Hawaii TechnologyWritten by Dennis Hollier On 09 August 2012
The Dilemma: Choosing an Android or an iPhone

I finally gave up on my old Blackberry the other day. It was a decision I had dreaded for months, not least because I was jumping the gun on my Sprint contract and I knew it was going to cost me a premium to replace the old phone. It certainly wasn’t because of some sort of Obama-like fetish for Blackberry, a contraption which I invariably referred to as “my damned phone.” In fact, my Blackberry Bold had been slowly falling into a state of decrepitude, a stomach-sickening slide that seemed to parallel the fortunes of RIM, the soon-t0-be defunct manufacturer of the phone. I was missing calls. My email seized up in critical moments. And, for several months, the battery had become more and more feeble. The turning point, though, was when my damned phone went crazy – one minute telling me I had a full battery and a good signal, the next minute going black and rebooting, only to indicate a dead battery when it finally came to, five or ten minutes later. The Blackberry had to go.

Which brings us to the question: Now what? This was the second, more insidious source of my dread. Now I had to choose a replacement. It’s true, I like to style myself a Luddite, but that doesn’t mean I considered going without a smartphone. Once you make the jump – as I did, two years ago, with the Blackberry – there’s not much chance of going back. That would be like giving up indoor plumbing. But now I had to confront the perplexing array of choices for the smartphone consumer. Worse still, I would have to make any choice I made seem rational. And that’s just not how most of us – or at least I – make these kinds of decisions.

For example, here’s why I initially chose the Blackberry: It was small enough to fit comfortably in my pocket. Of course, for conversational purposes, I manufactured other reasons. I told people that a fat-fingered knucklehead like me needed the positive reinforcement of an actual keyboard. (No iPhone for this Luddite.) I explained that I knew that the IT Department¬† at work was already comfortable putting the Blackberry on the network. (That took care of the Android, at the time.) And I was adamant that I would never subject myself to another version of Microsoft suffering. (That put the kibbosh on the Windows phone, if it was even out yet.) Besides, all those other phones just seemed so frivolous. “No games or music or silly apps, for me,” I said. “Just a phone, email, and an address book.” Come to think of it, Blackberry and I were made for each other.

Then, my damned phone blew a fuse, and off to the Sprint Store I went, my skinflint sphincter in full spasm.

It’s not like I arrived at the store completely unprepared, of course. I had carefully reviewed my criteria and settled on a few requirements. One, it still had to fit comfortably in my pocket. My Blackberry, for all its faults, was always compact. Two, the manufacturer couldn’t be on the verge of bankruptcy. (OK, that was just a way to make sure I wasn’t seduced by that pretty little Blackberry Torch.) And three, my new damned phone would have to address my deficiencies as a thumb-typist. And here’s the central point of today’s blog: All of these seemingly reasonable and pragmatic calculations were really just window dressing for what was probably a forgone conclusion. Someone like me, who’s been a diehard Apple fan since the iMac Classic, should have simply bought the iPhone. It’s reliable; it’s beautifully designed; it meshes with the rest of my gadgets (yes, Luddites still have gadgets); and it’s hip. Good reasons, all, to buy the iPhone. But you’ll notice they weren’t part of my calculation. That’s because, even in my decision-induced dread, I knew the phone itself wasn’t the real object of my desire. So, while I may have finally settled on the HTC Evo, what I actually bought was a stupid app: Swype.

For the uninitiated: Swype is an app that improves upon your basic QWERTY keyboard. Instead of pecking out each letter with your thumbs, you trace a finger from letter to letter and Swype figures out what you were trying to type. It seemed like a plausible cure for my texting difficulties; but, let’s face it, it’s hardly a good reason to buy a phone. In fact, in the Sprint Store, I tried out the iPhone (and all the other Android phones that would have worked just fine) and it turns out I type just as well – or just as poorly – on a touchscreen as I did on my little Blackberry keyboard. But Swype was just too elegant for me to ignore. So I bought it.

In my defense, I’m ready to assert that almost all consumers are as irrational as I am. We all invent elaborate rationales about our purchases. (Don’t deny it; I’ve overheard your defensive explanations at Starbucks.) But what it really comes down to is something more along the lines of, “Oooh. That’s nice!!!” And Swype is very nice. It’s full of clever little efficiencies. Many of them, of course, are invisible to the user. For example, when you drag your finger from “p” to “t”, statistically speaking, you probably intended to write “put” (the second most common word in English, after “set”), so that’s how Swype interprets your gesture. But it also gives you the option to replace “put” with “pot” or “pit”, both of which are reasonable alternatives. Swype is also equipped to deal with my fat thumbs. I may have actually traced out the word “speckle,” for example, but Swype knows I probably meant to type “double” and offers that up as a replacement option. That’s cool.

Swype is also fast. At least if you remember your keyboard pretty well. Short, common words can be tossed off in an instant. Bizarre English spellings, like “though”, which take six separate thumb-strokes on a Blackberry or an iPhone, can be rendered in quick a squiggle in Swype. That’s appealing to someone like me, who uses actual Gregg Shorthand to conduct interviews. In fact, the similarities between Swype and Gregg are manifest. The mechanics of stroking out words in both systems is fast, but it’s also elegant. Both in the mathematical sense of minimizing excess motion, and it the aesthetic sense of employing graceful, swooping forms. And maybe that’s it. Maybe real reason I spent $300 on a new cell phone just because it reminded me of a charming, if largely forgotten, 19th Century technology.

That’s about as rational as touting your Luddite credentials in a blog.

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4 comments
Kaala
Kaala

Having witnessed the shorthand skill firsthand I can't wait to see the Swype-skills in action! Aloha!

Randy Havre
Randy Havre

Love my iPhone and looking forward to continue upgrading. Apple stock became the all time highest market cap ever, $623 billion, surpassing Microsoft record from 12/30/99. Aloha

TheodoreAPeck
TheodoreAPeck

skinflint sphincter? Not even asking...an advantage to Android that many are not aware of is that it is far more secure than an iPhone.  Plus - you can pick a phone to your liking.

turnontech
turnontech

My EVO is really great, but I do sometimes miss writing in Graffiti like I used to on the first (Palm) handhelds I used back in the previous millenium. Your article made me think about it and get curious. Sure enough, I found Graffiti for Android: http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/16/graffiti-for-android-scribbles-palm-os-memories-all-over-google/. I couldn't be more thrilled! When I write those (efficient, like Gregg) strokes (even though it's with my finger instead of a stylus), I feel young again! Thank you Dennis!