At South by Southwest Interactive, Meerkat was The Thing. The buzzing of the early adopters was electric. Yes, I would be able to try it with my iPad mini when I returned to Denver, but who wants to lug something that big around for spontaneous video livestreaming? Meerkat, and now Periscope, have added a whole new reason for having a computer in your pocket or purse. My Fire Phone was not going to be invited to the party.
2. Starbucks and My Bank
I couldn’t find an app for my bank at Amazon’s App Store for Android or at 1Mobile Market. The Starbucks app that I downloaded from 1Mobile Market liked to stop working every now and then, complete with an irritating alert on the home screen announcing, “Starbucks has stopped.”
3. Pebble and Apple Watch
Although 1Mobile Market enabled me to download the Pebble app to my Fire, the performance was unreliable on the watch. And of course Apple Watch will have nothing to say to a Fire phone.
In Marc Goodman’s Future Crimes, I read this scary statistic: 99 percent of all mobile malware is targeted against Google’s Android mobile operating system. The problem, Goodman asserts, is that Android devices are slow to receive updates and bug fixes to the operating system. That gives criminals the time they need “to find hole after hole in the Android OS and target it for exploitation.”
By comparison, Apple’s software is generally updated in a more timely manner on iOS devices. A friend of mine who works in information technology at a major bank recently told me they are switching from Blackberry to Apple for all bank-supported mobile devices, because Apple has the best security. Not Android. Since the Fire phone is based on Android, I decided that a move to Apple would put me on a more secure mobile platform. I’m not saying this was as important a reason to switch as Meerkat, but it was on the list.
5. It Ain’t Forever
When I learned from an AT&T rep that I did not need to sign up for another two-year contract in order to switch to an iPhone 6 Plus, that made my decision much easier. I had thought I would need to come up with nearly $1,000 to buy an unlocked iPhone, but the AT&T Next installment plan required only paying the tax up front, less than $100. I fully expect to switch back to Fire Phone 2 when it is released, probably this fall. Since AT&T is handling the current Fire phone, I’m sure the next one will be available as an upgrade via AT&T Next. There will probably be a fee to switch, but that’s a cost of my following Amazon’s gadgets as closely as I do in my weekly podcast. I will spend a lot more flying to wherever the Fire Phone 2 press conference is held.
6. The Six Plus is a Beauty
On visits to the Apple Stores here in Denver and in Cambridge, Mass., I always stopped by the phones table to admire the iPhone 6 Plus. I’d put one in my pocket each time, assuring myself that it’s not too big for easy carrying. I loved how thin it felt compared with the blocky Fire phone. Even in a quick review of its software, I found things to covet. For example, the photo editing on the iPhone includes an elegant straightening adjustment, so you can bring the horizon of a photo into perfect alignment even if you missed it when you snapped the shot. There is no way to do that on the Fire.
The larger size of the Six Plus makes it better for reading and watching video. The diagonal measurement of the Plus is 5.5 inches, compared with 4.7 inches for the Fire. I wasn’t sure when I switched, but it turns out the iPhone 6 Plus is big enough that I will probably retire two gadgets from my arsenal, the iPad mini and my Fire HD 6. Yes, they are nicer to read and watch on than the Plus, but the advantage is not enough to justify keeping them. I love it when I can pare down the number of gadgets I take on a trip. With the purchase of a fantastic $26 Bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone, I can do real work at a Starbucks using the iPhone 6 Plus. It looks a little odd, because the keyboard is so much bigger than the screen, but I can write a script for the podcast or a blog post just fine.
7. Family Matters
I am the designated Tech Support for my extended family, and over the years I have convinced most of the clan to join Tribe Apple. During my eight months in the Amazon Fire desert, my iPhone skills got a little rusty. I was slower to figure out how to help my parents, in their 80’s, and my wife Darlene and her sister, and my sister, and my daughters–it’s a big network I support–how to make minor adjustments or solve irritating problems. Now that I’m back on an iPhone, I will be better able to help.
8. Text and iMessage
One of the most irritating aspects of leaving Apple for Amazon’s Fire was that I could not respond to text messages from my computer, a MacBook Air. It turned out to be a pain in the neck to disengage from iMessage, and for a while my family wasn’t able to send me text messages at all. Once I got it figured out, my messages showed up in green instead of blue, which designates iMessage. Where computer texting really pays off is in the ability to copy a web page link and drop it into a text message. I did this yesterday when I found a new biography of George Washington that I thought Dad would like. In just a few seconds I had the link in an iMessage on its way to his iPhone 5S.
9. I gave the Fire a Good Trial
I was swept away with enthusiasm for the Fire phone during the Seattle press event when Jeff Bezos triumphantly held one aloft and dazzled us with its innovative capabilities, notably Dynamic Perspective and Firefly. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I actually ported my mobile number from my then iPhone 5s to the Fire. The switch required that I leave Verizon for AT&T, which meant weak or nonexistent cell coverage on our occasional drives to see old friends in Casper, Wyoming. Still, I loved the Fire and over eight months I became an enthusiastic user.
Features which caused grumbling in the tech press, like the gestures enabling you to see right and left side panels without touching the screen, became second nature to me. Now I miss them on the iPhone. In order to reveal the quick menu of settings to turn on the flashlight or adjust the brightness, you just tilt the Fire and the settings appear. A different movement of the wrist reveals a left panel that, from the home screen, shows all the Amazon options for content–books, video, audiobooks, shopping etc. When reading a Kindle book, a flick of the wrist brings up the chapters and other navigation choices.
The Fire phone’s Dynamic Perspective, the beautiful 3D effect which took a lot of engineering to accomplish, is stunning in my opinion. The lock screens are beautiful, and you can’t help but move your head to peer around the objects, like a fountain pen, to see what’s behind them. It also, I believe, makes it possible to read a Kindle book by scrolling instead of tapping for page turns. This is a more natural way of reading, in my experience, and I miss it on the iPhone.
The other day I saw a QR code that interested me, but I didn’t bother trying to grab it with my iPhone. That was a great feature of the Fire phone. With one press of a physical button, I could activate Firefly and read a QR code without breaking stride. The same button, held more briefly, brings up the camera. That’s an easier and quicker camera activation, in my opinion, than the iPhone’s two-step process. You press the home button to turn on the screen, then you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, over the camera icon.
And of course the biggest thing I miss from the Fire is Mayday, Amazon’s revolutionary free 24/7 video chat tech support. I paid $99 for two years of AppleCare support for my new iPhone. I can reach a tech between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Central Time, but the wait for someone to answer the call is usually 10 times longer than I ever waited for a Mayday response. And when the tech does answer, I have to explain to him or her what I’m looking at on my iPhone. By comparison, the Mayday techs see my phone instantly and can, if I agree, take over the controls to fix a problem in seconds that I would still be trying to explain to the Apple rep.
10. Why I Returned to iPhone: The Long Form
You can read 11 full chapters of my transition from Fire phone to iPhone 6 Plus in a Wattpad story I wrote titled Time for a Change. I want to thank listener David Enzel for suggesting that I post a summary of my reasons for the switch here. I’d love to hear your comments on Fire v. iPhone, so please weigh in below. You can also email me at PodChronicles AT gmail DOT com.