Sometimes a deal with the Devil is a prerequisite to reaching Heaven

After a LOT of consideration, I’ve come to realize that if I want to play with the latest and greatest tech, get my hands dirty with cool new software, and really geek out with my cell phone or tablet, I have to switch to Android.

  • Chrome easily the best default mobile browser.
  • Android offers, hands down, the best customization.
  • Android phones offer the best looking hardware out, bar none. (I mean, take a look at those huge, beautiful screens on phones like the S3, the Note 2, and the RAZR MAXX HD!)
  • Android phones have the most exciting technology out there (with Windows Phones catching up, fast)
  • I spend a LOT of time using Google products. A lot. An embarrassing amount, in fact.
  • Ideologically, it’s quite possibly THE perfect platform for me.

However, more than playing with tech, I love doing my work, and expressing myself through what I create. If I want to get any actual work done, especially in such diverse fields as writing, film, and music then it’s best I embrace Apple’s walled garden. For now.

Note: This may come off as a bit of a rant. It certainly is long enough for that, so I may break this down later to address and expand upon specific points. 

Requirements

In my work, I can see where laptops, tablets, and phones become useful, each in their own right. My work today demands that I have a competent infrastructure in place if I am to be productive, one that provides interoperability between devices, stability, and reliability. I need to be sure it allows for opportunities for expansion through high-quality apps and peripherals, and cannot at any point become an excuse for me NOT doing something which would affect my work. In today’s hyper-mobile, technology-driven market, mobility is paramount in all of this.

Smart Phones: iPhone, Nexus, Lumia

Apple has a place of dominance in the mobile market unmatched by any current device maker or OS. Sure, there are nearly a billion users of Android, but in all fairness, there are nearly a thousand different types of Android devices, and at least a hundred different versions of Android. Windows Phone, on the other hand, doesn’t really even show up yet. It may one day, but right now it has about the same market penetration as Palm, and nowhere near the influence of RIM, two very obsolete mobile device makers. (Or rather, one obsolete, the other riding into obsolescence.) As such, effectively, Apple offers me more opportunity to exploit the platform than Android does, by fulfilling the aforementioned requirements, at least in the areas that matter to me: writing, filming, publishing, and gaming.

Requirements

I’m looking for, at the very least, a laptop and a phone that work perfectly seamlessly with each other. Both must have astounding battery life, be well supported, and have a history of excellence, both in my own experience and bespoken of others. In addition, a tablet with a robust development community and application environment is also highly desirable. As a writer, here’s why I’m looking for each:

  • A smart phone… well, do I even need to explain it? Having a high quality camera, a link to the Web, a place to type quick notes, watch videos, share information, read and send emails, in addition (of course) to making calls is invaluable.
  • A laptop that is, to me, a desktop replacement. Luckily, I don’t exactly require much in the way of specs (last year’s model works just fine for me), but I am impatient, so a snappy system is a must (my system should never be responsible for breaking my workflow). It’s preferable that the laptop be relatively light, but more than anything it must have good battery life. This is a non-negotiable. At least 4-5 solid hours of full use. (This is what I get with my MacBook. Well, used to. Its aging means that it now gets closer to 3 hours. Not bad, but could definitely be better.)
  • A tablet COULD potentially be a huge space- and time-saver. (Einstein agrees. Arthur Patschke doesn’t.) The tablet would perform various duties: First, it would be an ultra-light laptop replacement for on-the-road work. (A netbook would serve well here, too, though a touch interface would be far preferable.) Next, it would be a place for me to jot and draw notes. (Right now I keep about 3-4 notebooks with me at all times–big notebooks–where I keep all my notes. I’ve still to find a perfect substitute for a notebook, and it may be that I never will.) Finally, it would be a place for me to read, review, and notate things where a smartphone’s screen (even one as large as a phablet’s) may prove too small or uncomfortable. In short, I need something with a really good, robust app environment here, a platform that has been thoroughly exploited, if I’m to use one at all. It’ll take a lot to replace my notebooks, but I’m frankly tired of walking around with a notebook if I don’t have to.

In all of this, a robust application environment, one that is well supported and used by developers, and one which has a history of being used productively by people in my fields of interest, is a must.

Options

Now, I could go with a Windows, a Mac, or even Linux computer, so long as I use an Android tablet and an Android phone. (NOTE: I don’t consider Google’s $300 browser with a keyboard anything more than a nifty tech toy. By “Linux” I mean something like Fedora, or Ubuntu.) In fact, this was my default choice, to go all Google (well, mostly Google). This would allow me to keep my desktop OS of choice while giving me a large choice of devices.

But, interestingly, Google is about the ONLY Android manufacturer I trust to make an insanely great product. (OK, so Samsung makes the Nexus line, but Google controls it.) Samsung’s phones are great, but their implementation of Android isn’t. HTC and Motorola both make great phones with great Android experiences, but both are afflicted by the “forgotten in a year, never to get an update again” bug that beleaguers Android sets everywhere. This is supposed to be getting better, but… we’ll see. Not to mention the fact that, as a writer, spell checking in Android isn’t too good when compared to Apple’s or Microsoft’s. (Some makers of their own Android skin, such as Samsung, make this even worse, with their implementation being so terrible it stinks worse than week-old gym shirts.)

I’m digressing. Back on topic:

Most importantly, it would be philosophically and ethically satisfying, especially if I went with a Google-produced Nexus product. Just like it would be more philosophically and ethically satisfying if I went with a Linux-based desktop OS. (Why I don’t is the topic of another post I wrote.)

My next thought was to go all Windows: Windows on the desktop and Windows on the phone. Considering my heavy use of the XBox and my gaming requirements, this seems to be a no-brainer.  Sure, there are no Windows Phone mobile OS tablets NOW, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any in the future, right?

Microsoft has done a GLORIOUS job with their new mobile platform. Great control over the software while keeping it open enough to let manufacturers put their own spin on the hardware. Innovative interface design that is both eye-catching and wonderfully usable. (Seriously, if you haven’t seen the new Nokia 920 coming out, DO SO. NOW. IT LOOKS FRIGG’N AWESOME.) In fact, combined with Microsoft’s Office productivity tools (I admit, I’ve become a bit of an Outlook fan, despite my hears of making fun of it) and their new design direction, they’re making stuff that is, honestly, beautiful.

With Google, the issue, of course, is fragmentation, particularly in the mobile space.

As I mentioned before, I’d also want a tablet. The Android tablet market hasn’t exactly been good to me.  currently, I have a tablet which I use (and love) for many things, none of which I can’t do with my phone (though this almost goes without saying across the board, for all platforms). I only use the tablet because it’s more comfortable. But I believe this to be more a matter of the available applications and peripherals than the device itself: it’s still running a phone OS (Android 2.3) with phone apps. Problem is, it can’t really run anything better, not without me sacrificing much of the functionality for which I originally got it.

Even with Google doing its thing by having the Nexus series (I’d love to see a 10″ Nexus to compete with the iPad), I’m still left wanting in the opportunity department, largely due to fragmentation. Think about it, how many tools are out there that allow you to turn an iPhone into an actual, high-quality camera, or an iPad to a sound studio, or the combination of the two into a video production and recording environment? Now, compare that to how many tools for Android devices allow you to do the same?

On the other hand, Windows Phone really isn’t even in the picture, but it’s close. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Microsoft’s only sin is in the lack of tools currently available. (Everything is “in the future” with them at this point.) I’m certain this will change, but right now I need tools for right now. It also doesn’t help that I’ve never really had good experiences with Microsoft products. Others have, but me… I really don’t like the way Microsoft tends to build things. They’re not beautiful, at least not the OS. They’re made to look beautiful, but to me it just seems like putting lipstick on a pig.

So then… Apple, I guess

It used to be that the reason people used Macs were because they “Just worked”. These days, it’s hard to argue that Android or Windows phones don’t “Just work.” They do, beautifully.

It’s when you step out of the phone and into a multi-device environment that you start running into issues.

However, neither of these environments (encompassing computers, phones, and tablets) do the one thing that Apple does so well: get out of your way so you can actually work across various devices. At least, they don’t to me: with Android–or even worse, with cobbling together a mix of platforms–I continually have to tip-toe around my own workspace, hoping I don’t trip over a seam and destroy whatever fragile ecosystem I’ve been able to construct. (This has been made better over time via their web apps, however, and services like Evernote.) Windows, on the other hand… well, except for my XBox, I haven’t exactly had many spectacular experiences with Microsoft. History is very much against them in this respect. Also, sure, they have Windows tablets coming out sometime in the future, but the only Windows tablets out now run outdated software and are too expensive.

Apple's Product Line

Apple, on the other hand, offers a seamless experience and updated, forward-looking technology. My photos, my music, my documents, my videos, my calendars, my email, my projects, my recordings, my writings, my research… they ALL work across the various devices I use to do my work. Time and mindshare saved by not worrying about appropriate porting or bugs introduced by a new version of a component is time I can spend doing what I should be doing: CREATING.

Now, this note isn’t a knock against any of the other platforms. I opened up with praise for Android for a good reason: it deserves praise! So does Microsoft and their new OS. In fact, when recommending products to people, Android and Windows Phone are ALWAYS in the conversation. Sure, they have their faults, but so does Apple.

Crapple

In case you have an doubt that going all Mac isn’t an easy move for me, you should know that I find moves like this insulting and philosophically reprehensible, no matter the supposed technical reasons:

From Computer World:

Apple’s new OS X, dubbed Mountain Lion, will exclude some older Macs that can run 2011’s Lion, the company’s website said. The system requirements for OS X 10.8, slated to ship this month, ban older machines including the plastic-encased iMacs introduced in January 2006, MacBooks prior to the first all-aluminum model rolled out in late 2008, MacBook Pros older than those introduced in June 2007, and the first generation MacBook Air, which debuted in January 2008…Microsoft, meanwhile, has said that PCs now running Windows XP — which is nearly 11 years old — Vista or Windows 7 can be upgraded to Windows 8 later this year as long as they meet very lenient hardware requirements

If Microsoft can build a great OS that can run on 11 year old computers, there’s really no reason OS X 10.8 needs to block MacBooks from 2006, with enough RAM and CPU power, from upgrading. My 6 year old MacBook still runs great, and I see no reason why I should have to get a new system to use the latest OS.

It all boils down

Yes, I fully realize that, boiled down, this whole argument is a fancy and long-winded way of saying, “Apple offers the most popular platform for what I need, therefore I’ll use Apple, despite my disagreements with many of their practices.” But any time I’ve stated that as succinctly, it has inevitably led to arguments from people trying to convince me that I’m wrong; that somehow by making this compromise between ideology and work, I’ve betrayed some unwritten declaration of war I signed by mere virtue of my being a tech-savvy consumer; that I should be using this platform in that manner, then combine it with these other two pieces of software, which I can grab from this repository here, then make them all compatible by downloading this other package from a company I’ve never heard of, which I then install over here in this cloud-based system (for which I’ll need another login, which is OK, because I should use software to track all my passwords anyway)…and that’s when I tell them that I’ve done the techie thing, and I’m done with it.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE tech. I LOVE playing with the newest gadgets. I LOVE messing around with new software and breaking things just to make them work again (although I despise when things not working gets in the way of my productivity.) I also hate all these lawsuits Apple is pulling out against Android manufacturers, because they’re the worst part of our patenting system. I hate that innovation is stifled because someone can patent something as silly as a rounded corner, or a line of code. Yes, there are times that Apple sickens me, even though we all know that Apple has effectively been the design department–or at least, an idea hot-house–for the tech industry since 1997. Still, stupid lawsuits are stupid.

But here’s the deal: that’s grandiose crap I don’t really have time for if I want to get all the work I need to done before my time on this ball of mud we call Earth is at and end. Therefore, I don’t have time to waste setting up 10 different applications across 10 different platforms, which have to be updated all the time and which must be re-set up when I upgrade any major component.

I just want to create. And I want my tools to be subservient to me, and not the other way around, even if it means I surrender some of my own desires.

“Here’s what I did. You should do as I did.”

Sure, I can hear it now: “Oh, but I’ve been able to set it up so that this isn’t that big of a deal.” I don’t want it to be any deal. I just want to write and live my life.

Now, I get that you’re trying to be helpful. Really, I get it. I get that you’re trying to make me realize what you’ve realized: that there’s a better way, one that holds on to your values more closely, one which molds itself perfectly to your whims and wants and neuroses.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but when you offer un-requested advice, more often than not you come out sounding like a blowhard, a know-it-all, and a pampas, self-important jerk. You also put the person immediately in a defensive position, and right there you’ve likely lost an ear. Think about it: I have my own set of values, my own issues, and my own neuroses. If I’m not asking for your advice, what makes you think I’m interested in what you’ve done. At the very least, ask me first whether I even want your advice. Something as simple as, “You know, I think I’ve been in a similar position to yours. Do you want to know how I resolved it?” will do. Following that up with, “Here were some of the issues that were important to me…” is also a nice touch, since it helps set a more subjective standard of judgment.

This isn’t to say that you offer nothing of value when you offer your opinion. On the contrary! You should be very proud of what you’ve created, and that’s awesome, and I’ll celebrate it with you, and if it’s a really great idea I promise to totally steal it, and you can feel totally awesome about yourself that I did. But we have different priorities and goals, different values, different neuroses. Please stop comparing me to you. By thinking my goals are similar to yours you demean us both. We are individuals. We are unique. Let’s enjoy that, and enjoy the fact that we live in the frigg’n future! At a time where all the world’s knowledge can be accessed at any time, from nearly anywhere, with devices that, were they to be sent back in time, would each be seen with the awe matched only by a close encounter of the third kind.

Reaching Heaven

“A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

–John Milton, “Paradise Lost”

“An angel is often only a demon who stands between us and our enemy.”

–Gene Wolfe, “The Sword of the Lictor”

I have goals. To me, act of creation is my small taste of godhood. In the act of creating I find my heaven, ultimate freedom as brought forth by the realization of potential, and the achievement of goals.

But to achieve ultimate freedom, reality sometimes demands ideology be surrendered.

If you’re a techie, or someone who just wants one mobile device to do everything they need, giving them access to the latest and greatest in technology, then Android and Windows phones are definitely for you.

On the other hand, if you need to work with others, and you need to maximize your chances at interoperability with others, then it’s hard to beat what Apple’s put together. Yes, you will surrender a lot of potential freedom–in the way you use your device, in what new and possibly fringe technologies your device can capitalize upon, the shape and look of your device, and even in how you use your music–but you’ll also gain the freedom to do your work, to accomplish your goals, and to live your life, outside the technology.

This is the art of compromise at work. My apologies to all the ideologues I truly do admire, for not being as strong as you, but my life’s calling (that which I must do) is greater than my pride (that which I want to do).

Sometimes a deal with the Devil is a prerequisite to reaching Heaven.

PS: If you want a great and simple breakdown of each of the 3 environments and what it might mean to you, check out Carl Holscher’s piece, “Choosing a Platform.”  Clear, concise, and solid advice.