Sunday, September 16, 2012

Switching From iPhone: By The Numbers

As I mentioned in my post on the iPhone 5 unveiling, I am underwhelmed by the newest iToy. I wanted innovation, and instead got evolution: good evolution, but nothing like I expected. With the recent strides made by both Android (with the release of Jelly Bean and Project Butter) and Windows Phone (with the upcoming Windows Phone 8), the market finally has some real alternatives. So, much as I did with my exercise years ago when evaluating switching from my venerable Treo to the iPhone, I decided to take a look at the apps I rely upon on an every day basis and see how the competition stacked up.

Before I go too deep on this, I want to point out to the iPhone fanboys that I am well aware of just about all of the new features of both the iPhone 5 and iOS6. I'm also a certified iDevice household: in my home, there are two iPhones (both iPhone 4, not 4S, granted), an iPad, an Apple TV (which I love), a dedicated NAS for my iTunes collection, and yes, a Mac (not really used that much; I prefer Windows 7 myself). Just about every room has at least 1 iOS charger available to juice up (thank you, Meritline, for inexpensive chargers). There are also a few Windows computers, with an even amount running Windows 8 Release Preview and Windows 7. I love being able to have a party and control the music from my iPhone, as much as I love being able to throw up a picture or movie on the TV, thanks to the Apple TV.

In short, in looking at changing my phone, I'm making a big leap here. I'm also aware that both Jelly Bean and WP8 are not widely available yet (in WP8's case, not even released until next month), but I'm doing this analysis based on an assumption that there will be at least 1 great alternative to iPhone 5 from each in the next 45 days. The Nokia 920 (oooh...wireless charging and so much more) and the Samsung Galaxy S 3 (now THAT'S a big screen) both seem to be top of the line and will support the best versions of the OS's in question. And yes, I am also aware that both Android and Windows Phone suffer from the limitation that latest versions are released by the carriers, not the software makers: all important concerns.

The methodology of my analysis is simple: I listed all of the apps I run, looked for the same app in both the Windows Phone Store and the Android Market Google Play Android Apps category. I also ranked each of my apps by category and level of use: Low, Medium and High. I excluded the basic OS-level apps (Mail, Phone dialer, etc.), as well as several apps I had downloaded just to try, and never use. I took a deep breath, and jumped in with a Google spreadsheet; the spreadsheet itself is embedded at the end of this post.

Ok, so what did I find? Well, to begin with, I have to say that my assumption would be that the vast majority of the apps I use on iOS would simply be unavailable, and few alternatives would be available. The image here shows the results: of the 120 apps I ranked, Windows Phone had 41 exact equivalents, and Android doubled that with 81. So, roughly 1/3 of my apps were available on Windows Phone, and 2/3 were available on Android. Pretty much what I expected.

The real eye opener was when you factor in the availability of alternative apps: apps that do the same functions, but are not perfect equivalents. For instance: in our house, we use Grocery IQ, a shopping list app, to make a list of grocery items to pick up. Why that one instead of one of the dozens in the App Store? It allows us to share a common list, so that when one of us is at the store and picks up the item, it immediately crosses off both our lists, so no duplication. Grocery IQ is available for iOS and Android, but not for Windows Phone. But Valuephone offers a Shopping List app that syncs between Windows Phone, Android and iOS: a perfectly legitimate alternative. Yes, I sacrifice some of the coolness of Grocery IQ (integrated couponing, bar code scanning, etc.), but the core feature that matters most to me is there.

So what happens to the same analysis when you include the availability of alternatives to the number of exact equivalents? The numbers change pretty dramatically. Windows Phone more than doubles the number of apps, and Android adds half again what it had. In essence, Android is in a near dead heat with iOS, with Windows Phone making huge leaps forward. That makes both very legitimate alternatives to Cupertino, much to my surprise.

The quantitative analysis completed, it was now time for the qualitative analysis. I automatically excluded any Low ranked apps from this portion: they just don't matter enough to me to care in this decision. My goal was to determine, of the iOS apps I had ranked High or Medium, how many of those did not either have an exact  equivalent on Windows Phone or Android, or an acceptable alternative? The answers? Android has no such apps: every High or Medium app had either an exact analog or an equivalent. Of Windows Phone, only 1 High app was orphaned (Slice, an amazing package tracking app that monitors receipts in your e-mail for tracking numbers, and pushes updates of their progress), and 8 Mediums: a total of 9 apps with no equivalents. I expected at least 3x that for Windows Phone, and Android's progress was astounding.

So what does this all mean? I can only conclude that both Android and Windows Phone are, for my needs, extremely legitimate alternatives. Why is Android not a clear winner, and Windows Phone not a dud? Answer for both: user interface. Android gets dinged a little because the UI, while vastly improved by Jelly Bean and Butter, is still a little laggy for me. Windows Phone, on the other hand, not only offers a smooth, powerful UI, it beats the pants off iOS, making it look like a child's toy, comparatively. When combining the results above with the UI issues for each, it makes them all, in essence, a wash.

What's next? This is where we get to put the rubber to the road. There will be at least one iPhone 5 in my household in the next few weeks: that gives me an advantage to judge the new iDevice fully. Windows Phone 8 doesn't hit until October, so hands-on will have to wait until then. Jelly Bean is out now, on one phone, so it might be time to have a look-see. In short, time to find out how liberal AT&T's return policies are, so I can try with my 2000+ contacts, plus movies, music and more, and see how each fares. Why AT&T and not Verizon or Sprint? Simple: I need to be able to talk and work online at the same time, without leaning on wifi (the life of a business traveler), and only AT&T offers all three phone OS devices, with the ability to talk and work simultaneously.

As the Mythbusters often teach us, assumptions are made to be tested. While I expected that I'd be resigned to the evolutionarily improved iPhone 5, thanks to this effort, my mobile world is opened up much further. I completely may find that neither Android nor Windows Phone are suitable for me after using them, but it won't be for lack of apps. Stay tuned...

Oh, for those of you who want to dive into the raw data and see what apps I evaluated and ranked, enjoy it all here:

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