published Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Digital turncoats: A few things to consider before switching to a new smartphone platform

When it comes to their phones, Americans are only a little less rigidly divided along party lines than Congress.

For years, the American smartphone market has basically been a two-horse race between Apple and Google. Devices powered by these companies’ operating systems — iOS and Android, respectively — account for 94 percent of all smartphones, according to a report released last November by industry researcher International Data Corp.

On the whole, smartphone owners are a loyal bunch. An August report by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners showed that 81 percent of iPhone users who upgraded their device between 2012 and 2013 stuck with Apple when they signed a new phone contract. Among Android users, 68 percent stayed in Google’s camp when they bought a new phone.

But there are a few Benedict Arnoldss in the bunch, users wooed by the siren song of better features or a lower price who are willing to switch sides. They’re the tech world’s traitors. Its backstabbers. Its turncoats.

You might be one of them.

If you’re due an upgrade and are debating whether it’s time to shift your smartphone allegiance, there are a few things to consider first:

Transferring data

While there are many apps available on both the App Store and Google Play, purchases won’t carry over from one ecosystem to another. So if you’ve paid for “Minecraft Pocket Edition” on your Samsung Galaxy 4, plan on buying it all over again for your iPhone 5S.

If you’re an avid reader, the situation potentially is a little more rosy. Before switching to a new device, check the App Store or Google Play to make sure the app you read with most often is compatible with your new device. Many popular ones, including “Kindle,” “Nook” and “Zinio” are available on both platforms, and you’ll be able to redownload your purchases when you sign into your account. If you use a platform-exclusive app, such as Apple’s “iBooks” or “Newsstand” or Android’s “Aldiko,” however, you may have to start from scratch.

So long as you have backed up the content from your phone to a desktop PC, the process of transferring photos, contacts, calendars and music is simpler. Plug your old device into your computer and disable automatic cloud syncing so the data is stored locally on your PC, then plug in the new phone. Sign into your Google or iTunes account, whichever applies to your new phone, and it should walk you through the transfer process. To ease transferring your music to a new Android device, Google CEO Eric Schmidt also suggests downloading Google’s Music Manager application to your PC beforehand.

Magazines subscribers should note that some periodicals have apps that may not be available on all platforms or that may feature reduced or improved functionality on other devices. Check each publication’s website to verify its compatibility.

Exclusive apps

One of the biggest potential hurdles to switching between operating systems is losing access to apps you’ve become accustomed to using because they aren’t available on the a new phone. Despite a great deal of overlap in their offerings, some titles are exclusive to either Google Play or the App Store.

In general, apps tend to appear on Apple’s storefront first, sometimes taking months to become available to Android users. Photo social networking app “Instagram” appeared on the App Store in October 2010 but wasn’t available on Android until April 2012. Fans of content sharing network “Pinterest” had to wait seven months before the app showed up on Google Play. Some popular apps such as automated productivity aid “IFTTT” (If This Than That), physics-based candy puzzler “Cut the Rope 2” and photobug darling “Camera+” have yet to make their way to Google Play.

When they do release, Android versions of apps are sometimes slightly altered from the iPhone original. Some, particularly games, may become free-to-download but require users to view ads or pay an in-app purchase to unlock an ad-free, premium edition. Before switching, make a list of the apps you can’t live without and make sure they will be available on the new phone.

Customization

If the App Store has a leg up in app exclusivity, then Android is the king of the user-modifiable interface. iOS users’ hands are all but tied when it comes to changing their home screen, beyond arranging their apps in folders. Android users, however, can turn their home screen into an at-a-glance information dashboard for the updates they consider most relevant.

This is possible thanks to widgets, always-on micro-apps that constantly refresh to display content such as traffic and weather conditions, a stock ticker, news or social media notifications. They often can be resized and moved around by the user, taking advantage of the often more-generous screen sizes available on some Android phones.

If you’re switching to an iPhone from an Android device, you will need to adjust to swiping from the top or bottom of the screen to access a customizable notification center or for quick access to functions such as a flashlight, music controls or bluetooth/Wi Fi connectivity. Accessing information or features beyond that will generally mean opening a full-fledged app.

Variety

To some, the decision to move from an iPhone to an Android device boils down to choice.

By limiting development of iOS to a single model, Apple has made it easier on developers, who only need to make their software compatible with a limited range of hardware specifications used in the most recent generations of the iPhone. This has created a vibrant app store, but it comes at the cost of limiting the hardware options available to consumers, who can choose between carriers, amount of internal storage and color — but little else. Android, by comparison, is used by a vast array of devices, as many as 12,000 according to a July 2013 estimate by wireless coverage mapping organization OpenSignal.

Android users can choose from small screens (the 3-inch Kyocera Milano) or enormous phone-tablet hybrids (the 7-inch ASUS Fonepad). They can shoot images with a 21-megapixel camera (the Sony Xperia Z1) or run multiple apps at once (the Samsung Galaxy Note 3). Motorola’s MotoMaker service lets users customize everything about their new Moto X, from the colors of the back and front plates to the lock screen wallpaper and a personalized greeting.

However, this fragmentation is a decidedly double-edged sword. Unlike iPhones, which feature a single model with a uniform interface, the wide range of Android phones often come with software modifications. These manufacturer-specific tweaks range from pre-installed apps to new interface “skins” that are nearly unrecognizable from the original operating system.

Some users complain that these alterations affect usability or phone performance, and some prefer a more “pure” experience. If you’re looking for an unaltered Android device, consider the Google Nexus 5 or Google Play Edition-branded line of other phones such as the Moto G or Samsung Galaxy S4.

Additionally, Google and Apple issue periodic updates to their operating systems, but their delivery methods differ. Typically, iOS updates are available across multiple generations of iPhone simultaneously, but the range of Android devices and manufacturers means updates to some devices can be delayed. If you’re interested in having the most up-to-date Android out of the box, check the manufacturer’s website to verify what version your phone will ship with.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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