The gap between Android and iPhone has narrowed dramatically in recent years. It used to be an article of faith that iPhones were technically superior, and the only reason someone would choose Android was because they couldn’t afford one of Apple’s devices or because they had a philosophical objection to Apple’s “walled garden.”
Today, whatever technological gaps once existed between the latest iPhones and the top Android devices have essentially vanished. Sure, Apple’s CPUs are little engineering marvels, and the hardware is top-notch. But the competition is close enough to make those differences merely interesting rather than compelling.
For the past year or so, I’ve been switching between a succession of Android devices and a pair of iPhones. (At the moment, I have a Samsung Galaxy S9+, an iPhone XS, and a Google Pixel 3.) Each one is impressive when looked at strictly on its own merits. But day in and day out, I find I’m using those Android devices, and the iPhone tends to stay on its charging dock when I leave the office.
So, what are the factors, big and small, that cause me to prefer Android? Let’s start with the hardware itself.
You have a lot more choices in Android hardware.
When you’re in the market for a new smartphone, Apple offers three hardware choices (unless you’re willing to buy last year’s model for a minuscule discount). The current iPhone lineup comes in two sizes, big and bigger, and two price ranges, expensive and really expensive. And those devices are rarely discounted.
By contrast, your Android choices cover a wide range of sizes, shapes, feature sets, and price points. Some high-end Android devices (I’m looking at you, Samsung) have price tags that are comparable to those of a new iPhone, but the real sweet spot is in the midrange, where devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro ($669) and the Pixel 3 ($799) compete head to head with flagship phones costing up to twice as much.
USB-C is the future, while Lightning represents an increasingly awkward past.
From long experience, I know three things about Apple’s Lightning cables: They have an annoying tendency to break; they cost a small fortune to replace; and they require their own little collection of dongles to be useful. But, if you own an iPhone, those pricey Lightning cables are not optional.
They’re also not useful for anything that isn’t another iPhone or iPad. Meanwhile, the Android universe has moved en masse to the more modern and far more versatile USB-C standard. Pretty much every device I own these days uses USB-C, including laptops from Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, and even … Apple. When I travel, I can carry a single charger and one cable that works with every non-Apple mobile device.
Someday, Apple will surrender to the inevitable and replace its Lightning connectors with USB-C. Until then, it’s one more cable that iPhone owners have to carry.
You want a headphone jack? No problem…
Raise your hand if you’ve ever prepared to plug a set of headphones into your iPhone and discovered that you left that pesky headphone dongle back on your desk. Thankfully, there are plenty of Android devices (including the new Pixel 3a) that still offer 3.5mm jacks.
From hardware, we move to the code that runs under the glass, and specifically, to the navigation and organization paradigms that define a mobile operating system
Settings is never more than a swipe away.
Android and iOS offer similar shortcuts to get to some common system settings. On an iPhone, you swipe down from the top right to get to Control Center, which has a selection of shortcuts you can use to turn on Airplane Mode, adjust screen brightness and volume, use the calculator, and so on. The shortcuts make excellent use of the Force Touch feature.
But you know what you can’t do from Control Center? You can’t get to the main Settings page. So, you can turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off, but if you want to pair a new device or connect to a different access point, you have to exit Control Center, find the Settings icon, and open it.
Swiping down from the top of an Android screen, by contrast, shows a half-dozen common Settings icons above the current notifications. Swipe again to see a bigger assortment of Settings icons (customizable, of course). Tap the label beneath the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon to jump straight to the relevant Settings page. Or click the little gear icon to open the full Settings list.
You can replace the launcher.
The single most frustrating aspect of using an iPhone is its inflexible home screen. You get one icon per app, which you can in turn arrange into folders on multiple screens. But you can’t arrange those icons as you like them; you can only rearrange their order, which makes the whole process of organizing the home screen a little like solving one of those 15-square puzzles.
On an Android device, by contrast, the default Android launcher is easy to replace. Device makers regularly do this, with mixed results, but the real benefit is that you can replace the default launcher with one that you prefer. I really like the Microsoft Launcher, which started out as a side project but has turned into a serious effort, with version 5 just around the corner.
Naturally, the Microsoft Launcher is optimized to work with Microsoft apps; fortunately, there’s a pretty good selection of those apps, including all the Office apps and Outlook for email. But even without those apps, it’s worth it just for the improvements in the dock.
Pinned icons are actually useful.
On an iPhone, icons on the home screen are shortcuts for individual apps, period. You want quick access to a particular website, or photo, or document? Sorry, you’ll have to open its app first, then look for it.
By contrast, icons on the Android home screen can represent individual items that aren’t apps. My home screen has shortcuts to Excel workbooks, pages from OneNote notebooks, and even PDF files of boarding passes and other electronic tickets.
Android has widgets! On the home page!
Both Android and iOS offer a special home page, available by swiping right, where you can add widgets for quick(er) access to calendar items, weather forecasts, a news feed, and so on.
On my Android phone, though, I can add widgets directly to the main home screen. The centerpiece of my home screen at the moment, for example, is a widget from the Dark Sky app, which shows the current date and time in a large, easy-to-read format, with a four-day weather forecast beneath it.
You can add widgets for email and calendar apps, music players, cloud services. Google and Microsoft both have a large selection of widgets, and even Apple has an Android widget for its Apple Music player. In my experience, widgets are best used sparingly, but they really can improve productivity.
There’s a Back button.
For its first decade or so, iPhone had one and only one button, which you could tap, double-tap, or press and hold to accomplish tasks. Android, by contrast, historically included a row of three soft buttons along the bottom. The Home and Recents buttons function pretty much the same as the tap and double-tap options on a classic iPhone, but the Back button is unique.
On both platform, the dedicated app buttons are slowly disappearing, replaced by a series of gestures, but the concept of a dedicated Back function in Android remains. App developers try all sorts of tricks to replicate that functionality in iOS apps, with mixed results, but I miss the Back button every time I use an iPhone for any length of time.
You can clear all notifications with a single tap.
There is some sort of algorithm that governs the display of notifications on the iPhone home screen, but I’ll be damned if I can figure it out. Sometimes there’s a big X that you can tap to clear older notifications; other times the only way to get rid of notifications is one at a time.
You can also manage how notifications are grouped and when they’re displayed on iOS, but to do that you have to exit Notification Center and go to Settings > Notifications.
On Android devices, both tasks are much simpler. When you swipe down to display current notifications, there’s a Clear All button at the bottom of the list. There’s also a Manage Notifications link that jumps directly to the associated page in Settings, where you can customize options for each app. Those are small touches, but they reduce friction and make everyday usability much better.
You can change your default browser.
On either mobile platform, browsers use the underlying engine supplied by the operating system. The main reason for using an alternate browser is to save and sync shortcuts, tabs, passwords, and history across devices.
On an iPhone, you can define Open With settings on a per-app basis, so the Gmail app opens links in Chrome or Outlook opens links in Edge. But you can’t define that browser preference systemwide, so if you open a link from another app, it will almost certainly open in Safari.
That’s not a problem in Android, thanks to the Default Apps setting, where you can specify which browser you want to use for links. While there, you can also choose alternate apps to use for phone calls, SMS messages, voice assist, and tap-to-pay functions, too.
The volume control is far more flexible.
No matter who makes your mobile device, it will have Volume Up and Volume Down buttons on the side. It will also have separate, software-based volume controls. But iOS and Android handle those controls in very different ways.
On an iPhone, you can adjust the ringer volume independently of other sounds by going to Settings > Sound and Haptics, and turning the Change With Buttons option off. Choose a volume for the ringer, and you’re done. In that configuration, you can silence the ringer with the switch just above the volume controls, but the Volume Up/Down buttons will affect only system sounds and apps.
Android, by contrast, has the option to allow different volume settings for calls, media, notifications, alarms, and ringtones. That’s especially useful on long road trips, where you can mute notification sounds so that they don’t interrupt the music you’re listening to.
That’s my list. If you’ve got a different set of annoyances or a workaround I missed here, please leave a comment.
Clubhouse gives musicians a new high quality audio mode – TechCrunch
Clubhouse added a new “music mode” this week, doubling down its commitment to centering social audio in all its permutations. The new music mode will give musicians who play live on the social network their own special set of tools to optimize sound quality and will hit iOS first before rolling out to Android.
Clubhouse didn’t get too into the audiophile weeds with the announcement, but the company said the new feature would allow users to “broadcast with high quality and great stereo sound” — prerequisites for a rich listening experience. The company says that music mode will also make it possible to hook pro-level audio equipment like mixing boards and mics into Clubhouse.
In late August, Clubhouse made another investment in audio quality with spatial audio, a feature that gives listeners a sense that different speakers in one of its group audio rooms are speaking from different physical locations — an effect more akin to how we’d perceive a real-life social interaction.
To turn on music mode as a speaker, tap the three dots in the upper right corner and choose “audio quality” then select “music.” Clubhouse’s replayable clips will also support the higher quality audio in their recordings. Beyond music mode, Clubhouse is moving its search bar to the top of the feed, and users can now wave at each other through the search bar on iOS.
Core might be the Vegas of the metaverse – TechCrunch
A self-described “endless arcade,” Core feels like a 90s cyberpunk fever dream come to life. Half playable game library, half no-code game creator, all neon lights, the new platform is a surprisingly well-realized vision of this metaverse thing everyone sure seems to be talking about lately.
Billing itself as your “portal to the multiverse,” Core is primed to test the age-old proposition If you build it, they will come. Giant companies like Roblox and Facebook might have huge established platforms, but Core has laid some very compelling groundwork for creators and players alike.
Logging in, players are transported to Core’s central hub, a fitting cross between a theme park, a high-tech mall and a casino, with entertainment and shopping a few gravitationally unburdened strides away in every direction. Giant neon signs beckon, enticing players to hop into myriad user-generated virtual worlds. Swapping out clothing and in-game gear or inviting a friend to jump in with you takes only a few clicks and just cruising around and people watching is plenty interesting.
If Core looks a lot like Fortnite, that’s not a coincidence. Core, made by Manticore Games, runs on Fortnite-maker Epic’s Unreal engine. And those ties are even deeper: Epic led a $15 million round of investment in the company last year and the platform is exclusively available through the Epic Games Store for PC. In March, Manticore raised $100 million more from a grab bag of major investors and took its creator platform live.
Core might not be a household name yet, but it’s already nailed one of the challenges that any metaverse aspirant has to crack. In my time playing around with Core, the experience of getting from one place to another was often so seamless I wound up in the wrong place by accident. Chalk this up to user error, but instantly being transported — to a Deadmau5 show, to an overgrown dystopian wasteland, to a isometric pirate game — after walking through various portals was one of the more seamless online multiplayer experiences I’ve had more than a decade of those games.
Core looks great. That’s one strike against Roblox, one of the most successful companies building out a vision for the metaverse. Much like Fortnite, Core’s graphics are cartoony but not too cartoony. Roblox’s under-13 crowd is aging up — a factor that company is actively planning around — and those not-so-young players will be looking for a new virtual home. Any aspiring edgelord would be able to take themselves plenty seriously with Core’s wide selection of custom outfits and avatars. Or you could be a kitty.
Deadmau5, metaverse resident
Most of Core’s content is UGC, a.k.a. user-generated content, a new-ish name for an era-defining online phenomenon (don’t blame yourself if the acronym evokes mixed martial arts). But Manticore also has plenty of room to partner up with musicians and brands for elaborate themed in-game experiences.
This week, DJ and EDM festival perennial Deadmau5 launched his own, a sprawling, colorful series of experiences described as a “permanent residency in the metaverse.” Core is mostly home to user-made games, but it’s also a natural fit for entertainment and even education — the team noted that some users started hosting game development classes.
Unlike recent shows in other virtual worlds like Lil Nas X in Roblox or Ariana Grande in Fortnite, the Deadmau5-themed content will stay live after it debuts for anyone to explore. The team at Manticore likened this to how performers like Penn and Teller camp out in Las Vegas for ongoing shows, and the metaphor is very appropriate. But unlike Vegas, performers can be in two places at once: Deadmau5 also announced he’d participate in a music festival hosted on the Ethereum-based virtual platform Decentraland this week.
I watched the show with Deadmau5, né Joel Zimmerman, for an early sneak preview. He wore one of his signature giant animal helmets (I think a cat?) and cyborg angel wings, while I opted for an understated black hoodie, the little black dress of the metaverse.
“I think what drew me to it was the modularity of it all and how it gives more tools to creators,” Zimmerman told me, hopping around wildly in Core while reclining IRL in a gaming chair emblazoned with the Deadmau5 mouse.
Like we’ve come to expect from virtual concerts, the interactive performance is well-stocked with melting psychedelic visuals, mini games and a menacing Chain Chomp-esque mouse with turntable ears. Zimmerman and Core co-founders Frederic Descamps and Jordan Maynard who also ran around the show with me had seen it at least 10 times, but everyone still seemed to genuinely be having fun.
At some point I either fell into lava or got smashed on a conveyer belt by a massive metal fist while a Deadmau5-themed villain loomed nearby. “I think it’s the only interactive concert you can die in,” Maynard said. The show was visually a lot of fun, creatively interactive and ultimately a lot like concerts in Fortnite, which sets a high bar for this stuff.
The elaborate virtual experience, called Oberhasli, also showcases some unique worlds created by fans with no prior game dev experience, from an eerie jungle ruin to a spooky world full of floating space debris. The Core Deadmau5 performance kicks off on Friday at 3 PM PT. It’ll replay over the weekend and be available on demand afterward, for anyone else who’d like to be smashed into an EDM pancake.
Core for creators
Later on our call, held on Discord, the Core tour devolved into everyone running through a secret gate behind a destructible wall and world-hopping wildly through game genres, each remarkably polished for something that doesn’t require any code or game development experience. Moving from one game world to another took seconds even with a terrible wifi connection, including the time I ran through something that looked like World of Warcraft’s dark portal and wound up sailing an isometric pirate ship.
The WoW nod is probably not a coincidence. Descamps waxed nostalgic about the heyday of WoW machinima, narrative movies built through captured gameplay, like only a serious longtime player could. Descamps and Maynard also previously worked on Rift, another fantasy MMO that still commands a loyal following a decade on. (Maynard was employee number seven.) Everyone is raving about the metaverse these days, but surprisingly few companies in the space trace their roots back to the seamless virtual gaming worlds that have brought people together for years.
To underline how easy it is to make stuff in Core, Maynard quick-built a first-person shooter for us to play, a drag-and-drop process that took maybe two minutes of dipping into Core’s huge library of original in-game assets that were created using its system. Grab a handful of 3D objects and pick a game mode from the template choices (battle royale, racing or dungeon crawler?) and you’re most of the way to a polished-looking playable game built in Core’s modular sandbox. Setting your game in a chilly snowscape or a barren desert is also as simple as dragging and dropping, lending the environments an expansive feel.
Gameplay aside, out of the box Core games look light years better than the UGC you’d run across in Roblox, though that platform’s users have never seemed to mind. The breadth of visual styles and game genres is also mind-boggling for anyone who’s bounced out of samey UGC on other platforms.
Core users who create content have a pretty good swath of monetization options, which Manticore calls “perks.” That includes offering in-game cosmetic items, but also charging for premium games, selling Fortnite-like battle passes or implementing a subscription model. The revenue split is 50/50, which looks generous next to the 25% that Roblox passes on to creators. And in Core, like in other modular game-making platforms, everyone is a creator — no development experience needed.
Core is PC-only for now, but Manticore plans to bring it to other platforms, including iOS, starting next year. Game creation will likely stay limited to PC, but the idea is that anyone could play Core games anywhere, a platform agnostic vision that certainly boosted Fortnite early on and Roblox more recently.
“[Game development] is kind of like baking: a very precise formula, technical, can take weeks to iterate,” Descamps said. But in Core, the technical stuff gets out of the way and a process that would normally drag on can happen in minutes, leaving the rest of the time for experimentation and play.
“What if you put a portal gun into Mario Kart?” Maynard asked, and I’m fairly certain we could have found out right then.
WhatsApp now lets users encrypt their chat backups in the cloud – TechCrunch
WhatsApp is beginning to roll out a new feature that will provide its two billion users the option to encrypt their chat history backup in iCloud or Google Drive, patching a major loophole that has been exploited by governments to obtain and review private communication between individuals.
WhatsApp has long encrypted chats between users on its app. But users have had no means to protect the backup of those chats stored in the cloud. (For iPhone users, the chat history is stored in iCloud, and Android users rely on Google Drive.)
It has been widely reported that law enforcement agencies across the globe have been able to access the private communications between suspect individuals on WhatsApp by exploiting this loophole.
WhatsApp, which processes over 100 billion messages a day, is closing that weak link, and tells TechCrunch that it’s providing this new feature to users in every market where the app is operational. The feature is optional, the company said. (It’s not uncommon for companies to withhold privacy features for legal and regulatory reasons. Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature isn’t available to users in certain authoritarian regimes, such as China, Belarus, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.)
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, noted that WhatsApp is the first global messaging service at this scale to offer end-to-end encrypted messaging and backups. “Proud of the team for continuing to lead on security for your private conversations,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.
WhatsApp began testing the feature with a small group of users last month. The company devised a system to enable WhatsApp users on Android and iOS to lock their chat backups with encryption keys. WhatsApp says it will offer users two ways to encrypt their cloud backups.
Users on WhatsApp will see an option to generate a 64-digit encryption key to protect their chat backups in the cloud. Users can store the encryption key offline or in a password manager of their choice, or they can create a password that backs up their encryption key in a cloud-based “backup key vault” that WhatsApp has developed. The cloud-stored encryption key can’t be used without the user’s password, which isn’t known to WhatsApp.
“While end-to-end encrypted messages you send and receive are stored on your device, many people also want a way to back up their chats in case they lose their phone,” the company wrote in a blog post.
As we wrote last month, the move to introduce this additional layer of privacy is significant and one that can have far-reaching implications.
End-to-end encryption remains a thorny topic of discussion as governments across the globe continue to lobby for backdoors. Apple was pressured to not add encryption to iCloud Backups after the FBI complained, according to Reuters, and while Google has offered users the ability to encrypt their data stored in Google Drive, the company reportedly didn’t tell governments before it rolled out the feature.
India, WhatsApp’s biggest market by users, has introduced a new law that requires the company to devise a way to make “traceability” of questionable messages possible. WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over this new mandate, and said such a requirement effectively mandates “a new form of mass surveillance.”
The UK government — which isn’t exactly a fan of encryption — recently asked messaging apps to not use end-to-end encryption for kids’ accounts. Elsewhere in the world, Australia passed controversial laws three years ago that are designed to force tech companies to provide police and security agencies access to encrypted chats.
WhatsApp declined to discuss whether it had consulted about the new feature with lawmakers or government agencies.
Privacy-focused organizations including Electronic Frontier Foundation have lauded WhatsApp’s move.
“This privacy win from Facebook-owned WhatsApp is striking in its contrast to Apple, which has been under fire recently for its plans for on-device scanning of photos that minors send on Messages, as well as of every photo that any Apple user uploads to iCloud. While Apple has paused to consider more feedback on its plans, there’s still no sign that they will include fixing one of its longstanding privacy pitfalls: no effective encryption across iCloud backups,” the organization wrote.
“WhatsApp is raising the bar, and Apple and others should follow suit.”
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