Ask Maggie: Switching from Android to iPhone

This week's Ask Maggie explains what you need to know about dumping an Android smartphone for the iPhone.

With the next version of the iPhone just around the corner, some Google Android owners are having smartphone envy.

Last week in Ask Maggie I detailed the ins and outs of ditching the iPhone for an Android smartphone. This week, I explain how to make the switch in the other direction. The good news is that it may be a little less painful for most users.

I also offer some advice to a T-Moblie USA subscriber about upgrading and renewing his contract in light of the impending AT&T merger. And I explain to another reader how he can keep his phone bill in check while vacationing in Canada.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

Android to iPhone?

Dear Maggie,
I saw your Ask Maggie last week about ditching the iPhone for an Android phone. But I'm seriously considering switching from my Motorola Droid X to the iPhone 5 or whatever the next iPhone is when it comes out later this year. What advice or tips would you offer me before I make the switch?

Thanks,
Brian

Dear Brian,
As I discussed in last week's column, switching between platforms is not as easy it should be. But in some ways, moving from the Google Android platform to Apple iOS may be slightly easier than going the other way. But there will be some Google-specific things that you may miss, such as tight integration with some Google applications.

Contacts, calendar and e-mail

I suspect that as a Google Android user, you've likely been using Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts. This is a good thing, since those applications work really well with the iPhone.

It's very easy to set up a Gmail account on your iPhone using the Apple Mail client. You can set this up directly through the settings on your iPhone. Once you enter your Gmail account information, you'll be able to sync your e-mail, contacts, and calendar with your iPhone.

But keep in mind, that the Apple mail client is not the Gmail client. So even though messages will be threaded like they are in Gmail, they won't be starred and labeled like they are in Gmail. If you really want the full Gmail experience on your iPhone, you can always access your Gmail account via the Safari browser on your iPhone.

Music and iTunes

When it comes to music on the iPhone, it's all about iTunes. This is both a blessing and curse, depending on how you view iTunes. Some people love it and think it's easy to use, while others think it's a piece of junk and can't stand being locked into the iTunes world.

If you are an iTunes-hater, getting an iPhone may not be a good idea since almost everything you do to your iPhone is done through iTunes. In fact, iTunes is required to even set up your phone.

Since you're moving from Google Android, which is a much more open system than Apple's iOS environment, the good news is that moving your music from Android to iPhone will be much easier than if you were going in the other direction. This is mainly because the music player in Android doesn't put any DRM protections on your music. So this means you can simply drag and drop your music from your Android device into iTunes and then sync your iPhone with your iTunes on your computer. And, voila! you're done.

Unfortunately, using cloud-based music services on the iPhone is clunkier. Currently, Apple does not offer an app for accessing either the Amazon Cloud Player or the Google Music Beta cloud-based music services. That said, if you already have your music stored in these services, you can access them via the Safari browser on your iPhone. But Scott Stein, a senior CNET Reviews editor, told me that the Amazon Cloud Player via the iPhone's browser doesn't work so well.

Apple has announced its own cloud-based music service, called iCloud, which will be available later this year. Since the service hasn't even launched yet, there are still some things that are unclear about how it will work.

Here's what we know so far. Unlike Google's and Amazon's cloud-based music services, Apple's iCloud won't offer streaming. Instead, the music will be stored in the cloud and then downloaded to your device. While it will be free to access music bought from the iTunes music store, it will cost you an annual fee of $24.99 that will match up non-iTunes songs with its library and upgrade them to 256kbps AAC DRM-free.

Apps

As I mentioned in the previous column, you will not be able to take your Android apps with you as you transition from the Google Android platform to Apple's iOS. But you will likely find all the same apps or at least equivalent apps in the Apple App Store.

One potential benefit of having the iPhone is that the Apple App Store simply offers more apps than Google's Android Market. While Android is quickly catching up in terms of the number of apps, in general, most mobile developers develop first for iOS and then for Android. The reason for this is simple: Developers can sell apps and get paid more on the iPhone than for an Android phone. It's also a little easier to develop for the iPhone since there is generally one device to develop for. Google Android phones come in hundreds of different sizes and flavors.

The downside as a consumer is that some apps that you had for free in the Android Market will cost you in the Apple App Store. So beware.

Smoother, more consistent updates

I alluded to this in the previous section, but another benefit of being on the iPhone platform is that new software updates should work on your phone without major issues. This is not always the case with Google Android.

Because there are so many different hardware manufacturers making these phones and the phones themselves differ in terms of processing power and screen size, not every Android gets software updates at the same time. This means that some handsets could wait months for upgrades. The other problem is that sometimes these updates cause changes that may screw up a whole host of things on your phone.

Apple has only introduced one iPhone a year since 2007. So the hardware is much more consistent. This means that when Apple rolls out its software upgrades, it can be offered to all iPhone customers at the same time. One problem that has emerged as more versions of the iPhone are introduced is that older versions of the device may not be eligible for the software upgrades or the hardware may not support all the features. Still, even with these issues, upgrading the OS on an iPhone is often much smoother than upgrading Android handsets.

iOS 5

You mentioned that you are waiting for the next version of the iPhone. This means that your iPhone will be running iOS 5 . This version of the software, due out this fall, will offer iPhone users some features that Android users take for granted. For example, iOS 5 will allow iPhone users to sync and get updates to their devices over the air. Android phones have done this from day one.

And the new iOS software will take advantage of Apple's soon to launch iCloud service. It will not only offer a music storage and syncing service, but will also allow you to automatically store your pictures, videos and other content in the cloud for free.

Finally the new iOS will offer updated notifications to the iPhone, making it more Android-like.

Things you'll miss

Of course, there are some downsides in switching from an Android smartphone to the iPhone. Some of Google's own applications are not as tightly integrated in the iPhone as they are on an Android phone. Google Navigation is one example.

Even though Google Maps is preloaded onto the iPhone, the service doesn't include Google Navigation. This means that you won't get turn-by-turn or voice directions.

You can download other third party navigation apps for your iPhone. For example, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which each sell the iPhone, offer their own versions of navigation services. But you have to pay a monthly service fee to use these services. There are other navigation apps that require only a one-time fee, such as TomTom's app. The prices vary on these apps as does the quality, so you might want to research the apps before buying any of them.

That's the skinny on moving from Android to iPhone. As you can see there are a few things you may have to give up, but switching from Android to the iPhone will likely be easier than going in the other direction.

Merger talk: Should I upgrade my T-Mobile phones?

Hi Maggie,
I have not been able to find an answer to this question, but you always seem to know about stuff like this.

My question is about upgrading phones on two lines on a T-Mobile family plan. I currently am up for the upgrades, but I am hesitant to buy expensive phones that won't work with AT&T. Do you know how that will work? Will I have to buy new phones at full price because I won't qualify for an upgrade by the time the merger is complete?

I am hoping the merger isn't approved, but that is looking inevitable. Also, if I renew the contracts for the two lines with T-Mobile, will I be essentially signing a contract with AT&T?

Thank you for your help. I always enjoy reading your column. You seem to understand that not everyone who is interested in technology is a "techie".

Thanks,
Deecampp

Dear Deecampp,
The merger between AT&T and T-Mobile USA is still being evaluated by the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. These agencies have said that it will take them at least a year to complete their due diligence on this deal. And then they will decide whether to approve it. Without their approval, the deal is dead.

AT&T announced its plans to buy T-Mobile in March , so that means the merger won't be approved until at least March 2012. The FCC also said just this week that it has "stopped the clock" on its evaluation as it awaits more detailed information from AT&T. So chances are the merger will take longer than a year.

AT&T has said that it will repurpose T-Mobile's spectrum to use for its LTE deployment. And it has also said that it will move customers from this spectrum so they can reuse the spectrum. But you shouldn't worry about this now for two reasons.

First, moving customers from one band of spectrum to another is a process that takes a long time. And second, the contract you sign with T-Mobile for the new phones is a contract with T-Mobile. Even after AT&T completes its purchase, it still must honor your contract with T-Mobile until that contract period is over. So that means that AT&T can't force you to buy a new phone or make you subscribe to a new plan until your current contract is over.

So my advice to you is to get whatever new phones you'd like to have from T-Mobile. You will probably have your new phones for at least a year before the merger is even complete. And once the merger closes, you'll still be able to use those phones and pay the same monthly fee you pay when you sign up for a new contract at least until your contract is over.

Just keep in mind that once your contract ends, you may have to buy a new phone or sign up for a different plan.

I hope that clears up any confusion you might have. Thanks for reading my column. And thanks for the compliment!

Apps and data charges while abroad

Dear Maggie,
I'm going to Canada next week for vacation. I know to turn off data roaming, so as not to run up international data charges. But I'm curious if notifications in apps such as Google+ work regardless of the roaming setting. Is there something else i need to turn off in order to save myself unwanted charges?

Thanks,
Jay

Dear Jay,
Turning off data roaming when you are traveling abroad with an iPhone or a Google Android phone is definitely a good idea. You could rack up a hefty bill without even realizing it.

If the data roaming function is turned off, you should not be receiving any notifications from Google+ or other apps on your smartphone. These apps need the data network to send the notifications, just as you need the data network to access these apps. So if the roaming function is turned off, you should not be receiving any mobile data services, including the notifications.

Turning off roaming will prevent notifications from being pushed over the cellular network. But when you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot, you will get the notifications that have been queued up.

If you're paranoid that you may inadvertently be charged data fees, you can go to the settings in your phone and turn off the notification functions on those apps. You can also change the settings in your email so that it only downloads new messages when you manually download the emails. If you have apps that update in the background, such as weather and news apps, you can disable those apps or turn off the update function.

If you are still unsure about using your smartphone while traveling, you can always put it in "airplane mode." In this mode, the cellular radio is turned off, so you won't be able to make or receive phone calls nor will you be able to access data on your phone.

I hope that answer was helpful and enjoy your vacation in Canada!

 

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