I’m not gaming as much anywhere as much as I thought I’d be doing. Since finishing Skyrim, I have been playing intermittently, if not spending more time watching friends stream their games, or passing time playing more casual games like Among Us. (And watching tons of Youtube videos.) Did I throw money away on this new ecosystem, when my old setup was good enough?
With the public beta of Android 12 now out (which I tested but reverted after it almost bricked my phone), and WWDC having just finished up this week releasing iOS 15’s own public beta, iOS and Android have never been more alike. It’s more like they’re copying the finer points from each other (if not increasingly from the ancient webOS and Nokia’s Symbian software), than really innovating new.
Don’t think I’m an Apple hater—iOS has its finer points. The software is still far more polished on its iPhones, with far fewer lags and hiccups than most Android phones. Continuity and Handoff, where I can easily switch wireless between devices (especially if you use an iPad more than a Mac), are godsends and really help speed up workflows. iMessage is like a form of social media in of itself, akin to Facebook’s Messenger or Whatsapp, or even Discord. Mobile games often run smoother; there are more accessories for iPhone than for almost any Android, barring Samsung, when you hit even the local bodega. Apps are more polished, still often get new features first, and still—usually—come first to iOS.
I get the allure of iMessage, having been on it. It’s more a social messaging app, than mere texting service. Hell, when I quit one gig and returned to work part-time in retail (till I could find something better), I had to get a cheap iPhone SE (1st gen) just so I could join the work group chat. Teammates were adamant to keep all participants “blue bubbles”, as one member was on a strict pay-as-you-go account and didn’t want their budget blown on text/MMS messages. (iMessage works over the internet, not the same technology serving phone calls and text messages; they were able to bum off the work wifi to further keep costs down.) While the group chat was supposed to be about last-second shift coverage changes or whatever, it was more lambasted with memes and stuff than anything actually work-related; yes, at times this burned me for having changed for what I thought was for professional reasons, only for what turned out to be for an almost social exchange.
iOS has come a long way with now allowing (a very curated set of) widgets on the home screen. Notifications still need a lot of work; when iOS 15 hits later this fall, it’s supposed to vastly improve. There’s now an app drawer (er, “App Library”), so I didn’t have to put all my lesser-used apps into a folder I barely touch. First party services (I was that deep into the iOS ecosystem) were deeply integrated; I could even pause a game on my iPhone, and finish up on my iPad (or Apple TV if it was supported). Photos I took on my iPhone I could easy just transfer, via AirDrop, to my iPad for better editing, even before they synced to my iCloud account. I could answer from my iPad when someone called or messaged me, as I left my iPhone to charge after working all day.
There were downsides, with those frustrations growing over time. My iPad Air could only run three apps at a time—two side-by-side, with one merely as a hovering window that often rearranged the UX to fit that smaller size. The lack of wired I/O restricted what I could; even with the Magic Keyboard, which freed up the USB-C port as I was charging through the port on it, I was limited to using only one wired device at a time, and I needed a dongle for everything (yes, even one for an Ethernet connection for when my aging router’s wifi output would go down, or to use wired headphones when my AirPods died and needed to recharge). The notch on my 12 Mini prevented me from enjoying any video that was in a cinematic ratio (or any kind of letterboxing that was wider than a 18:9 ratio). Apps always opening links in Safari as opposed to another app I had already installed. A keyboard layout, key combos, and mouse-scrolling behaviors that differed from what I had to deal with at work or when using other family’s equipment. The fact that my new iPad Air, my iPhone and AirPods Pro, my Apple Watch all had to use different wires to charge. Despite how “powerful” Apple kept saying their chips were, the lack of games available on iOS, even decade-old games that could easily run on at least an iPad.
And while I long always preferred small phones, the 12 Mini just felt too small after the honeymoon was over. It just wasn’t entertaining while watching videos when at work. That notch got in the way of anything in a cinematic aspect ratio, or if I wanted to zoom in; even in a 18:9 video, that notch peaked into the video. I had to scroll way more to read social media or websites. Typing felt cramped, strangely even compared to my 2nd-gen iPhone SE. The battery life was appalling, often going under 10% after only after a 12-hour shift where I could only use it during breaks.
Living now within an ecosystem where most of my products are from Google, alongside my Windows laptop, isn’t as bad as it once was from prior setups. (At the time I had the OnePlus 6T and the lambasted Surface Go.) Because everything on my Android backs to my Google account, I can easily access everything from my browser, whether it be photos, documents, tabs, or whatnot. I can also access my text messages, phone calls, and voicemails from any browser once I’m signed in, regardless the operating system—a limitation of iMessage if I was accessing the web from a Windows computer. I can play all the popular games on my PC.
I can make in-app purchases in any app or service I use, rather than for some of them having to leave the app, fire up a browser, and pay through there.
While I griped about the myriad of cables I had to keep with me when I was in the iOS ecosystem, I have to bring my laptop’s charger with me for one sheer reason— the amount of power my gaming rig requires to charge. If she was a Chromebook, a Samsung tablet, or an ultrabook/netbook, I could use the same USB-C cable to charge her that I can with my phone, my earbuds, my laptop, even my vape atomizer. So, no gripes there.
I am able to use an adblocking VPN service again, so I don’t deal with ads overtaking my screen every time I’m online; while I could with wifi connections on my former iPhone, on cellular I couldn’t. (Apps are paid for, or are open-source programs on my laptop.) Links on my Pixel will open in the appropriate app, rather than my Chrome browser. The only service hiccup I suffered, after switching back to Android and Windows, was convincing the few people I videochatted with to use another app as I no longer had access to FaceTime.
All but one game was I able to repurchase and download onto my PC. Many aren’t available on Android, but for me that’s fine as I am not much of a mobile gamer; at some point I’ll look into emulators for both my laptop and phone so I can play childhood-era games I never had the chance to access, something I couldn’t do on iOS.
While my Pixel doesn’t have a headphone jack, my laptop thankfully does for when I do occasionally game, or if I had to lower the volume on my rig when others are around. And while I don’t have an equivalent to AirDrop, I can just use any of the thousand USB cables I have and go old-school, transfer whatever data I need between my laptop and Pixel.
My Pixel’s battery life lasts me all day, from waking up till bedtime; even more so on many days. And on those days where business is slower than usual and I can sneak in an extra break, I don’t have to worry about running out of juice. With me going to the gym again, I can get in a full day’s use and still have enough juice to watch videos while on the treadmill, and listening to music or podcasts when weight-training.
I have retrained my muscle memory so I use the same keyboard shortcuts consistently, whether at work, or at home, or working on another family member’s laptop when troubleshooting. So when I use the mouse, scrolling behaviors are consistent.
I can’t play games on my Chromecast, but it’s easy to send anything from my Chrome browser or Pixel to it so I can enjoy Youtube Premium (which has so much more material I enjoy compared to Apple TV) from my bedroom TV. (I can use a standard HDMI cable to hook my laptop up to the TV if I want a more traditional gaming setup if what I’m playing allows for gamepad input.) It’s also more portable, so I can bring it upstairs or to another room to enjoy.
I don’t mess around and customize my products like I used when I was younger. I’m tech literate, just not tech savvy. My laptop’s home screen has almost nothing on the desktop, with just a few pinned apps on the taskbar; everything else I can access after hitting the Winkey and just type in something to get to what I need to access. I have made tweaks to the Registry to make things easier, but nothing I wouldn’t touch that could screw over my laptop. My Pixel’s home screen has a few commonly used apps and widgets pinned, but has no major theme or icon sets being used.
My Pixel is compact but still large enough for me to enjoy immersing myself with videos (and and without a godforsaken notch interfering with my watching). My laptop, while a desktop replacement, allows me to actually enjoy it on my lap again without worrying that it would tip over. I can have three or more windows open simultaneously on my laptop to get things done, or be streaming something while keeping several different chats open and be interacting with whomever I’m seeing online.
And using standardized accessories is just so much cheaper than buying Apple-approved dongles.
If I didn’t want to play games like Skyrim so badly, I’d probably still be in the iOS ecosystem. Everything worked well together, and for a simple home life my iPad was more than powerful enough to be my main computer. iOS 14 allowed me to finally have a homescreen setup I long wanted on there. Apple TV was mheh, but Apple Arcade I did frequently use.
I’ve made the change, for better and worse. While iOS really tries to go for a wireless wonderland, I got no problem using wired connections to do something just as easily, without having to resort to a thousand different apps and subscription services to do one or two small tasks, if I can’t already access something through my browser.
Suum cuique, to each their own. The battle between Android and iOS, like Windows verses MacOS, is pitiful now. The OSes are more alike now, than they are different. Google and Apple are not loyal to their users, so it’s pathetic when we fanboy on them. There are program exclusives to both, but for the average consumer they’re interchangeable, and it’s a matter of familiarity at this point. And with so many services being done over the Internet as opposed to remaining offline, that leash that once binded us has unthreaded.