When Apple first released the iPhone in 2007, I wrote a blog post with the headline: “Why my phone won’t be an iPhone.” I laid out several reasons I would not be giving up my Palm Treo 700p for Apple’s gadget, including the poor voice and data service of Apple’s lone wireless partner, AT&T, and the lack of third-party apps.
The iPhone has obviously come a long way since then. It can now be used on any carrier. Its voice and data quality are stellar. Some of its built-in apps, such as Apple Pay, are best in class. There are 1.5 million apps created by outside developers.
I have finally caved in: My phone is now an iPhone.
And I got there the way that many others have: by switching from an Android-based smartphone. About six weeks ago, I swapped my two-year-old Samsung Galaxy S5 for a new iPhone 6S to better understand Apple’s flagship product as I began a new assignment about the company.
Faced with slowing sales growth, Apple is counting on millions of people like me to give up their Android phones, which can be bought new for as little as $30 in some countries, to purchase iPhones, which cost $400 or more.
“We were blown away by the level of Android switchers that we had last quarter,” Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, told Wall Street in January. “We see that as a huge opportunity.”
As someone who has since 2010 used high-end phones based on Google’s Android operating system, I have experienced a rocky transition, like moving to a faraway city. The landmarks are unfamiliar, the customs are different, and I miss my old haunts even as I explore new ones.
Switching phone operating systems should in theory be simple. First you transfer your data from the old phone to the new one. Then you reinstall your favorite apps. Finally you customize the settings for features like ring tones and notifications and learn the quirks of your new device.
Apple has a detailed guide and a special app to help those switching from an Android. Apple also offers assistance at its retail stores as well as 90 days of free telephone support. Google, which does not itself sell most of the phones that run on Android, has a web page of tips for those switching from an Apple.
But as I learned, many things can go wrong, and my experience is not unusual.
“You’re going to have to go through the things that are most valuable to you and make sure it’s all there,” said Jonathan S. Geller, editor in chief of BGR, a tech news site that reviews phones and writes frequently about switching. “For a normal consumer, it’s reasonably frustrating.”
Here’s what happened when I switched:
The problems began at the outset. I downloaded Apple’s switching app, Move to iOS, to my Samsung and paired the two phones. The app got stuck in the middle of the data transfer and eventually froze.
Verizon, my mobile carrier, offers its own method of transferring data called Verizon Cloud. I tried it but could not get the two phones to sync directly. I had to back up the Samsung to the cloud, then download the data to the iPhone.
A lot of contacts and photos never made it through. It was as if a moving company had lost half my stuff during a cross-country haul.
Apple later told me that I could have called a toll-free number for help, gone to an Apple store or erased everything and started over. The company lent me another iPhone 6S to try the Move to iOS app again — and this time it did transfer my data. But it failed to do the other half of the job: download the Apple versions of my Android apps to the new iPhone.
As many phone switchers do, I had to manually reinstall my apps. Popular apps like Facebook, Uber and Amazon were easy to find. But some of my standbys — including a simple public transit app, BART Runner — were not available for the iPhone, and I have yet to find a perfect replacement.
On the flip side, I can now communicate with my relatives on FaceTime, Apple’s video chat service, and read missed issues of The New Yorker during long commutes, something that is much harder to do on Android.
I am also now more likely to get early access to cutting-edge apps, since American app makers tend to build for the iPhone first. Last year, for example, when I wanted to try Twitter’s new Periscope live-streaming app, I had to borrow my wife’s iPhone because Periscope was not yet available for Android.
The most fundamental difference between iPhones and Androids is the level of conformity dictated by each company. This is where personal preferences play a big role in customer satisfaction.
Apple exercises great control over the look, feel and features of iPhones to deliver its idealized version of what it thinks people want. Android is free-form and adaptable — so much so that the look and feel can vary widely from one phone maker to the next, especially in Asia.
One consequence of Apple’s approach is that the iPhone is more stable. Every Android phone I have ever used has suffered mysterious hardware and software problems like random reboots and crashing apps. These happen much more rarely in iOS.
But Apple’s control has its downsides. The company makes its apps the permanent default options for common services like maps, web browsing and email.
Google also requires most phone makers to make its services the initial default on Android phones, but Android users can change those defaults. For example, if you don’t want to use Google Maps for navigation, you can set your phone to automatically access Here Maps or Waze every time you encounter an address.
In my case, I have a Windows laptop; my employer, The New York Times, uses Google’s enterprise apps; and I depend on Google’s search technology to find airline tickets, email addresses and old photos stored in my various digital pockets. My life is deeply enmeshed in the Google ecosystem.
To make my iPhone more familiar and my data easier to find, I put my favorite Google apps on my home screen and mostly use them instead of Apple’s apps. Google has knitted its iPhone apps together so that Gmail uses Google’s browser, Chrome, when you click on a link in an email, and Google’s calendar uses Google Maps when you click on an address.