is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Carrying around two phones is one of those things that I’ve always associated only with a certain class of dork, but right now that’s me. Along with my iPhone, I’ve been toting around a Google Pixel phone everywhere I go and, as much as I can, I’ve tried to make it my primary device. Everything that I would normally turn to my iPhone for, I try to turn to my Pixel for.
I did this in part to learn more about Android; even though this isn’t my first Android device (I’ve owned two others and a tablet), it’s the first one that from the outset looked like it stood the best chance of legitimately replacing my iPhone. Everything from the build quality to the subtle but meaningful extra attention and care paid to the operating system felt closer to the iPhone than I’ve seen before.
To be sure, it’s a terrific phone. It has a world class still camera that just about lives up to its hype, and to me the operating system has never felt as united with its hardware as it does in this phone.
As much as I tried though, after living with this device for several weeks I still felt that there were several stumbling blocks to jumping entirely to Android. Whether you consider it lock-in or value-add, Apple’s ecosystem is a powerful argument for sticking with the iPhone.
Everyone talks about iMessage being the most compelling argument for Apple’s ecosystem and I found that to be absolutely true. I had hoped that Google’s new Allo messaging product would be a worthy contender, but it fell far short. Allo doesn’t match iMessage’s key strength—the ability to abstract your account—the place where you send and receive messages—from the device. By contrast you can use one iMessage account on multiple devices (I count five devices for my account) and send and receive messages on all of them, but each Allo instance is tied to a single phone number and device, so there’s no device switching, and certainly no receiving Allo messages on my desktop. Learning that was a disappointment and pretty much meant the end of the argument for switching entirely to Android. iMessage is a huge advantage for Apple.
I also discovered something interesting about Google’s much vaunted strength in services: sometimes it’s no better than Apple’s. As an iTunes Match user, I’ve long bemoaned Apple’s inability to make automatic syncing of my music library between devices truly seamless and glitch free. It’s gotten better over the years, but it’s still prone to oddball errors and quirks which, in the past, always made me wish that Google was powering the service instead.
When I got the Pixel I figured I could use Google Play Music syncing for the same purpose—to get the contents of my music library to the Pixel. To my surprise, Google does an even poorer job than Apple. Among the problems I encountered: albums show up in multiple parts; tracks are missing; corrected meta information doesn’t get synced etc. To be fair, Google Play Music syncing is still mostly usable; it just failed to live up to my expectations for Google’s services prowess.
Another thing that surprised me was the experience of using Android’s lock screen notifications, which in the past I’ve admired and found more powerful than those on iOS. They’ve generally been richer and more capable where for a long time iOS lock screen notifications were fairly limited. That is, until iOS 10 overhauled its notification system. Aesthetically, the new notifications interface actually doesn’t look as good, to me, as it did in iOS 9. But I hadn’t realized until I started using the Pixel how very good its interactions are in general. By and large, iOS 10 notifications are easy to use and understand: if you see something on the lock screen you can take action on it and that clears all the other notifications. If you missed a notification, you can access it again by pulling down from the top of the screen once the phone is unlocked.
Android notification behavior, on the other hand, is harder to predict. They tend to stick around even after you’ve engaged with them, and worse, they reshuffle all the time, sometimes right before your eyes. It’s relatively difficult to clear them all too, unless you effectively view (or at least scan) all of them. In the end, I found it disappointing that a system that I had liked previously had turned into something more complex than I feel is really necessary.
None of which is to say that the Pixel is a bad phone. If you’re predisposed towards Android, or don’t enjoy iOS, the Pixel presents a superb overall experience. But I had hoped that, despite my predilection towards Apple, I would be able to find a viable alternative should I ever want to jump ship. I still hope that Android evolves into that, because I think that makes for a much more interesting market. For now though, even though I’m still carrying around my Pixel, my iPhone remains my main device.+