Tech I Couldn't Live Without in 2013

As part of my annual tradition, here is a list of my favorite apps, services, and tech products that I used throughout 2013.

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My First Android

For that past couple years, I've felt that I could totally be happy with an Android as my phone and an iPad as my secondary mobile device. I felt the smartphone should be for communication and the iPad should be for everything else. So for Christmas, I decided it was time to step outside of my Apple bubble.

I bought the Moto G.

"Why did you switch??"

Let me clarify: I didn't switch. I'm still a very happy and loyal iPhone user. But there are two reasons why I bought my first Android.

Mobile Web Development

For most of my career, I've worked at marketing agencies where my job was to pump out as many sites as quickly as possible. But now that I'm an in-house web developer, all my projects are ongoing and long-term. For the first time in my career, I finally have the opportunity/responsibility to optimize my sites to be as fast as they can be.

As the mobile internet continues to grow, I need to be able to stay on top of both Android and iOS.

Google

When it comes to web services, nothing beats Google. And to be frank, I don't trust iCloud. I don't use iCal, iMessage, @iCloud.com email, iChat, or Safari. Instead, I use Gmail, Google Calendar, Hangouts, Google Drive, Google Voice, and Chrome.

To me, investing in Android doesn't mean "switching sides." Rather, I see it as moving myself closer to Google, a company that I've always loved for their web services.

"Why'd you pick the Moto G??"

For an unlocked smartphone with the latest OS, you simply cannot beat $179. And because it's manufactured by Motorola, a Google company, I have faith the device will have great support for OS updates in the future.

As a budget phone, the Moto G does have its shortcomings. The camera sucks, there is no LTE support, and it's only 16 GB…but none of those matter to me! I only need to be able to test my sites in the web browser. Anything else is a bonus.

Speaking of bonuses, the Moto G comes with 50 GB of complimentary Google Drive space.

To me, the Moto G is the iPod touch of Android that just happens to have phone capabilities.

What I Love About Android

  • App Defaults & Intents — One specific problem for me is finding the right video player that works with all my cloud/network drives. On iOS, I'd constantly be making trade-offs. I'd find a video player with a great interface…but had shitty cloud integration. Or I'd find a video player with great cloud integration…but a shitty interface. With Android, I can easily pick an episode of Modern Family from my Dropbox and open it in MX Player Pro.
  • LED notifications — It's smart, simple, and saves a lot of battery by not lighting up the touchscreen everytime a push notification comes in. If they had this for iPhone, I'd use this to notify me of unread messages from certain people. (But then again, maybe smartphone LED notifications will be overshadowed by push-enabled iWatch/smartwatches.)
  • Launcher & Lock Screen customization — This has a lot of potential. Aviate, Cover, and Facebook Home are all playing with some innovative ideas but I'm still waiting to see one launcher/lock screen app that really nails it.
  • Bigger screens are awesome for reading and watching videos. The two most-used apps on my iPad mini are Netflix and Instapaper. Being able to do these on a large-screen phone is pretty damn nice.

What I Don't Like About Android

  • Inconsistency of the Back button — This thing drives me NUTS. Sometimes, it's just intuitive to be able to jump back to the previous app with a tap of the Back button. Other times, when I expect to get to an app's main screen, the Back button just throws me back to the homescreen.
  • Shitty interactions — Overall, the Android interface is good enough to do its job but it's the lack of the fun, interactive bouncing and physics that sets it a notch lower than iOS.
  • Inconsistency of icon design. The homescreen just looks so damn ugly on Android because all of the app icons look completely different. Icon gradients, sizes, shapes, and even the rounded corners are just all over the place.
  • Big screens are annoying for one-handed use. While I really love having the extra pixels for reading and watching videos, it's annoying to navigate around the phone with just one hand. I constantly have to change my grip to navigate around.
  • Mini-USB is annoying after being spoiled by Apple's Lighting connector. "Did I plug it in the right way? Nope. Okay, lemme flip it over. Hmm, that didn't work either. Lemme flip it over again. Okay, there we go."
  • I have yet to find an Android-exclusive app that I really love.

"What would it take for you to switch to Android?"

I quickly learned 90% of the iOS apps I really care about have an Android counterpart (e.g. Chrome, Circa, Dropbox, Feedly, Google Hangouts, Instapaper, Netflix, Simplenote). But there are few things that iOS does better than Android for me:

Syncing Twitter between Desktop and Mobile

Twitter is huge for me. I use Twitter Lists to stay on top of four things: tech news sites, tech bloggers, friends, and basketball.

Tweetbot for Mac/iOS syncs timeline positions across devices seamlessly. It's an underrated killer feature that separates Tweetbot from all other Twitter apps.

In addition to timeline syncing, Tweetbot also does an amazing job of syncing mute options. #NFLteams, #NHLteams, #TVshows, #horoscopes, tumblr.co, instagr.am, etc…all that shit is off my Twitter timelines, both on my iPhone and Mac. Mute once, muted everywhere.

Maintaining My 10 Year Old Music Library

This coming April, my iTunes library turns ten. That's ten years of obsessively organizing, rating, and tagging over 6,500 songs. With each song properly tagged, I'm able to dynamically create really awesome Smart Playlists.

Amazon Music, Google Music, and Spotify are not compelling enough for me to throw away my 10-year investment in iTunes.

Take Great Photos

The iPhone 5s' burst mode is totally the underrated killer feature. When I take action photos of my niece and nephews running around, I never miss a moment because I can take 10 shots/second and full resolution.

To be fair, I have yet to play with the cameras of other Androids.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, after a month of owning the Moto G, I've found that Android is really good…but it's not great. I like it…but I don't love it. I really like how Android gives me a ton of customization options…but I don't love any of the options.

(Sidenote: When iOS 7 came out, a lot of Apple haters cried out "Apple copied Android!" I have no fucking clue what the fuck they were talking about; iOS 7 is nothing like Android.)

The Android ecosystem has come a long way these past two years and I can confidently say it satisfies 90% of my app needs. The phablet form factor is something that's growing on me, especially because my vision has degraded from cataract and eye surgery.

If I were to seriously consider switching from iOS to Android, it'd basically come down to one simple question:

Which solves my computing problems more: tighter integration with Google services or tighter integration with Mac apps?

For now, I'll have to stick with the latter.

Maybe over time, things will change. Maybe my interest in Twitter will diminish. Maybe an iTunes competitor will invent a smarter, more automated way to organize my music. Maybe Google will conquer the next era of computing — wearable computers, smart TVs, smart car displays, and home automation.

Until any of that happens, I plan on keeping the iPhone as my daily driver while having the Moto G riding shotgun.

Update: After less than a month of getting my first Android, I've decided to return my Moto G. I also recycled my iPad mini at Gazelle.com and used the money from both to purchase a 32 GB Nexus 5 (Google Play Edition).

While the iPhone 5s is still my best option as a primary mobile device, the Moto G worked out so well as a secondary mobile device (for reading, streaming, and mobile web development) I decided to consolidate my iPad mini and Moto G into one legit Android.

Tech I Couldn't Live Without in 2012

  • Mac mini with 1TB Fusion Drive — For a $1,100 Mac, this baby is FAST. It gives me all the performance I need to open large Photoshop files while coding sites, and plenty of space for my massive iPhoto library.

  • iPhone 4S — My iPhone is my communications hub where all of my notifications are pushed to. And the outstanding 8 megapixel camera lets me capture precious moments that I want to carry with me for the rest of my life.

  • iPad mini — For a few months, I was iPadless because I sold my first-gen iPad in anticipation of the mini. What happened? I compensated by overusing my 4S, which had a significant affect on battery life. I see my iPad mini as my primary mobile consumption device, and a way to "extend" the battery life of my iPhone.

  • Google — Chrome has the right balance of feature robustness and simplicity. Gmail is still king of email. Google Reader is an absolute must-have (I don't care if bloggers say Twitter is the new RSS). Google Voice development has been extremely stagnant for the past couple years but having web access to all of my text messages has saved my ass countless times.

  • Flipboard for iPad/iPhone — still, by far, the best way to stay up-to-date with Google Reader, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Tumblr.

  • Instagram — If I had to give up all social networks except one, I would keep Instagram. It's by far the most personal social network out there because everyone post things that make them happy, unlike Twitter/Facebook where some people only use for passive-aggression, bitching and whining.

  • Tweetbot for iPad — the best Twitter app out there. For me, the killer features are cross-device placeholder syncing (i.e. Tweet Marker) and being able to retweet as a different Twitter account.

  • ProCamera for iPhone — This is my secret weapon for taking great photos. Specifically, I love how I can lock exposure and enable image stabilization with one hand for close-up shots (e.g. food, lol).

  • Facebook — Simply because all of my friends are on it. Most of my friends don't have Twitter so Facebook is still the best way for me to reach everyone in my life.

  • Pinboard — This has become a big part of my consumption workflow. When I find an interesting link on Tweetbot or Chrome, I'll save it to Pinboard, which will push to my Google Reader via RSS to read for later.

  • Instapaper — While Google Reader is my inbox, Instapaper is my "Save for Later" bin where I'll dump long articles that aren't time-sensitive. Recently, it's been filled out with a lot of How To's and Quora posts.

  • Dropbox — I always need a way to share large files across people and devices. Been a loyal user since 2006.

  • Drafts App — This summer, I retired my iOS app experiment, PostMate for iPhone. Drafts shares the same workflow as PostMate for quickly drafting and sharing text, but supports a lot more external apps/services.

  • Backblaze — online backup solution. This thing has saved my ass a few times this year.

  • Bitcasa — infinite online storage. It's still in beta but I've been dumping a TON of stuff on here. I don't put anything mission critical on here because it hasn't earned that much of my trust yet, but for now, I use it to store things like movies, TV shows, etc.

  • Imgur — Tumblr used to be a very important source of entertainment for me but I figured out that 90% of viral posts on Tumblr come from Imgur. Now I just go straight to the source.

Honorable Mentions: ForkLift for Mac, DayOne, Slingbox, Siri, iTunes Match, Skype

Heating Up for 2013: 1Password, Pinterest, App.Net, New Myspace, GitHub

Cooling Down: Tumblr, Trillian, Voxer

Dismissed: Path, because none of my actual close friends are on it.