — the upfront cost is the same, and you only get guaranteed 2 years of software updates. And this year’s new Pixel is said to be even more expensive.

I get it: Android tablets weren’t making money. The Nexus program wasn’t selling enough phones. I am not Google’s target market, which is the same reason they killed Google Reader. (Yes, I’m still bitter.) I understand the marketing decision. That doesn’t mean I have to go along with it, though. Why pay iPhone prices for a Pixel phone, when I can buy an actual iPhone and have it be supported with OS updates for twice as long? I do still prefer Android to iOS, but not enough to pay twice as much for it.

Google has been annoying in other ways, too. There’s the ongoing Google instant messaging clusterfuck, in which they still don’t have an offering with end-to-end encryption. There’s the fact that they’ve killed their encrypted e-mail project.

Then there are Google’s political moves. They keep Breitbart propped up financially, in spite of violations of AdSense policy, and are a source of funds for other extremists too. They joined Trump’s transition team, and donated to his inauguration. They’ve made a few noises against Trump policies, but I’d rather support a company which has repeatedly criticized Trump and talked of legal action against his actions.

Then there’s Google’s continuing failure to think ahead and come up with a business model that isn’t a privacy disaster waiting to happen. The problem with Google being an advertising company is that they amass huge amounts of data on all of us, and sooner or later the government is going to demand access. It’s already happening at local scale.

So yeah, I might be switching to an iPhone this year. I figure I’ll wait for the new model to be released and decide then.

© mathew 2017