I Sold My Smartphone

I sold my smartphone, and now I do not even have a phone that has camera in it. I sold my Nexus 4 on 13 February 2014, knowing that I will live without a data connectable mobile phone for a foreseeable future. I used a low-end Xperia tipo and a decent Nexus 4, in total for 17 odd months. Everyone around me started to ask why did I sell, and what next? Answer is, I would like to be in the Apple ecosystem, at least until the present executive team remains to run the company. However, for now I choose not to buy a smartphone as I have a cellular iPad, along with an iMac which my brother (@prabhakarbhat) uses for programming. We do have a Sony Vaio Ultrabook that runs (crawls?) Windows 8, but for now let us continue with mobiles.

I was less aware of mobile technology until the first half of 2012. Living in India, Apple was (and is) most aspired brand for some, and a hated consumer technology company for others, probably because of the price tag. I went with the tide and ended up purchasing a low-end android phone that could do some basic functions like emails, map navigation and run social networking apps. Even though I was not a programmer per se, I liked software apps to be up to date. But after buying Xperia tipo, I realised updates weren’t the only problems. Even in 2014, India has one of the slowest mobile and broadband speeds in the world. Obvious issues I faced with low-end smartphone were two — 1) random data disconnection which wouldn’t come back unless the device was restarted; and 2) the phone simply wouldn’t respond to some basic functions such as opening the address book and dialing a contact. In addition, I realised that most apps were not compatible to install, while a few of the updates would not work! Sony said, ‘no upgrade to Android Jelly Bean version’. So I sold the device to a college student in an online marketplace.

Meanwhile, I and my brother had been using iPad since November 2012 and immediately fell in love with it, both in terms of hardware and the lovely skuemorphic iOS 6. We really loved the iOS apps that were far better at user experience. It was in June 2013 that I decided to sell Xperia tipo, when Apple was showcasing iOS 7 in its annual developer conference, WWDC. Having seen android and iOS 6, I simply could not take iOS 7 (even today I do not like a few design inconsistencies in iOS 7). So, I decided to buy LG Nexus 4, which promised software updates. The other reason to buy Android device was, android app testing requirement of my brother. Looking at the lack of aesthetics in iOS 7 we were skeptical about the responses from developer community because most apps had to be completely redesigned. Statistically, android’s running on more devices and hence my brother and I decided to buy android that has OS updates. We liked Nexus lineup because it resembled Apple style in android world — no battery exchanges, no external memory card and so on.

I did not experience the data connection and app compatibility issues. Within a couple of months usage, Nexus 4 started heating up too much! I could not speak over the phone without headphones for more than two minutes. Guess what, I could not even carry it in my pocket just after unplugging from charging! The phone was not rooted, hardly had any games in it, but still was problematic. I took backup of the device on a highly rated app and showed it at LG service centre. LG had service centre experts who did not know about Android 4.4 KitKat which was already running on my Nexus 4! They did a factory restore but my backup failed and hence I literally downloaded every app, put media files back for about a day. The device worked fine, however I realised there’re many issues with android as an OS (I wrote about them before during my spare time hereand here). Biggest irritating ones were — home screen not deleting app shortcut when app was uninstalled, all home screen settings vanishing randomly, adding blank home screens while adding widgets, display not waking up from sleep to attend calls, randomly becoming a brick, etc.

My brother had already developed an iOS app (Chanakya Neeti) which heported to android in December 2013, having thoroughly tested on my Nexus 4. Of course, we did not have any promotion budget for either of the platforms. Chanakya Neeti was all about an Indian philosopher whilst iOS presence in India was way too limited. So what would I expect? I expected Android app to overtake iOS in terms of installations so also ad revenue. Within no time we were in for a shock — Chanakya Neeti app was responding differently in every device! Why? Simple, every device had a different touch sensitivity! We decided to be patient and fixed whatever problems we could. But as of this writing, the android version’s yet to earn first complete dollar of ad revenue and also yet to reach 200 active installations. The app ranks 12th in Google Play search with 4.61 average rating. It is OK if we did not make money but question is not about the apps but about the myths. Comparatively, iOS version has been earning revenues and we see 100s of new installations.

Most people around say becoming a developer for Apple is costlier than Google. Here is our experience. You need to pay $99 every year to be a developer for iOS. If you are developing a basic app like Chanakya Neeti, you might get away without even buying an iPhone. Simulator was flawless for our requirement. On the other hand, you need to own at least 15 latest high/low-end devices to develop a simple app like Chanakya Neeti for android. Simulator in Android was nearly useless. But still, let’s assume that you develop an app that is compatible with most devices. But android is not a place for the one who likes to showcase someone else’s ads. It is good for the one who wants to propagate his own products through ads. Chanakya Neeti on iOS is not a success by any stretch of imagination yet. But the app has more active users — iOS users use their device. In most business cases, population number does not matter. What matters is interaction! People aren’t watching ads on TV because it is so passive. Power users in android platform are happy to root, customise ROMs while normal users do not go beyond whatsapp and Facebook! Intermediate users love to play with a few free apps or APKs (check out Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade creators). I am really interested to know how many stories are there like the ones we see on Apple website.

Obvious curiosity was, I could have continued to use Nexus personally, instead of selling it within eight months of usage. Call me a fanboy or an iSheep, Android can not make me fall in love with its design language and UX. Moreover, it is not always about adoption of latest technology, it is also about the infrastructure. India just finished auctioning for 2G spectrum in February 2014. As a country, India lacks technology infrastructure. We all know, original iPhone didn’t have 3G because infrastructure wasn’t ready, and Apple introduced LTE only on iPhone 5 which was soon after 4G network became mainstream. 3G connectivity in India, especially in Bangalore, is too unstable. Inconsistent network drains battery quite fast. I do not want to use a real smartphone, paying $850, with such infrastructure. Rolls Royce on Autobahn is apt but not probably at countryside roads. I love that Steve Jobs theory — looking at the world in a binary view. A real smartphone is the one which can have apps likeConvertible, Infinity Blade III, iMovie, Garage Band, etc. Such ecosystem is definitely worth it. I would like to use a technology product that is best (in my affordability and priority) and can last for at least three years with latest software support. Most intermediate quality devices end up eating my time for fixing issues forever, without actually helping for productivity or entertainment. Google provides support for Nexus lineup for only 18 months. I do not expect next or next to next version of Android to be supported on Nexus 4. Android world continues to gadget spam with ‘new’ devices every week. No one cares about user experience, it’s just the spec competition. Moto G launched in India, so also Nexus 5. My Nexus 4 would not fetch anything once it completes it’s warranty period in coming June. So I sold it to reduce my losses!
(PS: I wrote this whole story on iPad using iWriters — an amazing app!)