How to switch from the iPhone to Android

You don't have to give up the whole Apple ecosystem to embrace a Galaxy S III or other Android smartphone

It's sacrilege, I know: leaving the Apple fold for another platform. But it's an idea to consider, given the strong advances in the Android OS this year and the wealth of compelling devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S III -- especially given the relatively minor advances in iOS 6 and the modest hardware changes in the iPhone 5.

I still find iOS a better mobile environment than Android, but the gap is closing and the differences matter little to many people. Also, the iPhone's screen is -- let's face it -- small by today's standards. But with vendor lock-in being the grail for so many technology classes these days, the question remains: Can someone ensconced in the Apple ecosystem really make the switch from iPhone to Android? The answer is, surprisingly, yes.

[ InfoWorld's visual tour: How to switch from the iPhone to Android. | Deathmatch review: The Apple iPhone 5 vs. the Samsung Galaxy S III. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

There are several aspects of the Apple ecosystem beyond the polished user interface that tend to keep users in it: iCloud, iTunes, AirPlay, and the App Store. They generally work well across Apple's devices -- Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Apple TVs -- and make it easy to move from device to device while maintaining your services. Sharing is simple within the Apple ecosystem, and you quickly become dependent on iCloud's syncing, AirPlay streaming, and so on.

If you replace your iPhone with an Android smartphone, you're leaving that nicely integrated ecosystem, which can really matter if you use a Mac and iPad as well. Google has no effective competition for the Apple ecosystem as a whole, though some capabilities such as Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and Gmail replicate parts of it -- mainly in Web and Android environments. As a friend discovered when he tried to go all-Google, you can't really do that. Microsoft will debut its own ecosystem in Windows 8 to compete with Google's and Apple's, but it too is less capable than Apple's. If ecosystem matters to you, you'll still be Apple-primary, and your Android smartphone will need to fit in as best it can.

I spent several weeks finding out just how to bring Android into my computing world as my smartphone instead of my iPhone. I started with a Galaxy Nexus, the flagship device for Google's pure Android experience, but I quickly switched to the Samsung Galaxy S III because Samsung made several smart UI refinements to both Android and key apps that simply add up to a better user experience. That matters to me as a longtime resident of the Apple ecosystem, which I switched to after the Windows Vista debacle. Here's what I found.

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