I finally did it. In fact, I did it twice. Not only did I trade up to a smartphone at last, but I betrayed Apple and bought an Android device. In terms of productivity, it looks like I made a good choice.
The enhancements from my old dumbphone are clear enough. Texting is easier with a real keyboard; Bluetooth means that I can talk while I drive to the offices of local freelance clients; being able to listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car, neither of which I could do on my dumbphone, turn time on the road into valuable learning time.
I could have done all that with an iPhone, of course, and sticking with Apple was tempting. When I’m not in front of my PC, I’ve usually got my face stuck in front of my iPad. Part of the reason for buying a smartphone was to replace my first generation iPod Touch, bought as soon as Apple announced it was getting into the touchscreen business. I’ve grown used to carrying it around for the last five years but I haven’t been able to upgrade it since iOS 3.1, the earphone socket doesn’t work (the first generation shipped without a speaker), it’s painfully slow and the irreplaceable battery now dies before the end of the day. Had I swapped it for an iPhone, I would have had access to all of the apps I’ve bought and downloaded since the day the App Store opened. Sharing from my iPad to the iPhone would have been a breeze: all of the documents stored on iCloud would have been instantly accessible on the iPhone. And the OS would have been familiar and supported by the largest selection of apps available in the mobile market. Developers generally develop for iOS first, then think about adapting to Android. If a productivity app is available, it’s available on the iPhone.
And yet Android does have a number of important advantages.
Now is the Time for Google Now
The launch of Google Now certainly looks like a draw. For the first time, Android has a native app for which Apple has no answer. Automated cards full of location-based information aren’t really productivity pluses, but they’re certainly useful in the same unexpected way that a constant Internet connection has become essential. Google has done what Apple has become famous for doing over the last few years: producing something that no one knew they needed until someone built it for them.
But more important than Google’s new application is the connectivity of Google’s range of different apps that play so well together and which are so neatly embedded into Android — the reason that the search company bought the OS and give it away for free to device makers in the first place.
My initial concern, for example, about having to set up a new account on Google Play, Android’s main app store, before I could start downloading turned out to be misplaced. As soon as I had logged into my Google account using my Gmail password, I was able to start downloading many of the free apps I’d grown used to using on my iPad. I didn’t have to complete any forms or enter my credit card details. Within minutes, I had my Evernote content, my Kindle books and the Chrome browser synced to tabs open on my PC. Even though I’m now using three different operating systems — Windows, iOS and Android — shifting my browsing experience and my reading content from one platform to another is seamless.
Production, however, is a different issue, and it’s here that the advantage of a Google-based system over an Apple system is clearest. On my PC, I write using Microsoft Word with the Google Cloud Connect plugin. The plugin gives me a narrow bar underneath the ribbons which shrinks to an almost invisible strip at the click of a button. When I finish writing, in addition to saving the document on my hard drive, I can press the Sync button and send it to Google Drive. I can even change the settings so that it makes the upload automatically. If I want to read back what I’ve been writing and edit while I’m away from my PC, I can just open the Google Drive app on my phone, edit it within the app or use Kingsoft’s free office suite, and save any changes back onto Google’s online storage.
While I can also use Google Drive on my iPad, opening and editing the document in Apple’s Pages app, sending it back to Google Drive isn’t straightforward. Apple expects me to save my documents to its own iCloud service, which it does even while I’m writing. To continue working on that document on my PC, I have to download it from iCloud, a process that’s unfriendly and which changes the formatting.
Getting Pages to Work with Google Drive
There is a workaround. Open an account at Otixo.com, a cloud storage manager, and you’ll be able to save your documents from Pages on the iPad to Google Drive (as well as Dropbox and other online storage systems.) When you’ve finished working on a document in Pages, hold your finger over the icon until it starts to shake, press the share icon and choose “Copy to WebDAV.” Once you’ve signed into Otixo, you’ll be able to save your document as Pages, PDF or Word file to Google Drive, giving you access to the file on an Android device and a PC. It works but it’s clunky. On Android, it just works.
The result is that I now have a smoother, more natural relationship between the work I do on my laptop, my main professional tool, and my mobile platform.
Of course, it’s not perfect. The screen on my Android phone is much smaller than the screen on my iPad 2, which is still a better work tool than a phone, but at 4.3 inches my Android screen is bigger than that of an iPhone 5. I miss having a large single button to return immediately to the home screen but unlike the iPhone I can download a range of different keyboards that go a long way towards making up for iOS’s lack of arrow keys. That’s more important to me when I’m editing a blog post.
This isn’t to say that Android is better than iOS or that Google beats Apple. My iPod lasted five years because it was a wonderful device and I’m still very attached to my iPad. But when it comes to productivity on a mobile phone, a good Android makes life easier than an iPhone does.