I’ve spent a few weeks with the Galaxy S III, which is arguably the best Android smartphone on the market.After picking up an iPhone after using the Galaxy S III for a week, the iPhone feels very, very old.
I’m certainly not a huge gadget guru, like our other writers Steve Kovach and Kevin Smith. I don’t drool over specifications or the latest chips.
But the change was so drastic that I can’t help but feel Apple’s wrinkles are starting to show.
The new Android phones have screens that are larger and seemingly more vibrant than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
The new Android interface is just as snappy as the iPhone interface, no longer lagging by tenths of a second every time you try to do something on the phone.
And because Android has been asleep at the wheel for so long, it feels like we’re experiencing something new: a new piece of hardware AND a new piece of software to go with it.
This is a drastic change from just about two years ago when I picked up my first Android phone, a Galaxy S Pro — and was sick of it in a week.
Compared to the iPhone, the interface of the Galaxy S Pro in 2010 didn’t feel snappy. It lagged by tenths of a second when trying to swipe from home screen to home screen.
The whole experience, running an early Android operating system called Gingerbread, felt unpolished. And it took a few extra weeks, to sometimes months, to get some of the best iPhone apps.
Fast forward to 2012, and those flaws have evaporated.
Android now feels like it’s something from the future. The home screen feels like it’s wrapped around a three-dimensional cube, and you’re spinning it around as you flip from screen to screen. You can zoom out to see your entire app lineup all at once, and it doesn’t feel cramped thanks to a larger screen than the iPhone’s.
Widgets and a search bar have a natural place with the larger screen and more vibrant colours. The home screen feels very much like a “home,” and not like a folder for flipping through icons.
Most importantly, these phones also come with 4G LTE, the latest wireless technology that is fast enough to stream an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game — which look so good that they would normally require a very powerful console to run.
This is just the home screen experience, too. You can go deeper — messaging, managing contacts, browsing with the Chrome web browser (which is a significantly better experience than the iPhone’s Safari browser)… it all adds up to a smoother experience.
What’s kind of funny is that the interface hasn’t changed that much from the old interface on my old Galaxy S Pro. The home screen was still laid out in the same fashion, and you could still play around with widgets.
But now that those bits of the user experience have improved — a sharp screen, a snappy interface and a blazingly-fast experience — the new Android phones feel great. And they feel novel.
The iPhone’s operating system has gone through a number of incremental changes (notifications, push, backgrounds!), but it hasn’t had the drastic makeover that Android has experienced in the past two years.
Compared to that, the iPhone no longer feels inspired, and it feels too familiar. It’s like when you always order one dish at your favourite restaurant for so long that you get sick of it, and crave something new.
It’s not that the dish is bad – far from it; it’s your favourite. But there’s a missing component of novelty.
Right now, Apple has relied on its ability to sate that desire for novelty with new hardware (like jumping from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4) and through incremental upgrades to the iPhone’s operating system.
Between the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4, Apple completely changed the design of the phone. Between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, Apple added Siri, a voice-powered assistant for your phone.
But Siri is a dud, and the iPhone 4S’s hardware doesn’t feel as futuristic as it did when the iPhone 4 came out. For users who have stuck with the iPhone for years and years, it’s getting tired.
By comparison, the new Android phone has an excellent mix of new hardware and software coming out all at once, with great upgrades like Google Now.
The next iPhone will likely fix some of those “wrinkles”: It’ll have a bigger screen and 4G LTE wireless baked in. It really should do more, but if Apple fails to meet those minimum requirements, it’s in deep trouble.
But I’ll assume it won’t miss, and that will satisfy a lot of people looking for something new. Many will decide to stick with the iPhone because they’ve dropped $60 to $100 on applications for the iPhone.
For new smartphone users who have never experienced an iPhone, it’s still probably the best experience, with the right magic mix of hardware, software and a huge app ecosystem.
But Apple is now facing something it has never faced before: an upstart (which is funny, given that Android is about as old as the iPhone) that threatens to pull away a huge group of consumers because it’s finally a viable alternative to the iPhone.