switching from Android to iPhone: how does it work?
September 16, 2015 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I am a Windows PC/Android person to the teeth, have never used any Apple hardware or software other than iTunes in my life, and am now suddenly in the position of having to use an iPhone 4S running iOS 8 as my main phone for the indefinite future. Everything about the iPhone is deeply confusing to me. Is there a way for me to recreate the Android (Lollipop) experience? If not, can you help me learn how to adjust?

Apologies in advance for all of these dumb questions, I have no idea what I'm doing! Here are my sticking points so far:

  • BACK BUTTON. What am I missing? Is it a swipe or hand motion or something? When I hit the button with the square on it, it just brings me back to the home screen. And double-clicking the square button just gives me a list of open apps similar to when I hit the lower right-hand on-screen button on my Android. Is there a way for me to quickly navigate between apps without having to go back to the home screen every time? Speaking of...

  • HOME SCREEN. Holy shit, this is panic-inducing. Can I get rid of the grid of ugly icons and put a nice big clock there instead? Maybe a weather forecast widget? (Does iPhone even have widgets?!) Barring that, can I at least change the icons to be less colorful and more uniform, or somehow make it so that none of them are visible on the home screen? Seeing them all clustered there is stressing me out. I would like a home screen that looks very similar to the lock screen.

  • CALENDAR. I had my Android home screen set up so my next two Google Calendar appointments -- no matter when they were, a day or 3 weeks in the future -- were always visible, and if I clicked either one, it would bring up my entire calendar. My whole life runs on this function; I can barely remember to go to work without it. Can I recreate this exactly? I have my Google Calendar set up, but I can only see it if I hit the calendar icon. The notifications bar just says vague stuff like "you have an appointment tomorrow at 9PM" which is next to useless to me. Can it not read the details from Google Calendar?

  • INTERFACE CUSTOMIZATION. I had meticulously customized my Android with Zooper Widget Pro, Nova Launcher Prime, and Gel Icon Pack but it's starting to look like you can't customize the appearance of your iPhone at all. Would my only choice be to jailbreak (NB I don't actually know what this is, I just read it online) the iPhone and install Android?

  • SOCIAL MEDIA. I do not use this and would like to burn it all with fire. How can I completely delete every trace of apps like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. from the iPhone? So far it looks like I can only move app icons into folders rather than deleting, disabling, or otherwise disappearing them altogether? It was incredibly easy to disable apps in Android, but based on what I'm reading, you can't disable any app at all on an iPhone. For real?

  • APP STORE. OK, I spent years hearing all about how Apple's apps were all clearly superior to Android's, and that everyone only ever developed for Apple and not Android, but this looks kind of garbage-y. I felt spoiled for choice between all of the beautiful, highly-rated free apps in the Android app store, but most everything for Apple seems to be either not-free or sketchy. Most of the apps I had on my Android are apparently Android-exclusive. Am I doing this wrong? Can I sort my App Store searches by popularity, rating, or price? Do you have any specific free apps to recommend? Also, is there a way for me to manage or at least view access permissions (contacts, network, etc.)?

  • GPS. Is there a one-step toggle available? The swipe-up-from-bottom thing has a button for frigging airplane mode, but no GPS. Do I really need to go to Home Screen > Settings > Privacy > Location Services > On/Off every time? [plays a tiny violin]

  • And last but probably most importantly: PRIVACY. How can I minimize Apple's well-known user tracking/privacy invasion? I had everything set up on my Android just the way I like it: private/incognito-only internet browsing, eliminated/disabled Google access to anything but email (no Google Now, Talk, Locations, etc.), no GPS at all unless I was getting directions somewhere, constant clearing of search and app history, all that fun stuff. But I know it's harder to ferret out all of that stuff with Apple. Is there a list of best practices for maximum lockdown? How about settings that normally fly under the radar?

  • Any assistance would be much appreciated -- as you can see, I'm more than a bit of a newb and totally out of my depth. As always, thank you.
    posted by divined by radio to Technology (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
    How can I completely delete every trace of apps like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. from the iPhone? So far it looks like I can only move app icons into folders rather than deleting, disabling, or otherwise disappearing them altogether?

    Except for a few built-in Apple apps like Mail and Stocks (why?) and so forth, you can remove whatever you want. Long-press the app icon and a small circle-x will appear in the top left corner, press that to delete. That'll get you started, anyway.
    posted by macdara at 10:04 AM on September 16, 2015

    GPS is only on when an app uses it, no need to disable it manually. Just close the app.
    posted by Akke at 10:07 AM on September 16, 2015

    And no, the home screen is not customizable. No widgets.
    posted by Akke at 10:14 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

    From what I can tell, the only way to change the settings for anything is to use the "Settings" app, found on the home screen.

    As in, if you're in an app and want to change the settings for that app, you have to leave it, go to the home screen, and open the "Settings" app.
    posted by czytm at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2015

    I am really sincerely sorry, but you've just enumerated just about every feature that Android fans give about why Android is a better experience than iOS, because iOS has no equivalent. You may not have noticed, but also your iPhone keyboard is not especially obvious about when you're in CAPS or not. That's the last one you didn't mention. But that's coming in the next big iOS update, at least. And I think you can now install third-party keyboards? If so Swype or Swiftkey are good.

    I haven't run an iOS device in 3-4 years, but jailbreak from that era wouldn't get you all the way there either, just closer. At that time you could at least change icon themes, hide apps completely (not just in folders), and have better quick controls when you swipe, but home screen widgets were not a thing then. Lock screen widgets yes, but not home screen widgets. I think home screen widgets are still not a thing in iOS or jailbreak environments.

    The only/best way to clean up all the icons on your home screen is to put them in folders, then move the folders to another page that you never look at. You can of course rearrange the icons, too, but if an app is installed it must be somewhere on the home screens, including in folders. There is no separate app drawer. Most people have a 'Garbage' folder full of all the Apple crap you can't uninstall. You really cannot uninstall most of the apps that came on the phone, only bury them in a folder. Apps you install yourself can be deleted of course. Long-press the icon then click the red 'x'.

    Some apps have their own Back button in the app when the developer thought it would be useful, otherwise there isn't any parallel functionality.

    I was only 'happy enough' on iOS after jailbreak and extensive time in customizing. You may not want to bother, you might be able to adjust to iOS with time. I feel your pain. Good luck!
    posted by BlackPebble at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Oh, and jailbreak doesn't let you install Android on it, it just lets you install third-party non-Apple-approved apps that control the interface more directly than App Store apps. You're still in iOS, just tweaked iOS that gives you a little more control.
    posted by BlackPebble at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2015

    I went through this last year, also. As soon as I was able to admit that iPhone is NOT Android, it all got easier for me. I, too, tried to make my iPhone just like my old Android.

    It simply isn't possible. Not even close. (You can, though, make and Android just like an iPhone.)

    But, as soon as I got over it and took the iPhone for what it is and what (little) it does, I made my iPhone work for me AND I actually enjoy it far, far more than I enjoyed my Android. I spent too much time messing with my Android. With my iPhone, I just "set it and forget it", I leave it alone generally in terms of customizing and tinkering, and I have relaxed a lot more in general and put my energy into other things.
    posted by TinWhistle at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2015

    An iPhone 4S is pretty crappy compared to recent devices. Sorry you have to use hardware from 4 years ago.

    BACK: You're asking for a way to quickly navigate between apps, but in the previous sentence say that you know that double-clicking the home (square) button brings up a list of open apps, which lets you quickly navigate between open apps. What are you actually trying to do? The overall interface paradigm of back capability isn't in iOS, except at an in-app level. If you're trying to quickly launch apps, swiping down from within the home screen (not from the top edge) will surface a device-wide search to launch apps or search within apps.

    HOME: No. Besides reorganizing apps into folders you're not going to get any other customizations there.

    CALENDAR: I don't think GCal has a widget, but if you want to try another calendar app like Sunrise, it has a Notifications Center widget that is more detailed. It sounded like you already know about accessing that via swiping down from the top edge of the screen. At the bottom of the link you can Edit which apps show notifications there.

    INTERFACE CUSTOMIZATION: Nope. I don't know the current state of jailbreaking, but I doubt you'll get anywhere near the level of control of Android. I quit jailbreaking after there started to be more malicious code on jailbroken apps.

    SOCIAL: You can remove apps by long-press and once they start wiggling just hitting "X" to delete them. iOS-provided apps cannot be deleted, so maybe just make a folder called BUMMERS and put them all in there. (Create a folder by dragging an app icon onto another app icon).

    APP STORE: You gotta be more specific on what kinds of apps you're looking for. Not sure what you mean by access permissions. At a system level? No multi-user support. App Store searching itself is utter garbage.

    GPS: Why are you switching it on/off at a system level all the time? You can restrict access to location services at an application-level by going into settings for each app.

    PRIVACY debate is more philosophical. You can of course be in constant private browsing mode in Safari by bringing up all the windows and tapping Private. You can disable access to GPS for every app at an app-level and only keep it on for GMaps. I think Google has more tracking/privacy invasion than Apple does (esp because they're not selling any of my info to third parties), so YMMV.
    posted by homesickness at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Here's a link to info on the Notification Center, which may be helpful.
    posted by The Deej at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2015

    I don't know enough about Android to give helpful answers for a lot of your questions, which are based on a bunch of expectations that I only vaguely understand.

    There are no home screen widgets on iOS, so the main purpose of the home screen is to launch apps. If you want less stuff there though, you can move apps to another page or into folders. Tap and hold on an app icon. Drag it onto another to make a folder, or drag it off the right edge of the screen to make a new page. If you forget where you put something, you can swipe down to search (or hold the home button to ask siri to launch it).

    Also, is there a way for me to manage or at least view access permissions (contacts, network, etc.)?

    I do know iOS handles permissions quite differently from Android. Installing an app doesn't implicitly grant it permissions - when an app actually tries to do something, iOS will prompt you (something like "Skype has requested access to your Contacts") and you can grant or deny that app that permission. If you say no, the the app still has to run, and do what it can without that permission, though in some cases that won't be much (e.g., Shazam without Microphone access or Google Maps without Location Services). You won't be prompted a second time for a given app, but you can review and change permissions through the Settings app.

    Unfortunately this shows up in a few places. A lot of permissions are controlled through "Settings->Privacy". There's also "Settings->Notifications", which is self-explanatory. Unless an app is set to On under "Settings->General->Background App Refresh", switching away from the app suspends it, and it can't do anything except notifications. Finally (maybe?) Settings->Cellular lets you prevent an app from using your precious data plan. Unlike the other permissions, this is on by default. I don't think there's a way to stop an app from using Wifi.

    PRIVACY. How can I minimize Apple's well-known user tracking/privacy invasion?

    Huh. My sense was that Apple is one of the more privacy-friendly tech companies around. You can disable Apple cloud-hosting any of your stuff on Settings->iCloud.

    With iMessage when you're texting with another iOS user, it'll go through Apple's servers. It's encrypted and law enforcement is always complaining about this, but if you prefer SMS, you can disable iMessage through Settings->Messages. iMessage supports two levels of confirmation: you can see if a message has been delivered to the recipient's device, and you can see if they've read it. If you're using iMessage, you can disable the second one, but not, I think, the first. (SMS doesn't support any of that)

    Note in the messages apps, iMessages are blue, SMSes are green. (Also, an unrelated tip for Messages: to see timestamps, swipe the whole screen left.)

    Honestly, though, all the settings are in the Settings app, and your best bet is probably to spend an hour looking at them all.
    posted by aubilenon at 11:43 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    An iPhone 4S is pretty crappy compared to recent devices. Sorry you have to use hardware from 4 years ago.

    There's nothing crappy about the iPhone 4S, and besides only just being released 4 years ago, it will be compatible with the upcoming (within a few days) OS update (iOS9).
    posted by deathmaven at 11:43 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Related to "Back" capability: If you decide to update to iOS9, it'll have cross-app Back capability built in, as described here:

    "Any time you link out, your previous location is bookmarked. Then a back arrow and label containing the app you just left are added to the very top left of the status bar. They're not persistent and will disappear if you start doing anything else, but if all you want to do is check something quickly and then go right back to where you were, they're magically convenient.

    To continue the previous example, you tap a tweet in Messages, view it in Twitter.app, hit the back link, and are immediately returned to Messages so you can keep on chatting."

    "Crappy" with regards to 4S is of course subjective. I based it on my experiences with reception, WiFi speeds, camera, screen size, speed and durability. Nothing to do with the software which will still get iOS9.
    posted by homesickness at 11:53 AM on September 16, 2015

    A lot of these are operating system differences. You can hack them, but you can't change one OS to another.

    Think of it this way. You grew up driving in the U.S., where you learned to drive on the right side of the road. You're now moving to the UK, and need to retrain your driving muscles to drive on the left side. Most of the same rules and functions still exist, but you'll need to do some minor retraining of how you interact with your vehicle, not modifications to your car.

    As a counterpoint, I am an unlikely iPhone user (I use iOS for Nothing Else in my life) because I abhor the home screen and back button functions on Android. I think it's because my first smartphone was an iPhone, so that's where I learned to "drive," and I haven't pushed myself to learn the Android way.
    posted by samthemander at 12:33 PM on September 16, 2015

    Also, I agree that the 4s may appear slow by modern smartphone standards.
    posted by samthemander at 12:34 PM on September 16, 2015

    Not sure what you mean by access permissions.

    Android apps have to specify what they want to do with info on the phone and what they need access to.
    Users see these "permissions" when the app installs and can agree or not to to allow them.
    posted by bonehead at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2015

    Apps: most everything for Apple seems to be either not-free or sketchy. Most of the apps I had on my Android are apparently Android-exclusive. Am I doing this wrong? Can I sort my App Store searches by popularity, rating, or price? Do you have any specific free apps to recommend?
    There are lists of the most popular paid apps, the most popular free apps and the highest grossing apps (by in app purchases) in the Apple store, but you can't sort your searches. You can view the ratings before opening the app page to read about it, though. I like Documents for text files, PDFs and epubs. The kindle app is another good one for PDFs. It is hard to recommend apps without knowing what you want to do. Permissions for most apps are found in Settings.
    posted by soelo at 12:50 PM on September 16, 2015

    Try swiping right if you need to go Back, since that works in Safari.
    posted by soelo at 12:52 PM on September 16, 2015

    Apple makes most of their money selling hardware, not software or user information. They are actually pretty good on the privacy front, and i trust them more than a huge company that is built on data mining and an ad network.

    Apple’s IOS Security Guide explains a lot about what they do with user data, not only encryption of data in transit but what happens on their end.

    Note that while there is a place in the system preferences to enter your Facebook or Twitter info to enable those stupid share buttons, that’s all it’s there for – the Facebook and Twitter apps are third party downloads thus deletable if you have them because you inherited the phone from someone else. For that matter, some of the Apple apps can be trashed as well (those that are optional installs, fer sure [but no, not the damned stocks app]).

    The app store sucks for finding good apps. Aside from the few things that are both good and popular, you’re more likely to find some cool free app by reading about it elsewhere online.
    posted by D.C. at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Do you live anywhere near an Apple Store?

    A lot of these higher level questions about different philosophies between iOS and Android would be best explained in person, so you can walk through various screens on your phone, etc. I would recommend making a genius bar appointment at your local Apple Store, or honestly, just going in to the store when it is off-peak hours and talk to an employee.
    posted by misterbrandt at 12:56 PM on September 16, 2015

    As someone who's been an apple customer for years (3GS, 4S, 5S) then switched to android for a bit (Xoom running 4.0.4, HTC One running 4.4 then 5.0.2), and am now planning on switching back to apple with a 6S, I have some insight for you:

    1) There's one way to do things, and that's the apple way. You get a grid of icons on your home screen, widgets on the pull-down notification screen, and notifications on the lock screen. Get used to that, as there's no real way to change it.

    2) That being said, you can replace most apps (browser, mail, etc) with other apps. I mostly used Chrome/Gmail (later, Outlook)/Google Maps/Calendar, etc. When I left there still wasn't a good way to set system defaults for things, so occasionally an app would pop open Mail/Safari/Etc.

    3) There are tons of great apps on the app store, and a lot of them are paid. This is a good thing. Apple very much encourages developers to charge for apps instead of including advertising the way Google does.
    posted by Oktober at 2:20 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    The lock screen has the time and any notifications on it, along with whatever image you'd like, so there's your outer "face" of the phone and should be soothing enough, I'd think. If you haven't locked it, do so. Swipe down from the top for today's notifications (only today, I believe. I don't know a way to show three days in advance unless you can jigger the google calendar to do that).

    One you get into the phone, however, you're looking at all your apps. Group them the way you would use them -- I've gone through phases of having one screen with my most frequently used apps in one place, or having all the apps I'd only need to access occasionally all together, etc. Now I have a combination, with folders holding GAMES or PHOTO or WORK or SHOPPING or BILLS, etc. all on one page, then my frequently used on another, and basic standard ones on the first page (like google maps, calendar, clock, photos, camera, notes, app store, etc.). You can organize them painstakingly on your phone itself with the long tap and then drag the icon to wherever you want it, or you can do it when the phone is connected to iTunes and just drag your apps around in there.

    TIP: You can put whatever apps you like in the bottom four, which are available on any home screen you're on. I have Phone, Settings, Safari, and Messages, but obvi your mileage will vary. I care a lot less about my email than most people so that's out, and I'm in and out of settings a lot so that made it into the four. You might want to put your calendar app in the bottom four since quick access to your calendar is important.
    posted by clone boulevard at 2:49 PM on September 16, 2015

    I was using a 4S until 9 months ago, and a Nexus 4 and assorted Android phones for a couple years before that. Any belief that Apple tracks more than Google is sorely misinformed. Assuming you turn off iCloud, your control over what is tracked is both far stronger and far more granular than anything ordinary Android can provide. (Assuming you aren't installing a custom ROM, which is a total pain, even for someone who knows Linux command line like a second language.) Android app permissions are all-or-nothing, Apple lets you select which of Contacts, Location, etc. are shared with the app. Even Apple's own Weather app won't have your location if you don't grant it. The Messages app, as previously mentioned, is not even breakable by Apple. Google, since it has to convince the device manufacturers to go along, has been dragging its feet on things like full-device encryption that Apple makes standard. The only downside is that the history clearing apps aren't available, and you'll have to close your Private tabs in Safari one by one and close apps by double-clicking the home button and swiping up to remove them from the history.

    I don't know why Apple hasn't made home screen widgets, that's definitely a weakness. It's technically possible to have dynamic home screen icons, but for whatever reason it's barely taken advantage of. For your use, you might move all the icons off the home screen and just use the notifications screen primarily. The on-device search isn't as obvious to discover, but it's very handy. Swipe down from the middle of the home screen and you can search for apps, email, etc. Not quite as nice as the all-singing all-dancing Google search, but not bad.

    I too mourn the back button, which is an obvious omission by Apple. I swear, if Jony Ive could figure out a way to ship a featureless slab with a screen and no buttons, physical or virtual, he would. Swiping left works inside many apps, but it's not a guarantee, and you can't swipe left out of an app to the previous app, except when you can. iOS 9 (which will be supported on your phone) is supposed to give more ability to return you to the previous app, but at the cost of screen real estate, which is precious on the 4S.

    I've had a love/hate relationship with Swype. It works, and it's much better than the stock keyboard, especially if you like to use words that have more four characters. However, the integration isn't perfect, and sometimes I have to switch to the stock because of conflicts. Luckily, this only takes three taps and doesn't involve leaving the current app.
    posted by wnissen at 5:12 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

    You may want to consider jailbreaking. You can add new buttons to the Control Center to do things like toggle GPS, you can organize the home screen icons in ways besides having them all crammed into the upper left of your screen.

    Without jailbreaking you could also clean up your home screen by sticking stuff into folders; press and hold an icon until they wiggle, to indicate being in home screen edit mode, then drag one icon onto another. Let go and it creates a folder, and suggests a name. If you jailbreak there are tweaks to let you put folders in folders; the iPad I'm typing this on has a folder in the center of its dock that contains my most-used apps, and several folders of frequently used categories of apps.

    Pressing and holding icons is also how you enable deleting apps; if you can delete an app, a little red X button will appear in its corner. You can't delete anything that's on the phone when you buy it; lots of people have a folder of stock apps they don't want.

    Get used to paying for apps, except for freemium games. It's a different world. One that's marginally more sustainable for developers.
    posted by egypturnash at 8:36 PM on September 16, 2015

    Get used to paying for apps, except for freemium games. It's a different world. One that's marginally more sustainable for developers.

    Yeah this is one of the reason there's a lot of apps, is that people are more likely to actually pay for them. But that doesn't help you if you only want free apps.
    posted by aubilenon at 10:12 PM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

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