The one thing that might drive me to the iPhone

For the past several months, I’ve been a very happy Android user. My Droid X has been, for the most part, everything I could hope for in a phone, and is my constant digital companion. As a heavy user of Google services, it’s been about perfect for me, especially the Google Voice integration; now, I can hardly imagine using a phone that isn’t tightly tied in to GV. I’ve looked at iPhones since getting my Droid, and have been mostly unimpressed. If nothing else, the smaller screen is a disappointment. After using the huge touchscreen on the X, the iPhone looks, well, kind of dinky. I like the tough construction of the X, which makes a case basically unnecessary. I love the fact that I never, ever have to connect it to my computer for anything unless I want to. I love not needing iTunes. I really love the Swype keyboard. I could scarcely imagine a reason to switch to the iPhone.

Then I received an over-the-air upgrade to the latest Android version, 2.3 (Gingerbread).

Gingerbread has been a mixed bag. Some things work a little better; other things, not so much. I like the revamped color scheme, and Google Listen seems to work a bit more smoothly. But there have also been random reboots, loss of signal, and seemingly decreased battery life. And then there is The Problem.

From time to time, for no reason I can detect, the phone will now sometimes hang up immediately after I place a call. At first, I thought I was doing something wrong, but then I realized it was a software issue that requires a reboot to correct. After perusing a few Android board posts, it seems I’m not the only one with this problem. And a problem it is; I don’t want to find myself having to wait through a reboot to make a phone call in an emergency situation. Back in the days of AT&T exclusivity with the iPhone, I heard it jokingly said (referring to AT&T’s notorious network problems) that the inability to make and receive phone calls was actually a feature. As someone who would much rather text or email than make a phone call, I am not entirely unsympathetic to that point of view. But it does point out a problem in the world of Android that simply doesn’t exist in the world of iOS, and it also goes to the heart of why I purchased an Android phone on the Verizon network in the first place.

Taking the first point first, Google faces the same problem with their OS that Microsoft does: they don’t control the hardware on which that software is run. Consequently, there is always the possibility of unexpected glitches when an update is rolled out. Compounding the problem is that due to the open nature of Android, carriers are free to modify the OS as they see fit, which means that carriers become the ones responsible for rolling out OS updates. Additionally, the crapware that the carriers add to the OS can add its own problems, and who’s to say that something in Verizon’s build of Android 2.3 isn’t causing a conflict, and is therefore responsible for the hang-up problem? Contrast this to Apple’s world, where they control both hardware and software, and need only test against a limited number of hardware configurations. It makes it much simpler to push out an update, and to guarantee that it will Simply Work.

As for the second point, I bought a Verizon phone because I need my phone to be a phone. I need to be able to make phone calls. If this wasn’t the case, I would have settled for an AT&T iPhone a few years ago. But because AT&T’s network basically sucks in my area, I went with Verizon and chose an Android phone, having gotten tired of waiting for Apple to make a CDMA version of the iPhone that worked on Verizon’s network. I gladly overlooked the rough edges of Android—battery life, slight delays in touchscreen response, etc.—because of its manifold benefits.

Now that there’s a Verizon iPhone, the equation has changed somewhat. We’ll be buying my wife an iPhone soon, and I’ll be watching her experience very, very closely. I’m not saying that I’m going to ditch the Droid for an iPhone just yet; I still generally like my phone very, very much. But I’m going to be keeping tabs on how often The Problem happens, and if it persists, I’ll be looking at the iPhone with new interest. In the end, a smartphone that balks at making calls is just a handheld computer with a crappy phone attached, and there’s no room in my life for that.