Moving to Nexus 6P from iPhone 6 Plus

After trying out an iPhone 6+ for the last year on my work phone, I decided that it was time to move back to Android on the Nexus 6P earlier this year. While both phones and mobile operating systems are great choices, there are a few features that I missed in Android that had me coming back. Please take this as my opinion on specific features, rather than a “YOU MUST SWITCH NOW” article. Let’s cover some features.

Background App Refresh

This feature, for Gmail and Exchange ActiveSync in particular, was something that I missed greatly when traveling in areas with slow/spotty coverage. Because I didn’t use the iOS mail app – I used Outlook and Gmail apps instead – I would receive notifications and previews for email, but would be unable to actually open the email if coverage was bad. I don’t notice this in Android, because it appears that the data is being loaded by the app in addition to the notification.

Another app that benefits from background data is Google Photos. I rely on this service for automatically backing up photos that I take on my phone, and it works well for me when using Android. With iOS, I had to remember to open the Google Photos app periodically to initiate a backup. If I forgot to do this, I could have hundreds of photos to sync after a big trip.

The downside to this background refreshing is that it can take a toll on battery life, especially in bad coverage areas. It’s a tradeoff that I’m willing to make, but I did notice a bit of a faster drain on the Nexus vs the iPhone 6+. This is also why I understand the decision to limit this feature on iOS.

Notification Sounds

This is a really silly thing, but I have a very particular way of assigning sounds to different apps on Android. My process involves loading a few distinctive notification sounds, and using a different one for my 4-7 heavily used apps. This setup makes alerts for work email (MGS alert tone) or IM (Pac-Man lost life) stick out from my personal Gmail (You’ve Got Mail – yes, it’s ironic) or SMS (Zelda Item Catch) alerts.

While you can load custom notification sounds for iOS, many of the apps that I used didn’t use these custom sounds. Instead, I had to use a collection of sounds that really didn’t hold any significance, and that were harder to get used to. If more apps supported custom sounds I’d be happier, but it is probably a niche request that many people don’t care about.

Notification Bar

Speaking of notifications, I find it much easier to process and clear notifications on Android than on iOS. One of the biggest annoyances for me was accidentally clearing notifications on the lock screen by swiping them away when removing the phone from my pocket, and then not having the same notifications available when unlocking the phone and pulling down on the bar. For example, the bar would show each new email that came in instead of the brief summary shown on the lock screen. A simple count with the ability to expand the notification for more details is exactly what I am looking for, and is what Android provides for Gmail.

It is also nice to be able to clear all notifications with one button, rather than only being able to clear one day/app at a time. I would just not keep up with clearing notifications in iOS, and would have to deal with clearing out a weeks worth of data in one sitting. This is probably more of an issue with my workflow than the phone, but Android works well with the single button approach.

App Drawer and Home Screen

This difference is pretty well-known, but I enjoy the Android method of accessing apps in a central app drawer on the launcher. I also like having the option to add widgets for weather and calendar entries as needed. This makes lesser-used apps easier to ignore, but still available quickly if needed. On iOS, I found that I would have to scour the catch-all “Extra” app group for those apps, or use spotlight search. This is an OK alternative, but not one that I prefer.

Google Now is also something that I use heavily for daily planning, reservation details, or other news items that might be of interest. Having Google Now accessible from the home screen is useful, and it helps me make use of the feature more than I would if I had to launch a dedicated app.

Closing Thoughts

So what do you think of these points? Do you have things that you miss from Android, iOS, or Windows Phone when using other platforms? Did I miss a feature or workaround that would have made me happier on iOS? Please sound off in the comments!

Thoughts After ECGC

Being able to attend a game developer’s conference soon after deciding to pursue game development has been helpful in getting some perspective and clarity. There were many excellent speakers here, covering a wide variety of topics ranging from getting into the gaming industry to Unity and UE4 techniques. It is also encouraging to see many students learning the craft as well, and hopefully that trend will continue.

Here are a few of the highlights and thoughts from the last few days:

  • Learning about a game called Double Action that was completely developed by a small team with no budget. That is inspiring, as I will be learning and starting projects on off hours while working my current development job.
  • WebGL is looking like a very promising technology for easy(ish) deployment to web browsers. I especially like the look of libraries like BabylonJS and ThreeJS along with greater support from Unity and UE4.
  • UX refreshers are always a good thing, and it was interesting seeing those principals in action in the development of Fortnite.
  • Eight Bit Disaster puts on an awesome live show.
  • Lastly, there is simply a lot of domain knowledge to absorb to really get a feel for what is going on in the industry. (I think it would be similar to an embedded hardware developer suddenly moving to creating complex AJAX web applications and having to learn those frameworks.) Thankfully, there are many more resources today than there were even a few years ago. That will make the learning process that much easier, and quite a bit more fun.

East Coast Games Conference

In addition to my tutorial reading and video watching research activities, I am attending the East Coast Games Conference going on in Raleigh this week. So far, it has been an insightful look into the many many activities that go into making a video game. I am especially looking forward to the “Making a 2D Game” sessions from the folks at Epic Games. Once nice thing at the conference is that both Epic and Unity are fairly well-represented at the sessions here, with Epic having their own theatre and various booths set up at the center.

One interesting tool that was mentioned on a talk this morning is the UnityVS plugin for Unity. I am still evaluating Unity and UE4, and this levels the playing field a little bit since I am already familiar with Visual Studio.

Game Programming Patterns

While continuing to refresh myself on the finer points of C++ after years of C# development, I came across Game Programming Patterns from Bob Nystrom. If you’re a new developer, or even an experienced developer, it’s a good idea to refresh yourself on patterns from time to time. I’m just starting the book, but so far the style is enjoyable and I’m looking forward to shift in perspective coming from web apps.

Additional Resources:

C++/DirectX and Linear Algebra Tutorials

Main Course: While I will be focusing on using an engine like Unreal Engine 4, there are also many tutorials out there that start from scratch and work at a lower level.  One such series is Introduction to C++ and DirectX Game Development Jump Start put together by Microsoft. Obviously, this will be focused on Windows Store development, but they cover some general concepts that apply to any platform. The intro, in particular, brings up some great questions that you should ask yourself when starting the development process.

Dessert: As they mention in the tutorial, linear algebra knowledge is pretty important for video game development. This is especially true if you are looking to develop your own engine. If you need a refresher, this series from Wolfire gives some great information with a focus on video gaming.