Barry Collins reveals how to make the jump from Apple to Google as painless as possible – and gives advice on going the other way.
Switching mobile operating system is a little like switching bank. The idea of transferring all your contacts, media and apps to another platform may well fill you with the same dread as the idea of transferring your direct debits, standing orders and so on from one bank to another. Apprehension breeds inertia; it seems safest to stick with what you’ve got.
But with decent Android handsets such as the Motorola Moto G now costing little more than $200, the incentive to move has never been greater. And, in reality, it’s much easier to switch from iOS to Android than you might imagine. A little preparation, and perhaps an hour or two’s work when you first get your new phone or tablet, is all you need to ensure a smooth Android transition.
For the most part, the switching process is the same regardless of which Android device you’re using, although there are some instances when vendor-specific tools might make life even simpler, as we’ll outline below. In the interest of fairness, we’ll also offer advice on switching in the opposite direction.
The first thing you’ll want to do is ensure that all your carefully curated contacts are moved from iOS to your new Android device. The simplest and cleanest way of doing this is using iCloud and your Google account. You’ll need a Google account to sign in to your Android device in the first place; if you haven’t got one, sign up at https://accounts.google.com.
Now, on your iOS device, go to Settings | iCloud and ensure your Contacts are set to synchronise with the cloud. Next, log in to www.icloud.com on your PC using your regular Apple credentials and select the Contacts icon. Click the Settings cog in the bottom-left corner and choose Select All. Click the cog again and choose Export vCard; all your contacts will now be downloaded onto a file on your PC.
You can’t easily import this file directly onto your device, however; Android gets its contacts from your Gmail account. So, the next step is to open Gmail in your PC’s browser, click the little dropdown arrow next to Gmail in the top-left corner and select Contacts. Click the More button in the top bar, select “Import…” and locate the vCard file you just downloaded from iCloud. All your contacts will now be loaded into your Google account. If you had some contacts in there already, you may find you have duplicates: click More | Find And Merge Duplicates to tidy up the file. These changes will be synced automatically to your Android device, so there’s nothing more to do. Some companies, including HTC and Samsung, supply their own software that aims to simplify the transfer process, but if you already use Gmail this can lead to messy duplication with your Google account contacts. This isn’t always easy to resolve, so we suggest you stick to the Google address book to keep things tidy.
Photos and videos
There’s an enormous number of options for getting your photos from an iPhone or iPad onto an Android device. Dropbox users can make use of a feature that automatically uploads photos on your iPhone to your cloud storage, ready to be synchronised with the Dropbox app on your Android phone; you might qualify for a few extra gigabytes of bonus storage for switching on the feature, too. For those who are yet to be seduced by the charms of Dropbox, the app is free in both the Apple App Store as well as in Google Play.
When it comes to free storage, it’s hard to beat Flickr, which offers everyone a free terabyte of storage for their photos. Its free app for iOS and Android also offers automatic photo uploads, and they’re kept private unless you choose to share them.
However, our preferred option is the Google+ app, which can back up both photos and videos stored on your iOS device. If you’ve got lots of videos captured on your iPhone, we suggest you do some housekeeping before the backup starts, since uploading dozens of gigabytes of video can be time-consuming. It also gets through a lot of data: go into the Google+ app settings and make sure it’s set to backup via Wi-Fi only, as you don’t want to smash through your data cap. You might want to switch off Auto Enhance, too, and Auto Awesome, a feature that automatically applies Instagram-like filters to photos, but fails to live up to its name.
As with Flickr, uploaded photos aren’t published publicly unless you actively share them. Google offers 15GB of free storage, so unless you’re uploading dozens of videos, you shouldn’t have to stump up for any extra. The Google+ app comes preinstalled on most Android phones, so you shouldn’t need to do anything more complicated than open the app to view your photos on your new Android handset.
If you want to view the saved images on a PC, go to https://plus.google.com and select Photos, then click on the little down arrow in the search bar at the top and select Auto Backup from the list of sources.
SMS and call logs
Moving contacts and photos from iOS to Android is fairly straightforward. However, migrating your old text messages and call logs isn’t. We suspect most people will choose simply to let go of them, although a quick skim of online advice forums reveals that there are plenty of people who want to hang on to this data, whether for sentimental or professional reasons.
For Samsung users, the solution is a program called Smart Switch. Available for Windows and Mac, this allows you to extract SMS\MMS messages and call logs from an iPhone backup and transfer them to a Samsung handset. To use it, first open iTunes on your PC and back up your iPhone. Don’t choose to encrypt the backup, and bear in mind that the process can take a fair while if you haven’t done it for a while or if you’ve never done it before.
Next, download and install Smart Switch and connect your Samsung phone to your PC via USB when prompted. Select the most recent iTunes backup, then select the data you wish to transfer. We recommend you don’t choose contacts (for the reasons given above) or music (for reasons we’ll explain in the next section), but make sure messages and call logs are ticked. All being well, your old message threads, including photos, should appear shortly under Messages on your new device, as well as details of past calls.
HTC offers a similar application called Sync Manager, which you can download from the HTC website. Again, we recommend that you use this software only to transfer messages, which you can pick from a list within the software itself.
If you’re using a phone from a different manufacturer that lacks a dedicated transfer tool, all is not lost: across the page, we’ve outlined a generic process that you can use to extract messages from an iPhone backup and bring them into your Android device. This isn’t an officially supported procedure, however. The credit for discovering that particular workaround goes to www.hongkiat.com.
Many of the data-transfer apps provided on new Android handsets will transfer your music collection, lock, stock and barrel, from your old iPhone or iPad onto your new device. However, many handsets offer no way to expand their limited internal storage, so you may not want to fill up that scarce resource with your entire music collection. Thankfully, there’s a better way to get it done.
Google Play Music allows you to upload a collection of up to 20,000 digital tracks into the cloud for free. This means that instead of clogging up your phone’s storage with eight different U2 albums, you can simply stream them on demand using the Play Music app, which is preinstalled on most new Android handsets and tablets. If you’re worried about your data bills, or you’re going somewhere without a reliable reception, you can download to your handset as many albums as you choose so you can listen offline; just tap on the little down arrow in the album/playlist view.
Getting started with Google Play Music means first getting your music collection onto Google’s servers. If you’re running the Google Chrome browser on your PC you can drag and drop albums by visiting https://play.google.com and clicking Add Music. If you have a larger library, you’ll probably find it easier to download the Google Music Manager (from the same website) and let it upload your entire iTunes library and any other music folders in one shot. If the album you’re attempting to upload is already in Google’s library, it won’t waste time re-uploading your files – it will simply add the album to your collection. If your tastes are even moderately mainstream, it should take no time at all to “upload” your collection to Google’s cloud.
Albums can be uploaded in a variety of formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and OGG, although the latter two are converted to 320Kbits/sec MP3s upon upload. The only significant limitation is that Google Play Music can’t decode DRM-protected AAC files, of the type that Apple sold before it went DRM-free in 2009. To upload files in this format, you’ll either need to strip them of their DRM (burning them to CD and re-ripping to MP3 is the simplest way, but rather labour-intensive) or pay Apple $34.99 for an iTunes Match subscription, which allows you to convert your DRM-wrapped files into unsullied MP3s. Being forced to pay for the same music twice in this way may make you feel happier about leaving Apple.
The bonus of using Google Play Music is that it’s effectively a free backup of your music collection – it can even be downloaded wholesale onto a new PC.
The quality and range of Android apps still trails behind iOS, particularly when it comes to tablet-optimised software. Most big-name apps are now cross-platform, but you’ll find fewer brilliant little games and utilities from smaller studios. The big boys such as Adobe, Microsoft and EA also tend to focus their efforts on iOS first, even if most apps trickle onto Android later.
Having to rebuy apps after you’ve switched is another sore point, but once you sort through your list of must-haves you may find there isn’t as much to replace as you first feared. In any case, the cost will almost certainly be offset by the saving you’ll made on hardware – only the most high-end Android gear is as expensive as an iPhone or iPad.
Sadly, it isn’t possible to export app data from iOS to Android, so you won’t be able to directly transfer saved games or work. That said, many apps save their data to the cloud these days, in which case nothing will be lost when you switch platform. Your Evernote clippings, Pocket articles, Spotify playlists, Scrabble games and Strava history will all be carried over.
Sometimes, in-app purchases can be carried from one platform to the other, too. For example, while TomTom satnav app users will have to repurchase the app in the Play Store, their traffic and speed camera subscriptions can be carried over from iOS – a consideration you’ll appreciate if you’re midway through an annual subscription. Newspapers including The Times and The Guardian allow you to access subscriptions on either iOS or Android devices, too. Generally speaking, if your subscription comes directly from the app maker, rather than via iTunes or Google Play, there’s a decent chance the app and its data will be transferable. Of course, you should double-check the situation with any apps that are critical to you before making the leap.
Old or new look?
One of the most jarring experiences when switching from iOS to Android is having to learn a new user interface. However, you can smooth the transition by making your new Android device look and behave as much like iOS as possible.
The clunkily named Cool Launcher iOS 7 flat style does a decent job of “borrowing” the modern Apple look. It has the round-edged icons that wobble when you attempt to move or delete them, as well as the familiar folders, and you can switch on an iOS-style lockscreen with the elegant clock and “slide to unlock”. On the downside, it takes a heavy toll on battery life. It also ships with some iffy-looking default apps, and its effect is limited – as soon as you click into an app, the iOS facade disappears and you’re disappointingly back in Android land.
If you’re pining for the familiarity of the Apple keyboard, the keyword-heavy iPhone 5s Keyboard iOS 7 app does a passable impression of Apple’s onscreen tapper. It’s a bit superfluous, frankly, but each to their own.
Indeed, if you don’t get on with the regular Android front-end, there are plenty of alternative launchers and keyboards to try that do far more than simply mimic Apple. We’re big fans of EverythingMe Launcher, an elegant launcher that sorts all of your apps into folders and places the ones you use most on the foremost homescreen, automatically changing them to reflect your differing habits at various times of the day. The Yahoo-owned Aviate Launcher, originally developed by ThumbsUp Labs, does a similar thing, highlighting traffic reports when you’re on your way to work in the morning, for example, and bringing music controls to the fore when you plug in your headphones. Both take a bit of training, though, and third-party launchers can take a hit on battery life. Check how much by clicking on Power in Settings, then check Usage.
Our favourite keyboard is SwiftKey, which recently became free and is brilliant at guessing what you’re going to type next – especially if you give it permission to scan your Twitter feeds and email to learn your vocabulary traits, which we recommend as it really does make a noticable difference to the way the predictive keyboard functions. You can enter text by swiping across the keys that form the word, or by traditional tapping – or using a combination of the two. There’s also a huge library of emoji for people who prefer to talk in icons. The standard Google Keyboard is fast improving, however, and it’s well worth trying out both for a few days to see which you rub along with best.
Going the other way: Android to iOS
If you’re planning to ditch Android for iOS, your best bet for transferring data is to pump as much stuff as you can into Google.
Back up your phone’s contacts to Google, save your bookmarks and passwords into Chrome, keep your music in Google Play Music and back up your photos to Google+. Android encourages you to do most of this anyway, so you’re probably already halfway there.
Then, when you get your new iPhone or iPad, go to Settings | Mail, Contacts, Calendars | Add Account and insert your Google account details to populate the relevant apps with your data.
If you use two-factor authentication for Google (and you really should), you’ll need to set up an app-specific password for your iOS device, a one-time password that gives you access to your data on the Apple device. Go to https://accounts.google.com on your PC and you’ll see the relevant setting.
Unlike on Android, you can’t replace the default Safari browser with Google Chrome – welcome to Apple’s view of the world – but you can install Chrome, drag the icon onto the shortcuts bar at the bottom and relegate Safari to a homescreen icon.
Alternative keyboards are coming to iOS with version 8, due out this autumn, so you’ll probably find your favourite Android keyboard in the App Store before too long. Unlike most Android devices, you don’t have to wait for your phone manufacturer to validate and push out new releases of the OS, so you should be offered iOS 8 as soon as it’s released.