Coke vs pepsi, chocolate vs vanilla, iOS vs android. We all know the debates and, for the most part, we’ve all picked a side. That doesn’t mean we’re all mindless droids or zombie fruit fiends, however, so I wanted to share my favorite things about the other side along with my reasons for giving them up. I’ve switched back and forth a couple times now and, while I’m not ruling out another flip at some point, I find myself much more on team android for now. Still, I have fond memories, many frustrations, and maybe I can shed some light for anyone who is just curious or considering your options. We all have choices and there isn’t one right answer for everyone. So, in the interest of playing fair, here’s what I regret most about mine and why I’m glad I made it anyhow.
I Miss iMessages
You know those massive group texts where you can all see each others’ reactions, can send voice messages that sound great and show off your great photos and videos to all the people with a single tap? Do you have that one family member or friend who’s always making your text conversations blow up with a notification for every single emoji reaction because they’re using regular text? It’s annoying. Even with google’s recent updates to make it slightly less awkward. There are workarounds, I can use Samsung quick share or google photos to share things, but that’s so much more cumbersome and time consuming for me and my friends. It doesn’t get any better with face time, though at least I can get invited to a call and use a web browser now. Apple built a sleek, easy solution here and it’s beautiful. I’m reminded how nice it is every time I’m stuck using one of google’s few stock message reactions … not a big deal each time but believe me it adds up to some frustration when it happens multiple times a week. Thanks apple. Oh, and if you’re switching from iPhone to android, please for the love of everything holy turn off iMessages in your apple account before you give up that shiny fruit phone! Just do it, you’ll thank me later.
Messages for Web
Call me old school but there’s nothing quite so satisfying, , or efficient, as a good old Qwerty keyboard for texting. Braille screen input is a good enough workaround on the go but, for typing fast and accurately, nothing beats the tried and true keyboard. If you’re an iPhone user with a windows computer this isn’t an option, unless you want to carry yet another device around and deal with a sometimes janky Bluetooth connection. Those of you with MACS often tell me how nice it is to get a text on your phone and reply on your MacBook. With google’s Messages for Web I have that same luxury, on all my devices, all it takes is scanning a QR code on my phone camera and I’m good to go. If I’m out and about with my chromebook I can use that. If I’m working on my windows machine and want to respond to someone without interrupting my routine to grab my phone it’s just an open tab away, no pocket rummaging or phone unlocking necessary. This may not matter to everybody but it sure makes my life easier.
iOS has better Braille support, especially for reading
I swear by Braille, the difference between listening to a thing and reading it is, for me, life changing. It’s no secret Apple got to Braille first, more Braille displays work over Bluetooth with iOS and for the most part the experience is better. Android Braille has come a long way, it mostly does what I need it to (more on that in a minute) but so far IOS Braille support is much more powerful and, ironically, customizable.
On iOS I can use the voiceover gesture commander to create pretty much whatever Braille commands I want. I can jump to the next level 4 heading on a web site with a custom shortcut, make a keystroke to navigate by row or column in a table etc. I also know right away when there’s a swipe down action, which again I can easily emulate from the display, without having to guess if that’s available for whatever item has focus on the screen. It’s powerful, easily configurable and I really do miss that.
Android Braille is much better for writing
Yes, android Braille actually gets a win and not a small one. Anybody who’s used Braille on iOS for serious writing work doubtless knows just how frustrating it is to have the cursor move to a totally different place in the document, sometimes without even showing you this on the display. It’s a serious glitch in otherwise solid iPhone Braille support and, given that it’s been a problem for years without any resolution, I’m betting it always will be. So, with all its limitations, I actually prefer Braille on android just because I can write with the peace of mind that my cursor will stay put. I can actually draft papers, longer e-mails and the like without having to use the terminal clipboard or a purpose built app like Voice Dream writer. For me that makes the reading difficulties worth it, though it wouldn’t if my display had no on board storage.
Blindness specific apps are better on the iPhone
It’s no secret that most developers in our small community focus more on iOS and only get around to android as an afterthought, if they get around to it at all. Financially this makes sense, especially in America. There are very few blind people actually paying for these specialized apps and almost all of those people have been on the Apple side of the fence for years. I love NFB newsline and it has a great iOS app, no such luck on android. I really want to try the BE My Eyes virtual volunteer but the waiting list didn’t even open up on android for almost a month after iPhone users got the chance to register. The oko app for detecting when street lights change is not on the play store, promises notwithstanding, and I’m doubtful it ever will be. Goodmaps on android is at best a mess, at worst totally unusable unless you like your GPS giving you wildly inaccurate information about things several blocks away from where you actually are. If you like Blindsquare or Seeing AI, they aren’t even on android. While I find Google Lookout generally works as well or better than Seeing AI I do miss some of the extra features, like the indoor navigation with breadcrumbs. IN short, android users are second class citizens in the blindness app world and that’s not changing any time soon.
Most apps on android are more accessible by default
Do you like turning on and off screen detection in the telegram app? How about the voiceover bugs with facebook that inevitably crop up with major app updates? Did your Uber app ever break after getting auto updated from the app store? For reasons too technical to go much into here, mostly talkback requiring less optimizations than voiceover on the app developer side, I rarely have this problem. It’s true I don’t have screen detection but I also rarely need it… and, for the odd app where that would come in handy I can at least get sighted help to label the inaccessible icons and I never have to worry about that app again. In my three years on android I don’t think I’ve ever had an update from the play store break accessibility in any app and I can’t say the same about iOS. Maybe that tradeoff isn’t worth it for you but I definitely chose the less frustrating pain for myself.
Voiceover works better for flicking through the screen
Believe it or not, voiceover doesn’t usually show you exactly what’s on the screen. In the youtube app, for example, the options by every video to go to channel and open the menu to share, save to playlist etc are only accessible with a one finger swipe down. For sighted iPhone users all of those options are on the screen but apple decided to minimize the number of swipes required with voiceover. While this can make it more efficient if you only swipe through your screen it also makes life a little harder for app developers and, more to the point, doesn’t actually show you how everything’s laid out. This is good and bad depending on your philosophy and use case but my experience providing tech support for sighted and blind users alike really made me appreciate google’s approach here. I can walk my sighted girlfriend through an app we both use with confidence that we’re actually looking at the same thing in the same way and, when I google a tutorial for an app, I can just follow it without any modifications. Still, I do sometimes miss Apple’s more streamlined approach. I don’t think there’s only one right strategy for everyone here, pick what matters more to you.
The good side of apple optimization
Lastly, Apple makes it easier to just buy a phone and be confident accessibility will just work the way it’s supposed to. All new I devices run the same software, go through the same testing process, and voiceover is basically the same whichever flavor of fruit you end up buying. You can get your phone and be pretty confident it will mostly work like every other iPhone you’ve ever used. While android has made progress here the fragmentation between manufacturers means you really have to do more research to find your ideal fit. Get a google phone and you run the best version of talkback, with worse hardware. Get a Samsung phone and your talkback will always be about a year out of date unless you know how to get google’s version on your phone with the ADB terminal. Get a Xiaomi or Oneplus and there’s really no telling how accessibility works before you actually use the darn thing. It’s more of an open market and with that comes fragmentation and less controlled accessibility. You’ll never have that problem with Apple.
The good side of fragmentation
Do you miss a headphone jack on your phone? Do you want the chance to run multiple screen readers for redundancy, like you can on Windows? Do you want to use TTS from anywhere other than Apple? With android you have all those options precisely because things aren’t optimized like Apple. On my phone I have two versions of talkback, one with the latest features and one that’s designed for Samsung’s software, and I can switch between them in less time than it takes to turn off Jaws and activate NVDA. If you’re comfortable with less secure software you can use Commentary screen reader, which gives many more features and customization than talkback, then switch back to talkback with a simple volume key shortcut. More choices, more risk, more potential to break things or make them better for you. The choice, as always, is yours.