opinion This afternoon I will march down to Telstra’s store in Sydney’s central business district and replace my much-loved Apple iPhone 4 with a HTC One XL. I’m leaving the cosy embrace of the Apple mobile empire and entering into a new relationship with Android. And here’s why.
I’ve been a long-time fan of Apple’s iPhone line. When the iPhone first launched in Australia in July 2008, I was one of the first to buy it in the week after it launched. On a chilly Sunday morning that winter, I caught a bus into Sydney’s central business district at 5AM and lined up with dozens of other people for three or four hours to pick up the iPhone, rubbing my hands together to keep them warm and chatting with other first-time iPhone purchases in between bouts of playing Zelda on my Nintendo DS.
When I got the iPhone home, I found that it was everything the hype had said it would be. Compared with my previous phone, a Nokia N90, the iPhone was a revelation. Suddenly, the world of mobile web browsing and email access opened up before my eyes. I watched, entranced, as Apple’s mapping application pinpointed the physical location of my house and dynamically updated its display as it zoomed in; just as Google Maps on a PC does.
I took great joy in synching a stack of my music to my new iPhone 3G, and I subscribed to a bunch of podcasts so that I would always have access to entertainment on the road. Other applications I set up on the iPhone 3G included email (of course), and my RSS feed reader, Google Reader, which is probably the application I spend most of my productive work time in. And, of course, my eyes opened up to the immense world of third-party apps which Apple had made possible. From banking to music discovery (shazam) to games, weather, Facebook, Twitter and more, I was entranced, and I spent hours and hours searching the App Store for new uses for my sparkling new Jesus phone.
Several years later, I was still in love with the Apple universe, but no amount of rebooting or reformatting my iPhone would speed it up, and I realised it was time for an upgrade. So down I went to Telstra’s T-Life store in the Sydney CBD, to request a new Apple iPhone 4.
And lo and behold, the magic was rejuvenated.
My new iPhone had an incredible new display with an incredible resolution — Apple’s Retina Display — and suddenly I couldn’t even see the individual pixels on icons on the screen. The new form factor felt perfect for my fairly normally sized hands, and represented a worthwhile refresh on the previous curved back model used for the first three iPhone models. It felt minimal, comfortable, and yet futuristic. All of my apps sped up, I took great delight in the iPhone 4’s fantastic new camera, and my enthusiasm for the iPhone as a whole was rekindled.
But that magic only lasted so long; for me, now, my iPhone 4 has long since run out of mana.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the iPhone; it still performs all of its functions perfectly well, with the exception of accessing Telstra’s often congested 3G network in Sydney’s CBD. I still use most of the apps I always have on the iPhone, and I still use all of its core functionality. In fact, I still rely on my iPhone for every day usage every single day; many times a day.
But I have grown bored with it.
Over the past several years, I have watched as Apple rivals Samsung and HTC have furiously innovated with their smartphone offerings, bringing new construction materials, new form factors and new software interfaces to market constantly in an effort to get ahead of the iPhone and stay there.
And, suddenly, in the past few months, HTC, at least, has succeeded.
The company’s launch of the One XL smartphone over the past several weeks represents a watershed moment in Australia’s smartphone industry. For the first time, a smartphone has emerged which retains very distinct advantages over the Apple iPhone. The One XL has a much larger and more vivid screen size than the iPhone 4S, its build quality is at least equal, but with materials that feel nicer on the hands and its user interface flows across the screen in a lovely fluid manner that the blocky and static iOS interface cannot replicate. But most importantly, the One XL supports radically increased 4G speeds on Telstra’s Next G network; speeds which the iPhone 4, with its lack of 4G support, simply cannot match.
Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed a certain phenomenon in Australian geek circles. When you catch up with your fellow geeks, I highly doubt that people are talking about the iPhone. In fact, I suspect, as with my friends, that people are talking about, and buying, models from HTC’s new One line-up, alongside Samsung’s popular Galaxy S III, which has also just landed in Australia. When I bought my first iPhone 3G, I did so because I was tired of being left out; I was tired of being one of the only people around me who were stuck on last-generation technology and stuck in the slow lane while others accelerated to light speed. For the past few weeks I’ve been facing a similar situation with respect to my iPhone 4.
Now, nobody could accuse Apple of not being an innovative company; the truth is that it is one of the most innovative companies in the world. It has revolutionised so many technology and liberal arts fields in the past several decades that the globe owes it a great debt of gratitude.
But Apple also doesn’t always do what its users want. And right now, it’s not doing what I want. What I want are improvements to Apple’s iOS user interface paradigm so that my smartphone doesn’t feel like it was designed in 2006 — which the current iOS user interface was. I want improvements to the network speed of my iPhone so that it supports the revolutionary 4G speeds of Telstra’s Next G network. And I want a larger screen size, so that I can better use my smartphone as the Internet access device which is its primary purpose. I also want Apple to start experimenting with lighter build materials so that my smartphone doesn’t feel like a block of steel in my pocket.
But Apple hasn’t given customers any indication that it’s going to start meeting these demands. So I’m going to make the choice which consumers always have and take my money elsewhere. If Apple came out with a new iPhone tomorrow featuring a new and more dynamic user interface, with lighter construction materials, a larger screen size and 4G speeds, I would strongly consider buying it.
But tomorrow would be too late. I want all these things today. And that’s why I’m buying a HTC One XL this afternoon.