How to make Android and iOS play nicely together

Even if you love Android, you can’t totally ignore iOS. You probably have plenty of family members or friends who use iPhones. Or you may dabble with the other side on your own with an iPad, which isn’t a bad option considering the Android tablet space could use really use a new Nexus flagship.

As you’re probably aware, you can forget about using most Apple services on Android. Apple Music is a rare exception, though much like iTunes on Windows, you get the feeling it will always be a second-class citizen compared to the iOS version. So when you think of sharing music, photos, messaging, and location updates you have to go outside the walls of Cupertino.

This is where the app ecosystem comes in. Not only are there plenty of good services that work well on both Android and iOS, but they’re often better. If you do it right, you’ll move from one screen to another, regardless of platform, with ease. And you’ll be better connected to those in your life who just can’t part with their iPhones.

Let’s start simple: the ski slopes will probably open up in the infernal regions before Apple ports iMessage to Android. It’s really unfortunate, because iMessage is probably the one thing I miss the most from when I used an iPhone everyday. Real-time typing notifications, sync to the desktop, and of course the social pressure of not being one of those dreaded green bubbles are all nice to have.

Google is essentially trying to create an iMessage for all with its support for Rich Communication Services. But we’re not there yet, and if you want a better texting experience, synced messages, and other neat features you should look elsewhere.

Your best options for mass appeal are Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook). With the former, the advantage is that everybody is on Facebook. It defeats the usual issue with getting everybody to agree on a messaging platform. And WhatsApp just rolled out a desktop client for PC and Mac, so you now get the full advantage of responding to messages on any device.

Both of these services offer enhancements like video calling (still in beta for WhatsApp), cool stickers, and more customization than a stock texting app. Facebook is also trying to make Messenger a full-blown commerce platform with its support for bots.

Also, don’t rule out Slack. I know of several people have begun to use the work-focused chat program in everyday life, setting up channels for family members, groups of friends, or common causes. Its support for app integrations make it way more flexible than your typical IM program. My prediction is that Slack will eventually embrace this use case as more people start to use it this way, which could let the company pitch the service as the one messaging app to rule them all.

Another iOS-only app that you have to live without is Find My Friends. Again, Apple has crafted a seamless approach for keeping tabs on family members, especially helpful if you have children that aren’t very good at reporting their whereabouts.

But here’s another case where third-party developers have one-upped Apple. Familonet is my current favorite, and better than Find My Friends in how it allows you a lot more options to customize the group and get more regular alerts about others’ location. And of course it’s perfect for this scenario because there are apps for Android and iOS.

Familonet gives a lot of additional details, such as location history, customized alerts, and it supports Android Wear (iOS users also get Apple Watch support).

On the other hand, if you want just a temporary look at where everyone is, then go with Glympse. This is ideal if you have a group of friends hanging out for the weekend or just a night and you want to share each other’s whereabouts only temporarily. Glympse lets you select how long to share your location, which makes it ideal for short-term get togethers.

Keeping a photo collection in sync, or just the act of sharing images, can be a pain when you’re trying to do this across mobile platforms.

I remain a pretty firm believer in Google Photos, particularly with the recent enhancements to sharing. You can’t beat free, unlimited storage as long as you’re willing to put up with some image compression. If you have enough Google Drive storage then you can save everything at full quality, and that's definitely the best option. The iOS app is also pretty much on par with features as the Android version.

If you’re not sold on Google Photos, particularly if the image recognition creeps you out, then you can always go another route. Facebook’s Moments is pretty good at sharing a batch of recents with those in your friends list (though it’s quite aggressive with the notifications). Or you can always use Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or another cloud service to share a link to batch of photos to save on broadband usage.

Finally, here are a few small recommendations if you want to keep your own stuff synced up across platforms.

One is contacts: if you use Google for your contacts (the beta desktop contacts manager is pretty good), you can keep them in sync across an iOS device pretty easily. It gets tricky if you use two-step authentication. You’ll need to create a one-time use password from your Google account. But once you do this you don’t need to worry about any changes made in iCloud also being reflected over on Android.

Also, now that Android offers better notification controls you may want to adjust how often you get alerted by all of Google’s apps. You also may not want the whole room to light up when you say, “Ok Google” so check out the voice commands.

In the end, the beauty of our current app situation is that there is a ton of choice out there to keep everything for yourself and others all in sync. We’re in a multi-platform and multi-device world, and the services that are worth our time are going to be the ones that navigate this the best. The hardest part is convincing iOS users to stray from Apple's defaults, which are convenient, even if third-party apps and services are better.


Derek Walter

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