Coming around to the Apple way of thinking

When I started at the BBC, I came flush from a career launching new things at Virgin Radio (and before that, in a slightly less public way, Hallam FM and The Pulse).

In a chat in my first few weeks, someone politely asked me about my previous work. I reeled off a few “firsts”. First to produce a daily podcast, first to stream on a Nintendo Wii, first to launch a mobile streaming app.

“Yes, James, very good,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “And welcome to the BBC. We don’t do things first here. We do them properly.”

Ouch.

This week, I now have an Apple iPhone 15. It’s mine for the next year, for me to properly use. While I did buy the original iPhone in 2007, and then the iPhone 3G, that was the full extent of my iPhone use: I bought the gorgeous Nexus One in 2010 (via VPN from a hotel room in India), and have used Android ever since.

I’ve laughed at the Apple users, deriding their phones as toys, and finding it highly amusing when Apple launches a thing that Android users have had for four years.

Most recently, I’ve had a Google Pixel 6 Pro, which has been absolutely fine as a phone; and a Google Pixel Watch, which has been an excellent thing. There are lots of things about the Android ecosystem that is good.

But, Google has changed. No longer is it built by amazingly clever whizz-kids doing brilliant and exciting things in their spare time. Google hasn’t launched any new, big, product since 2010 (Google Glass), or 2011 (Google+). Both of those have, of course, closed.

Google itself, as evidenced by details in the court cases against the company, or the rather heartless mass layoffs, is not in good shape. Its privacy record is not good. And when I recently looked at the data that Apple and Google both kept on me, that was quite the eye-opener. So I’d already been considering whether my next phone should be iPhone.

Now I’m using iPhone as my daily driver, what comes over loud and clear is the polish and attention to detail that everything appears to have with Apple.

It’s in the company DNA, of course, ever since the first Apple computers: designed to have a beautiful motherboard even though no customer would ever see it. But, design is one thing - the Apple detail shows itself in other ways, too.

As a journalist, I’ve had product demonstrations from Apple that have been meticulously rehearsed, flawless and impressive - and delivered to an audience of… just me. It seemed like entirely unnecessary theatre the first few times it’s happened to me, but I’ve come to enjoy the attention to detail - the details they go into in a launch of a relatively small feature, highlighting the care and attention they took to produce The Thing.

And with iPhone, arguably the flagship Apple product these days, the polish is there all the way through.

My Google Pixel is a great piece of hardware, but there are a few rough edges to the experience - which I’m only now realising because those rough edges that I’ve come to expect from a mobile phone experience aren’t there on iPhone.

As just one example - the fingerprint reader on the Pixel is OK. It’s not very fast, but it works. It’s good enough. But with iPhone, Face ID is astonishingly good. I came to it thinking “this will be horrible”, but a) it doesn’t show you what you look like, b) yes, it does work in the dark, c) it appears to work 95% of the time, and d) it’s fast as anything. Yes, they were later to a facial unlock than Google: but they did it properly.

iOS is peppered with similar examples, of things that Google might have launched first, but which iPhone just does properly and more fluidly.

Today I went to buy an Apple Watch, as a present to myself. The experience in the Brisbane Apple store was amazing, with the store assistant showing me the different sizes and straps, going to find the actual device I was interested in trying, tapping a few buttons on the screen of her iPhone to summon someone else with the product I’d chosen, and while she did that, giving me a perfectly choreographed demonstration of the main features of the watch, timed to end (so it seemed) with the product being delivered straight to the table. Congratulations, sales associate 2701151060. Again, it’s that Apple polish.

And, that Apple Watch setup was flawless - quietly reinstalling the Watch app that I’d deleted, then doing all the connections with the minimum of fuss. Google’s Pixel Watch asked me to, on the phone, type in the wifi password of the wifi that the phone was actually connected to, before leaving me with a “busy” dialog that took quite some time. It was fine. But it wasn’t polished. And Google doesn’t have any stores (outside of New York) that gives any sort of sales experience.

Even the Apple Podcasts experience of transcripts has had the time to think things through. Every single podcast will have the transcription experience. Creators still get control. Dynamic ads won’t mess it up. It just works. For all the excitement of other podcast apps who have come before, it just hasn’t worked perfectly until now. Again, Apple hasn’t done something first - but it has done it properly.

I didn’t like the arrogant BBC view when I joined the corporation. I still view arrogance as a weakness, not a strength. But doing things properly? I can see great benefit from that.