I switched to a Nexus 4 back in February, partly out of tech curiosity and partly out of frustration with stagnant iOS innovation. While I still believe that iOS is stagnant and behind the times, with WWDC a few short weeks away, I have renewed hope that Apple can turn it around.

I’ll be honest: I miss my iPhone. I miss the little things that “just worked” and I miss the quality of the apps. I don’t like stressing about app permissions, and I don’t find myself wanting to customize it as much as Android would allow me.

But at the same time, I know I can’t switch back yet, not until iOS (and the iPhone itself) catches up in some of the areas where Android has really taken a strong lead. I still love the way accounts are handled, and how services within the OS (like the web browser, text messaging, and email) can be replaced or augmented — at the OS level — by third-party apps. Oh, and the iPhone screen looks comically tiny now compared to my Nexus 4.

I miss my iPhone

It just worked

My iPhone “just worked.” That isn’t to say that my Nexus 4 has been exceptionally buggy. All software is buggy, and hardware isn’t perfect either. It’s more of a perception thing, I guess, a general vibe that I get from using it.

Actually, I blame the apps far more than I blame the Android OS or the Nexus 4 hardware. The quality of the apps are just not very consistent, and often feel like afterthoughts to their iOS counterparts. My first experiences with most of these apps were on iOS, where the UX is tightly controlled through APIs and HIGs that established early on exactly what an iOS app should look and feel like. So, when I started using the apps on Android, they just felt inferior in their inconsistency — inconsistencies not only with their iOS counterparts, but within the Android OS, and amongst other apps.

I’m not going to offer up a laundry list of apps that are terrible, but instead I’ll name some that are an exception to what I just said, where their iOS and Android versions are, for the most part, comparable in UX and functionality:

  • Facebook — this takes the prize for being just the worst on both platforms. I absolutely hate using it on any mobile device.
  • Twitter — actually quite decent on both platforms, and bonus points for having a superior web experience to match the apps.
  • Harvest — this is my time tracking software that I use for work. It’s a solid, reliable app on iOS, and the Android version is a clean port.

Android apps can do too much

Something that stresses me out probably shouldn’t stress me out as much as it does: app permissions. Anytime I download or update an app, I’m prompted with a reminder that this app can do way too much on my phone. Oh, I can’t do anything about it, it’s just a notification.

Say what you will about iOS, but it has a pretty tight API. There have been a few notable exceptions — at one point, the LinkedIn iOS app did something quasi-malicious with your contacts — but they’ve invariably been turned around on the app authors as violations of the API and TOS. It doesn’t usually end well: the app gets pulled from the App Store, or the company behind the app suffers some bad PR and fixes the problem on their own.

Conversely, in the Android space, it does seem as though apps are given free reign to seemingly low-level endpoints in the OS. I can download an app that shows me intimate detail about the other apps that are running: memory usage, shared library utilization, etc. Without much hands-on knowledge of the iOS API, I’m pretty confident that level of access is either a no-go in iOS or far more limited in scope.

There was a story that went around a few weeks ago that upgrading to the newest version of the Facebook app added some new code that allows the app to update itself in the future, skipping the Google Play Store completely for managing updates. As a software developer, I totally get why Facebook would add that code. As an end user, it scares the crap out of me. I don’t trust Facebook’s intentions 6 months from now when they decide that everyone should have Facebook Home.

I like that I can trust iOS to prevent an app from doing anything predatory or out-of-scope. And when Apple has allowed its apps more access to system services like Location and Contacts, it has done so in a way that I can turn completely off. (Sorry, LinkedIn, I don’t trust you with access to my contacts. Sorry, Facebook, you don’t need to know where I am right now.)

I don’t customize as much as I thought I would

I’ll admit flexibility is a strength of Android. Conceptually, I like that I can change almost anything about the OS. I can download an app to fix something I don’t like about the OS, and the OS doesn’t mind. And if I really hate something about the OS, there’s always the option to root and go completely nuts.

But three months into owning my Nexus 4, do you want to know the truth? I don’t customize: I set it and forget it.

It’s been pointed out to me that every complaint I have for the OS can be rectified with either an app or a new ROM. I wouldn’t argue against that, but I think the fact that I haven’t done those things yet — and that I’m still running the stock version of the OS that came with my phone, with no app-level modifications — says a lot about how I want to use my phone and how I view it as a utility device and not as a general-purpose computing device that I can hack away at until my heart’s content.

But I can’t switch back… yet

I still love the way accounts are handled

iOS is slowly getting there with the integration of Twitter and Facebook as additional “accounts,” but they’re one-off exceptions to the general rule that an app stands alone on iOS. That bothers me a little, because that assumes Apple’s pre-installed apps are always superior. Oh, except in the areas of social sharing (Twitter) and social networking (Facebook). Oh, and once upon a time, in mapping (Google Maps, pre-iOS 6) and streaming videos (pre-installed YouTube).

Before I switched, I was using Google’s Gmail app on iOS for all my mail, and it was working beautifully except for when I wanted to email myself a link from Safari. I would have to copy the URL to the clipboard and paste it into an email myself. There wasn’t a way for the Gmail app to announce itself as a fully-functioning alternative to the built-in Mail app.

Similarly, the Instapaper iOS app requires extra steps to save a link to read later. I can either use the bookmarklet in Safari — which pings instapaper.com with my URL, which is then later downloaded into the Instapaper app — or I can copy/paste the URL from Safari into Instapaper. On Android, this is a lot simpler: there’s a sharing menu, under which Instapaper is an option. The app context switches briefly, and then returns to Chrome.

The Nexus 4 screen

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve really grown to like the form factor of the Nexus 4 screen. It’s still a bit wide for my comfort, but it’s larger in the right proportions compared to my iPhone 4.

Also, the size of the screen isn’t preventing a switch back to an iPhone in general. It’s not so much of an issue that the iPhone screen remains smaller if the available space can be used more effectively. The trend of skeuomorphic design is over and done, and a switch to cleaner and leaner design will free up a lot of wasted space in apps like Contacts and Calendar. And with the advent of better email clients like Gmail or Mailbox, I hope that we can at least see an UX improvement in the stock Mail app, if not to also gain the ability to completely replace it.

I have hope that iOS can bounce back

I have hope I’ll be an iPhone owner yet again. I still have my iPhone 4 sitting in my desk drawer, waiting for the moment that I can download the new version and start using it full-time again. Still… the realist in me says that any improvements in iOS and in the iPhone are going to be incremental. I enjoy my Nexus 4 and the freedoms it affords me, but… I do miss my iPhone, and I want to come back into the fold.