Every iPhone owner I know has at least considered it: making the jump to Android. After all, Google gets design now. Its Android operating system is actually the most popular mobile platform in the world. And with the company’s most aggressive attempt to build a Google phone yet, the $650 Google Pixel, we finally have a stoic piece of hardware with curving glass that feels tempting, even casually indiscernible, when placed side-by-side on a table next to the new iPhone.
Yet most of us with iPhones keep our iPhones, largely because the prospect of jumping to Android is too overwhelming. What happens to our contacts, iMessages, photos, music, and apps? Thanks to companies like Samsung, iOS-to-Android migration tools do exist. But they lose most of us at "migration" and "tool."
The Pixel team knew this, of course. That's why every Pixel is preloaded with new, integrated software to copy the contents of your iPhone over, and bundled with an adapter that allows you to plug your iPhone directly into the Pixel. That means with just a few taps of a button, you can back up everything meaningful on your iPhone. No app downloads. No buying cords off Amazon.
That’s the promise, at least. I tested the process with my iPhone 7 to see if it really worked. Tl;dr? It does! With a few caveats.
The first time you load Google’s Pixel, it asks if you’d like to restore from a backup. And mincing no words of corporate pride, it asks in plain language if that backup is coming from your iPhone. This simple phrasing is refreshingly frank UX; by comparison, Apple allows you to migrate from Android to iOS, but it hides the option in a sub-menu, and requires a special Move app be installed on your Android phone, too.
Instead, the Pixel just comes right out and asks me. Then, it suggests I use the cord. I do! Then it asks me to unlock my iPhone. I do!
"Trust this computer?" my iPhone asks. The question hung in the air. Do any of us really trust Google?
Seconds after I hit "Trust," I get the bad news. As a journalist, I use an encrypted iPhone backup (this is an option in iOS, but not standard). Since my iPhone is set this way, it won't backup to anything but iTunes. So I have to re-sync with iTunes, turning off encryption, and begin again. That takes about 20 minutes. I'll blame that one on Apple or myself.
I hit "Trust" again. And I get bad news again. Technically, I’m transferring 64 GB of iPhone to 32 GB of loaner Pixel. In real life, consumers might not make this mistake—but here’s what happens for those who do: I’m offered a list of things that will need to be left behind in the process. Namely, my photos. However, my iMessage media will be able to make the leap. That seems like a fair enough deal. After checking my photos off the transfer list, knowing all of my toddler multimedia would be stuck forever in the cloud (though Google Photos, actually, where I’ve backed them up!), I began the transfer of everything else. It took about 20 minutes, during which time I could actually load the Pixel and play around with it, which was an unexpectedly effective way of killing time.
Most people will have a relatively perfect, stupid-simple backup experience that’s un-fuck-up-able. So how did things go when the transfer ended? My contacts were all there, which felt like some wonderful surprise even though I literally just copied them over. More impressively, my iMessages were all intact after making the jump. But when I opened the conversations in Messages, I discovered the first catch: None of the photos or videos that I’d sent friends were there anymore. Instead, the conversations were interspersed with notifications that read: "[Attachment saved in Google Photos > Device folders > Message attachments]." Seriously, this error message is now pasted thousands of times into my years of conversation history. How did this fly with Google’s superb design team? Obviously, not everyone pores over old texts and looks at the photos. But boy would it suck to buy a Pixel assuming that you could. (It should be noted, however, that Google Photos streamed all my archived photos from the cloud so well that it felt like they were stored on the phone.)
The other, more trivial catch is that the Pixel doesn’t copy over your apps (or, okay, pretend to copy them but really go to the Google Play store to download the Android versions for you). And your wallpaper doesn’t come with, either. These are little things. But as any Apple fan will tell you with an absurdly straight face, over and over again, it’s the little things that matter.
Brass tacks: The iPhone-to-Pixel backup is a great bit of UX that makes the leap from one proprietary phone to another proprietary phone about as painless as it can be. Companies like Samsung would be wise to follow suit—and frankly, Apple would be generous in making a transition from Android to Apple so integrated and app-less with the first setup of a new iPhone. But while it’s undeniably progress, Google still needs to perfect it. Give me the closest possible thing to 100% parity. And never, ever, tell an Apple loyalist that their kid’s photos are readily available at [Attachment saved in Google Photos > Device folders > Message attachments]. It won’t go well.