Living In the Future: Windows Phone, Pixel, and iPhone

My daughter is home from her first semester at college. It’s wonderful to be able to hop in the car and run to Starbucks with her, just like the good ol’ days. Great one-on-one time, no worries, just her and me.

She did the driving this time, and I asked my phone a question about something that we were discussing. She immediately jumped all over me, in a good-natured mocking sort of way, for “talking to my phone,” which “NOBODY does, dad. Except you and two of my friends who always try to talk to Siri and it always fails.” This is a point I have made many times over the past couple of years with my Pixel and Pixel 2 phones: Google users use their voices, iPhone users don’t. Why? For the simple reason that Siri sucks and Google Assistant is great and voice is vastly superior to typing on a tiny glass keyboard (yes, even an XL phone screen is tiny compared to an actual computer keyboard).

This also reminded me of a post I did not write just after Thanksgiving. Walking by a big, printed canvas photo hanging on our wall that was taken in March 2014, I was struck by the memory of having shot it with my Lumia Icon, a Nokia Windows Phone that had an AMAZING 20 megapixel PureView camera with a Zeiss lens. The detail and color on that 16×20 print are spectacular. Again, this was almost 5 full years ago. The phone was white, just like the Pixel 2 I recently sold in exchange for a Pixel 3 XL, and the feel was pleasingly similar to the Pixel 2 in the hand. Along with the camera, the 441ppi 1920 x 1080 AMOLED display was simply stunning (Apple’s newest phone, the XR, has a 326ppi 1792 x 828 LCD for comparison), as was the responsiveness of the entire system. It was a 5-inch screen, an incredible jump in size from the iPhone 4S with Siri that it replaced, and handing it to my iPhone-toting family invariably drew a mix of mocking and disdainful reactions. “You are SO weird, dad!” But then I’d bark out a few Hey Cortana voice commands, and the phone would actually do what I told it to do. Miraculous! And oh, what Microsoft taught the world to do with typography as UI! Apple customers take for granted the use of different font sizes throughout the iOS experience, which replaced gaudy “skeuomorphic” (only die hard Apple devotees, as I once was, would be familiar with such terms) design elements of previous iOS versions. But Microsoft often shows the way for others to follow, thanks to its decades of time, talent, and treasure that have been poured into basic research including anthropological studies by actual Microsoft-employed anthropologists, and that was definitely the case with Windows Phone and its beautiful typography. People’s attention can be wrangled and focused by the simplicity of clean typography with overarching elements being bigger than the ones that can be further drilled down to.

It saddens me to contemplate what so many iPhone users miss out on, just because they have to use what “everyone else” is using. The things being accomplished by Google through software, through artificial intelligence, in computational photography, are insanely next-level, especially compared to Apple’s phone cameras. Most people know that “Google phones are better at low light photography,” but in practice, every time we are out at night, the iPhone users insist that we use my Pixel for the group pics. It is worth going out of the way to find and harass the Google phone guy into taking the picture, rather than anyone using their own iPhone. Which, of course, I am very glad to do, because nothing bothers me more than suffering through embarrassingly bad low-light iPhone photography when a simple year-old Pixel 2 would have made all the difference. The iPhone users are aware of the picture-taking inferiority of their devices, but mostly unaware of the other shortcomings. This is especially true for kids, teens, and college students, but also for run-of-the-mill people who simply don’t care about the latest and greatest. As long as it’s got an Apple logo, they know their star bellied sneetch status remains inviolate. As long as the message bubble is blue and not green, they are safe. As long as they are paying 20% price hikes over last year for the privilege of changes or improvements that are indiscernible to 99% of them, all is well. Yes, I know “trust” and “Google” and blah blah blah. But if anyone believes Apple is not collecting more than is known or suspected by its users, I would venture to guess that they are mistaken. No, it may not be as much as Google. And Facebook is beyond any of this, so I leave them out of the discussion entirely. Even if an iPhone user is giving their money to Apple instead of Google or Samsung or LG, they are still being tracked by every app or website they use on that iPhone, so it really does not matter in the big scheme of user privacy considerations.

What I am talking about is the pure joy of experiencing the latest technological innovations from the greatest technological innovators, Microsoft and Google. I really do wish Windows Phone had survived, because I truly loved the Windows Phone tile-based UI, with the ability to customize both the size and placement of individual app tiles on the screen, something that still cannot be done in either iOS or Android. If this is what we had 5 years ago, what would we have now, if full-fledged development had continued? One can only wonder.

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