Smartphone wars: Splitsville with iOS in 2020 💔

Smartphone wars are tough. I am not even going to attempt to sway you one way or the other. It gets emotional, worse it even gets political! Let me tell you, how I switched a few weeks ago to a high-end Android Smartphone as my daily driver. Especially rare given I have never used an Android smartphone since 2010. I will also tell you more about what I am loving, and what I miss

Success! You’re on the list.

User Experience on the new flagship Android smartphones is miles ahead of iOS, yes even iOS 14

Android for the most part has nailed “micro-interactions”.

When someone sends you a message on WhatsApp that is merely informative, the system automatically picks up the context and gives you a pre-cooked auto-reply right within the notification pop-up – just tap “Okay” and done! That is not all, Android has better contextual menus that make it easier to do stuff then and there. Quick share buttons for examples are available everywhere, just hit on the URL in chrome, and there is a copy / share URL icon waiting for you.  Widgets have been around in Android for ages, sorry iOS 14!

I love the Android Lock Screen Experience

smartphone with a google assistant screensaver
Clean, personalised, informative

The idle display for instance, displays precise elapsed time remaining for the battery to charge. Nice little icons appear about notifications you have received, for instance you may not worry about Amazon delivery notifications, you may however want to check when someone sends you a message via LinkedIn. This helps me de-clutter my attention. To add cherry on  top, Google Assistant on locked screen gives me full access to a suite of features with options to customize – it is miles ahead of Siri at speed as well as range of things it can do. It is also more easily compatible with my Smart Home technology. I also love an AI driven screensaver option, you can ask the assistant to show you pictures of people you decide from Google Photos.

A few hardware features truly set flagship Android smartphones apart from Apple, but

Once you get used to Fast Charge, you will not go back

I am completely addicted to fast charge on my Android smartphone. 40-45 minutes of charge and the device is back to 100%  I really don’t feel the need to carry around a power brick. Wireless charging is really fast as well. There is also reverse charging option I use to charge my AirPod Pro’s.

smartphone as fast as a racing car
Fast charge… Can you hear the engine roaring? Love speed, don’t you?

Much much better display that supports customization

The PPI on my smartphone screen is higher than that of Apple’s latest iPhone, the blacks are deep, the colours are just phenomenal and the gamut is very wide as well. Moreover, if I want to conserve my battery, I can switch to a lower resolution or a lower refresh rate. 90 Hz or Above display rate, is simply phenomenal – you just have to experience the butter smooth animations, and games. 

Physical Switches & Connectors

I love having the option to flick a physical switch and go from silent mode, to vibrate to ringer mode on my android smartphone. In case of Apple I mostly always set it on Vibrate, but it did disturb my sleep time to time unless I switched on do not disturb. Also its nice to finally move to USB C, cheap, now near ubiquitous, and probably more durable, I am glad not having to worry about a lightening connector.

Little things matter, and my high-end Android smartphone has plenty of these that make me smile

Better Do Not Disturb and Well-being settings

Do not disturb in Android for example, has a wonderful option where you can grey-scale the screen, schedule it. I can alter pattern of notifications. All of these features I find very useful.

Better network management & smart acceleration

My phone has the option to use both Wi-Fi and Cellular when one of the connections is poor, it can also use both simultaneously to provide for blistering fast speeds by combining 5G and Wi-Fi. This is awesome to have. I find Wi-Fi connection switching is faster, more seamless, and also I like the option of connecting to a private DNS server/

Built-in Hands Free Alexa

Smartphone pulldown menu

This is truly awesome – when charging in the night by the bedside table, we have a fully functional Alexa with a smart display. This is particularly useful as I have automation that controls AC temperature, and all the lights and scenes through Alexa. I also have Smart Speakers connected via Alexa, so it becomes a fully functional smart device wherever I am.

I love under the glass fingerprint scanner

smartphone touch ID embedded in screen
Source (Android Authority)

This feel futuristic, it is zippy and fast and I don’t have to hold the device to my face if I am in a meeting or video conference. Perhaps not quite laser secure but the phone has reasonably good Face ID as well.

iPhone camera is still the best smartphone camera out there

This is probably down to clever algorithms and better processors overall (Apple is miles ahead in that department). However I found inconsistent camera experience on my high end Android device. The selfie camera is average, it over processes images. The main driver sensor is high resolution, has amazing colour accuracy and HDR capability but somehow I don’t like how it focuses. Low light photography is better than iPhone though. Video is not great on this Android device, but honestly I don’t use the phone for videos at all.

smartphone photo taken in nightscape mode
Night photography is absolutely stunning but as a general shooter, iPhone is much more versatile and capable.

Having said that, I do like the software control I have over the camera.  Especially the ability to manually control shutter speed, white balance, and to use the camera along with a tripod and take long exposure shots is good to have, although I am not sure how much I will use it.

The good news is that iPhone and Android are borrowing each other’s features

Ultimately, you know what, it doesn’t matter. At least not to everyone. iPhone users love it for the simplicity, beautiful hardware, amazing cameras and rock stable hardware / software combo. This is not likely to change and I don’t think Android will ever come close to that level of perfection. Android users just love all the variety, the flexibility, the customization. Android and iOS both are maturing as platforms, and therefore it is heartening to see the innovation is fast followed by both. Examples are ripe. See iOS for instance, it has widgets that have been common on Android for a very long time.  Notifications are looking more and more alike, App groupings. App slices are also looking more like each other than unique features.

Success! You’re on the list.

I love both iOS & Android and I am likely to use both but so far I just love Android as my daily-driver…

Call me a power-user but above mentioned reasons are enough for me to give Android a serious shot. Definitely for the next few months. I did find myself scrambling to download the iOS 14 beta though. However, my reviews are likely to be biased from a dated iPhone 7 plus smartphone.

More power to smartphones! its been 13 years since first iPhone and then Android followed, but it feels like we are just getting started.

Future is bright!

Oh and by the way, could you guess what high-end Android phone I am talking about?


Machine learning – a little closer to AI?

Before we get to Machine Learning, I want to introduce you to a story my kid loves – “The Gruffalo…”. A mouse walking through a jungle meets a series of predators. He escapes each and every one of them by making up stories of a non-existent creature called a “Gruffalo” and scares them away. There is a twist though – creature is for real!! The mouse manages to pretend his way and get out of the pickle – In summary, the little brat outsmarts his own creation 😅

I wonder sometimes if Machine Learning is like a Gruffalo!

Frankly most of the hype around it seems make-belief. The biggest disservice to the field of machine learning is the word AI. It promotes hype and fear that AI will trounce humans or will one day take over the world. We at least today seem to be far from such a dystopian scenario. Almost all science community agrees that we are far away from achieving “Artificial general intelligence”.

Let us extend the Gruffalo metaphor a bit – while most agree about the wrongness of fear mongering on AI, we should be open to precaution. Perhaps the creature is not make belief after all! Very recently I have come across 3 things that have given me the creeps when it comes to what machine learning can become!!

machine learning
Reinforcement agents learning on their own

Hide and seek intelligence!

Elon Musk’s Open AI just released a paper in which they describe a simulated training environment in which they make agents (RIL) play a game of hide and seek. The environment progressively introduces 6 strategies and counterstrategies. What they observed was incredible, they observed emergent complex tool usage. As an example, hiding agents using boxes to block doors so that they cannot be discovered by seeker agents. Seeking agents use ramps to jump over obstacles. Hiders use ramps and hide these in rooms to prevent use by seekers to jump. If this type of “completely un-programmed” behaviour is not intelligence then I don’t know what is! Please read a blog post by OpenAI here.

Google Duplex Machine Learning enable a natural sounding calling service for restaurant bookings etc was out of this world – borderline spooky as well

This is the first time synthetic speech was indistinguishable from human speech. To use it, improvise it and do it at Google scale was simply an incredible feat for speech synthesis, natural language understanding and processing and apparently a factory of human agents as well 😄 jokes aside this really gave me goose bumps. Google uses RNNs for this. See conceptual architecture and the link to original Google blog here.

Breakthrough language model GPT 2 released recently by OpenAI achieves state of the art performance on many language processing benchmarks and performs rudimentary machine translation, comprehension and summaries

I don’t think people appreciate how much of a big deal this is. Basically you feed the model some seed and it generates many many paragraphs of coherent human like text on its own, replete with stories, meaning and full sense. If you read it you will not believe that an AI wrote it. You add this and you have a frankenstein-ish monster on your hands. This can be used to generate fake news en masse. and would be hard to detect it. It can impersonate people. On a positive side it will make bots, writing assistants translation, and knowledge systems remarkably useful and human like! For an AI that is the ultimate goal. See an example below from openAI original blog post. See also a post on newer version GPT3.

Look at the dexterity of text completion. Be sure to check out my post on GPT3

While it is impossible to list down many incredible feats achieved in this path breaking tech, I wanted to cite a few examples that gave me the goose bumps. You should also check out DeepFakes and MuseNet.

I believe we are looking at building blocks of higher intelligence getting better and better, you could say we are helping machines evolve faster in their own right – but most still believe we are far away from AGI, or singularity… But are we?

Ps. This blog post was written by a human, and if you don’t believe it, ask the Gruffalo 😅