I’ve been exploring for months what the ultimate mobile setup would be — my laptop, tablet, phone and other mobile devices — and now I’m starting to put it together.
There’s no way around it: The Apple, Android and Windows fanboys are all going to hate my conclusions and barbeque my decisions.
Why? Because you’re expected to take sides, for some reason. You’re supposed to be an Apple fanboy and get all your stuff from Apple. Or you’re supposed to be an Apple hater, and denounce everything that the company does.
Objectivity and reason get buried under the vitriol.
I’m not out to help Apple or Google. I’m out to help myself, and get the best mobile experience I possibly can.
My conclusion is that as of right now, no one company can provide the best overall mobile experience by itself anymore — not even Apple. And neither can Google, Samsung or any other company.
So let’s start with the opinions, conclusions and decisions that are going to make the haters hate.
* After using a Google Chromebook Pixel for the entire month of May, I had an epiphany that I did not expect to have: Cloud computing rocks. I had previously hated the concept and the practice of living in the cloud. But after forcing myself to cloud-compute exclusively, I found myself loving the peace of mind I got from never managing files or worrying about saving documents or any of the rest of it. (If personal cloud computing makes no sense to you, remember that the iPad made no sense to people until they tried it. All-cloud computing is like that.)
* I now consider Retina-quality displays a requirement, not an option. (If you think this is a first-world absurdity, you’re welcome to go back to a VGA CRT and tell me screen quality doesn’t matter that much). Once I used the Pixel’s higher-than-Retina quality display, I realized that I could never, ever go back to a sub-retina screen no matter how much it costs.
* Despite being thoroughly impressed by the Chromebook Pixel, as well as cloud computing in general and Google’s cloud services in particular, I could not escape the truth that Apple makes the best hardware by far. Apple’s lines of laptops in particular are so obviously superior in every detail to any other company’s, it’s almost ludicrous to argue about it.
* The next (and for many people best) paradigm in mobile computing is not going to be a smartphone plus a tablet — it’s going to be a “phablet” plus at least one wearable device. (I wrote in detail about this concept here.)
* Apple makes the best phone hardware, and the most usable and elegant user interfaces which support the best app store.
* The most compelling experience in mobility, however, comes from Google’s services, which are hobbled on iOS.
* And this is the big one: Getting the best Google experience is more important to me than getting the best Apple experience.
As you can see, these opinions will please none of the fanboys and rile up all of the haters.
But that’s not my intent.
The thing is that I’m a nomad. Most of my possessions are in storage and I live out of a couple of backpacks. I live in different countries, and make my living by using mobile devices.
My mobile setup isn’t just important to me, it’s everything to me. It has to be powerful, fast, convenient, solid and highly mobile. I have to rely on it to not only do the work that sustains me, but plan and live abroad by using online financial and other services.
As you can see from my list of conclusions, several of them are mutually exclusive.
So here’s how I’m trying to resolve these apparently unresolvable conundra.
Objectionable Decision #1: Use a MacBook Pro Like a Chromebook
I spent more than $3,000 on a MacBook Pro with Retina display this week.
This might sound ill-advised on three counts.
First, walking to the Mac table (I bought it at BestBuy, because it was discounted by $150) I glanced at the endless rows of Windows Laptops. It seemed that each cost $400. Hmmm. $400 for a bigger but non-retina screen, hard drive, noisy fan, plasticky case with free stickers on it, loaded with crapware, or digital butter for $3,000. You can buy seven $400 Windows machines for the price of the MacBook Pro with Retina that I bought. Are they really that much better?
Second, as I said, I’m a newly minted believer in the cloud computing concept. So why would I buy a MacBook Pro?
And third, Apple will almost certainly come out with a Haswell version of the MacBook Pro with longer battery life and so on later this year or early next. Why wouldn’t I wait for a Haswell MacBook Pro?
My solution is to buy the MacBook Pro with Retina display and use it mostly as a cloud computing device. That means I use Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Chrome (logged in), and soon, Google Now in said Google Chrome browser. All my communication is cloud-based too, centering on Gmail, Google+ and Hangouts. I’m installing as few applications as possible on the laptop.
Apple tells me I should want integrated products. And I do. My use of a MacBook Pro as a cloud computing device enables me to take full advantage of Apple’s integrated hardware and software, plus Google’s integrated cloud services. In both cases, the integration maximizes the quality of experience.
The bottom line is that combining Apple with Google makes me happy. I get all the joy of using the world’s most perfect full-featured laptop, plus the freedom of keeping everything in the cloud where it’s available on all my other devices — or anybody’s devices, for that matter. I don’t spend time managing files, dealing with app installations (or paying for apps).
To me, paying $3k for a MacBook Pro is totally worth it. Choosing an inferior laptop to save money makes no sense to me.
I will probably use my new MacBook Pro for three years before upgrading to the next thing. That means a $3k laptop costs about $2.74 per day.
That’s all it costs to spend 10 hours a day with an object of beauty and perfection, with an amazing, appealing screen, wonderful keyboard and all the other benefits of this laptop.
Why would anyone endure a shoddy or inferior experience every single hour of every single day to save a couple of bucks a day?
And here’s why I didn’t wait for Haswell. The MacBook Air with Haswell that Apple announced recently didn’t show the radical improvement I thought it would. If the new Air had twice the battery life and 50% better performance, I would assume similar gains for the Pro — and I would wait.
Plus, my eyes need Retina right now. I decided not to roll the dice and wait, but instead get today’s best laptop rather than wait for an uncertain future laptop that is likely to be better, but not radically better.
Objectionable Decision #2: Move to an Android Phablet
My fantasy mobile system would be an Apple “phablet” (a tablet-sized phone) that fully ran Google Now and integrated Google service apps the way the Nexus does. To me, that would be a no-compromises setup, and I would be willing to pay almost anything to get it.
But no aspect of this is likely to ever happen. While I expect Apple to ship a bigger phone, I don’t think they’ll ever ship a phone that’s as big as a tablet.
I would even upgrade to the next iPhone if Apple would simply allow all the features of Google Now (including command integration with Google apps). But I don’t think that will happen, either.
I’ll continue and carry and occasionally use the iPhone and iPad that I already own.
But because Apple isn’t giving me what I need the most, I’m almost certainly going to move to an Android phablet, mainly in order to combine the full Google Now experience with a big-as-possible screen.
I probably won’t get one of the new Google interface phones, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Nexus edition or the HTC One X. I like the Google-centric user interfaces, but want a bigger screen.
I’m thinking about getting a Sony Xperia Z Ultra and rooting it, if possible and necessary. The dark horse possibility is that Sony could offer a Nexus experience version, and that would be awesome. I haven’t seen the actual device yet, but I like the specs — for example, it’s waterproof, has a 6.4-inch screen and you can use anything — a pencil, a stick or anything else — as a stylus.
Either way, I’m going to choose a phablet sometime in the next few months.
Objectionable Decision #3: Choose a Phablet-Connected Wearable
I suspect that Apple’s iWatch will be fantastic if they ever ship one. Again, my dream system would be an Apple phablet, plus an Apple iWatch — two things that may never ship.
The smartwatch and wearable trains are leaving the station and Apple is nowhere to be seen.
Smartwatches are either shipping, announced or rumored coming from Google, Microsoft, Intel, Sony, Samsung, LG, Pebble, Kreyos, Sonostar, Rearden, EmoPulse, Martian, GEAK, Androidly, AGENT, Vachen, I’m Watch, Metawatch and Cookoo.
Some of these support iOS, others Android and still others both.
I’m not willing to wait beyond September or October, when I next leave the United States again and live abroad as a nomad. So in a couple of months I’m going to pick whatever the best smartwatch is.
The leading contender is probably the Sony Smartwatch 2, which is a second-generation device that has Applesque design and hardware build, as far as I can tell. It supports Android but not iOS, so that’s yet another reason to choose Android instead of Apple.
Another compelling contender is Sony’s recently announced Smart Bluetooth Handset SBH52, which is a Bluetooth peripheral that connects to a phone or phablet, but which functions like a tiny Zoolander-sized phone. You can make and receive calls, play and control music, and all that is happening on the phone.
This clips on, so it’s theoretically a wearable.
I’m Still Hoping Apple Can Surprise Me
I’m willing to wait until Apple’s next announcement before choosing my next phone and my first wearable.
Apple used to shock and surprise us and blow us away with mobile announcements. I would love for that to happen again.
The right combination of phone and watch could shatter my intentions to switch to Android. I truly love iOS 7, and I’m impressed with the qualitative interface improvements.
But I’m not willing to sacrifice the integrated Google experience. And I’m not willing to miss the phablet and wearable revolutions.
I want, need and will buy the very best mobile experience I can get my hands on, and won’t sacrifice that goal for corporate loyalty or blind fanboyism.
That’s my mobile dream system. What’s yours?