Apple iPhone users once looked down on the army of Android phones out there—and let’s be honest, many still do—but that’s a hard stance to take these days. Android apps are flourishing, and the handset selection is amazing, thanks to manufacturers like Samsung, ZTE, Huawei, OnePlus, LG, and HTC.
There are Android phones/phablets out there with 21-megapixel cameras, 6-inch screens, OLED displays with edge support, super fast processors, and hours and hours of battery life on a single charge.
If all that has you itching to make the switch, that’s understandable. Perhaps you find Apple’s grip on the iOS ecosystem annoying. Android may suffer from extensive fragmentation—thousands of versions of the OS running on hundreds of devices—but like Windows or Linux, it’s more open for that very reason. And you’ll get your update…eventually.
That openness isn’t a guarantee: you’ll have to pick a manufacturer for the Android device you want and each has their own issues. Many overlay their own “skin” on the operating system, for example, or add bloatware apps you may not want. The only way to get a pure Google Android experience, with OS updates that come through as soon as Google releases them, is to get a handset from Google itself. Thankfully, the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL are among our favorites, each earning an Editors’ Choice award. The Pixel 2 and 2 XL arrive soon, complete with Oreo (Android 8.1).
So once you’ve got an Android phone picked out, what do you do? You’ve invested in the Apple iPhone ecosystem for years—maybe for over a decade—so what does it take to make the switch from iPhone to Android without any digital tears? Here are the steps to take.
Prep Your iPhone for Transfer
Apple provides an app for those looking to switch from Android to iPhone, but Google doesn’t have a direct equivalent for an iPhone-to-Android switch. Instead, you’ll have to go through a few steps to get everything important from one platform to the other. (And yes, you’ll have to reinstall, perhaps even re-purchase, your apps when switching to Android.)
There are several proprietary things Apple offers iPhone users, like iMessage, which allows users to message each other without eating into monthly SMS text allotments. On iPhone, iMessages appear in blue and SMS texts are green; it’s an easy method of seeing if you’re messaging someone else with an iPhone or not.
Turn off iMessage on the iPhone by going to Settings > Messages and deactivating the switch next to iMessage. (While you’re at it, go into Settings > FaceTime and turn that off as well.) You can experiment by sending messages to people you know have an iPhone; if the messages are green, it’s working.
If you ditched your iPhone without taking this step, fear not. Visit Apple’s deregister-iMessage page and enter your phone number under “No long have your iPhone?” A confirmation code will be sent to your new phone indicating that iMessage is deactivated. (If that doesn’t work, call 800-MY-APPLE and ask for tech support, with your Apple ID and phone number at the ready; they can manually de-register your number on their servers.) If you don’t take these steps, you may find messages sent to you are going into the ether, never to be seen.
If you’re moving to a Samsung-made Android phone in the Galaxy lineup, you’re in luck: there is a dedicated switching app called Samsung Smart Switch, which moves contacts, photos, messages, and music to your new device. It’s not just for iOS; it also works on BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, or even a different manufacturer’s Android phone. The software will find what’s transferable, and you pick what you want to move to the new Android.
You’ll need a USB On-The-Go (OTG) cable to make the connection. There is no PC involved or even cloud backup—you do a direct cable transfer from the old device to the new (but you can use a Windows PC or Mac if the phone is older than a Galaxy S6 or Note 5).
There are a couple of software products that do involve a PC as middle-man to make the transfer of iOS to Android easier (plus they add some media backup to your PC as a bonus). One is Syncios Data Transfer Tool, the other is Phone Transfer. Both are free and have versions for macOS and Windows.
While there is no dedicated switching app from Google, the Android team recommends using Google Drive. The iOS app is a free download, and it’s also free to sign up for a Google account (if you don’t have one already).
There are more manual ways to do the above. For example, with contacts, you can always go on a desktop Web browser to iCloud.com, log in with your Apple ID, go to Contacts > All Contacts, select all, click the Settings icon (the gear), and export all contacts as vCards in a VCF file. Then you can import that into your Google Contacts. Email the VCF file to yourself on Gmail as a backup; depending on the type of Android device you have, just downloading the VCF file on it can also import it to Google Contacts.
But if you already have Google apps all over your iPhone, you may not even have to worry about much of this. You likely already have Google Calendar and Google Photos already performing background backup/synchronization of your events and photos; not to mention Google Maps, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Chrome, and more, which all will work as well on either phone.
For example, on iOS, you can just set your contacts to always be stored in Gmail. Go to Settings > Contacts > Default Account. (You need to already have the account set up under Settings > Accounts & Passwords, with Contacts turned on for the account.)
If you don’t trust the cloud to handle all the backup and transfer stuff, you should make sure to back up your media from your iPhone via iTunes. You know the drill: launch the iTunes software on a Mac or Windows PC and plug in the phone via USB. When iTunes loads, click the iPhone icon in the toolbar, and start a full backup (to the PC, not to iCloud). That’s great for restoring an iPhone in the future but doesn’t really help much with the move to Android, at least not directly.
While the iPhone is plugged in to the PC, go into the Finder on macOS or Windows Explorer on Windows; look for the iPhone as a separate device. You’ll be able to access the DCIM (digital camera) folders—copy them all to the hard drive to sort later. By doing that, you’ve backed up all the photos and video from the iPhone in a form you can use. Later, they can be individually re-uploaded to your new Android phone if or when needed.
Sweet, Sweet Music
Music is a different beast. Apple iTunes started as a music store and was all about making sure the digital rights management (DRM) on the songs prevent a tune from being played willy-nilly wherever a purchaser may want (i.e., not on Apple devices).
You have the option on a PC to download the Music Manager from Google Play Music; use it to point to iTunes as your primary music source. It will recreate your iTunes playlists and upload songs that don’t have DRM (such those you ripped from CDs). You can store 100,000 songs in Google Play for free.
Of course these days, you may be more likely to just subscribe to Spotify or Amazon Music Unlimited or even Apple Music (yes, even on Android) for $10 per month to get streaming access to just about every song, ever. For more, check out our rundown of the best online music-streaming services.
This one is hard, as it’s not supported by Apple or Google in any fashion, so you need third-party apps to make it happen. The free iSMS2Droid can do it, by snooping around in your last iTunes backup of the iPhone. Samsung Smart Switch will also do it, but only for Samsung-made Android phones.
Welcome to Android
Okay, so you’ve got the new handset and moved all the data you can to the Android platform. Now how the heck to you learn this new OS?
The home button you’re so used to on iOS is probably not the only button on your new Android phone—it may also have Back and Multitasking buttons on either side. Or it might not have those—or any buttons at all! It depends on the manufacturer. Google Pixel, for example, has no physical button on, only a home button on the bottom of the screen, and a fingerprint scanner on the back.
Unlike an iPhone, which has one home screen (the first screen of icons), you can have multiple such screens on Android, organized in all sorts of funky ways. Or use special launcher apps to funk it up even more. Notifications work much the same as on iOS—swipe down from the top to get access, swipe them away if irrelevant, or click one to get more info.
Widgets are also a big part of Android. They can come with almost any app, allowing you different configurations for how an app appears on screen, for example.
It’s customary to say how great the Apple App Store is and how it’s got the best selection. But almost any well-known app you’d find on iOS is also on Android, sometimes with a little more power considering the lack of restrictions. We’ve collected The 100 Best Android Apps (and keep it updated it throughout the year). Start there to find the best of the best; hit the Google Play store App section to search for any app or game you miss from your iPhone days.
Unlike Apple—which is being sued in a class-action suit for being a monopoly when it comes to controlling app sales—Android apps come from multiple sources. While Google Play is the primary, it’s not alone. Amazon also has an Appstore; it’s meant primarily for Amazon’s own Android-based devices, but any Android device can get access. To make that work, go to Settings > Security and scroll down to Unknown Sources and turn it on.
When you’re ready to delete an app on an Android phone, you can generally hold a finger on it and swipe it upward—but that typically only deletes the icon on the front page. To get rid of the actual app, go into the full Apps list and do the same—when you swipe up it should show an “Uninstall” option.
Unlike Apple’s iOS, which remains relatively safe from malware because of Apple’s tight-fisted control, Android’s openness (and popularity around the world) leaves it open to attack. Be smart and safe, like you would with your Windows computer: install some Android anti-malware. These days, a subscription to a big name antivirus like McAfee Plus will include protection for your desktop and mobile devices, including your new Android.
Get to the Root
Rooting an Android phone is the equivalent of jailbreaking an iPhone—it voids the warranty to give the user much more control and access to the hardware and software on the device. This is how a tweaker would go in and get all the performance possible out of an Android phone, as well as how you can delete apps that phone manufacturer may have set as uninstallable.
Rooting is a research intensive because it can differ between not only devices but also different versions of Android. Generally, you can find a YouTube video like the one above spelling it out for most any brand/version. Watch it carefully before you try. And back up the phone, first. Also, we recommend doing it only if un-rooting is an option. Here are some more tips on rooting.