iPhone for the Windows Guy: Minimize Apple’s Grip on Your Device

iPhone for the Windows Guy: Minimize Apple's Grip on Your Device
No iPhone was harmed in the making of this post.

Microsoft fans who choose the iPhone or other Apple devices don’t have as many options as do those who choose the more malleable Google Android. But you can still minimize Apple’s grip on your i-devices, and on your life. Here’s how I do it.

Look, I get it: Apple makes beautiful hardware, and iOS is much more stable and reliable, and performs better and more consistently, than does Android. That’s why I still keep coming back to iPhone: Sure, devices like the Google Nexus 6P and 5X are excellent, and, yes, Android does just keep getting better. But there’s something to be said for “just works.” And Apple’s devices, especially the iPhone and iPad, do just that.

Whatever the reason you’ve made the switch, I feel very strongly that all iPhone (and iPad) users should minimize their exposure to Apple’s apps and services because there are such better options available in virtually all cases. And that’s true whether you’re a Microsoft fan who wants to “Redmondize” their i-device as much as possible, or a Google fan who prefers the search giant’s excellent mobile apps and services. Or, maybe you’re someone who simply wants the best possible experiences across the board, and you wish to mix and match. That’s where I’m coming from.

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So here’s a look at how I configure a new iPhone to remove as much Apple as makes sense and then add the apps and services that I really use. (The process is very similar for iPad, of course, though the mix of apps I’d use on an iPad is different than what I’d want on my phone.) It’s a sort of step-by-step guide that assumes a few things: You’ve signed in with whatever Apple ID you have, you’ve updated to the latest iOS version, and you’re ready to make it yours.

Personalize it

I assume you know how to personalize a phone by coming up with some kind of home screen layout that makes sense to you, choosing a wallpaper, and so on. Just remember that the limitations of iOS mean you cannot hide rarely-used apps in an all apps list, so you’ll need to make use of multiple home screens and folders.

The stock iPhone/iOS 10 home screen. Ugh.
The stock iPhone/iOS 10 home screen. Ugh.

Also note that the Dock area at the bottom of the screen is consistent across home screens, so use that space for apps you need very frequently. I use those precious slots for Phone, Messages, Chrome (web browser) and Camera. (Which means that, yes, I’m using Apple’s Phone, Messages, and Camera apps.)

Remove (or hide) the Apple apps you don’t need

One of the nice things about iOS 10 is that this is the first version that lets you remove many (but not all) of the built-in apps that Apple provides with the mobile OS. To remove apps, press and hold on any app icon until all app icons begin shaking. As you can see, many of them now have “X” overlays, which you can use to remove those apps.


Apple apps that you should consider removing include Podcasts, Watch, Facetime, Tips, Mail, Calendar, Maps, News, Notes, Reminders, Stocks, Home, and Music.


But what you need or want to use should of course drive these decisions, and if you’re not sure you want to remove a built-in app—don’t worry, you can get them back through the Store—you can simply hide them for now, too. For example, I create a folder called Apple on my own iPhone, and I just dumped unwanted Apple apps in there. You can revisit these apps at any time, of course, and if you want to start removing them later, that works too.

Install the apps you do want

Which apps you choose for specific tasks is up to you, of course. If you’re a Microsoft guy, you may wish to use Microsoft Outlook for email, calendar, and tasks management, for example, OneNote for note-taking, various Office apps, and perhaps even Groove for music. I install all those apps, but also install Microsoft apps like Microsoft Authenticator, Skype, Sway, Office Lens, OneDrive, Bing, Cortana, Remote Desktop Client, and others. You might want to Microsoft-ize your virtual keyboard with Switfkey, as well.

My work/productivity home screen.
My work/productivity home screen.

But even Microsoft fans should avail themselves of Google or other apps that really make a difference in your day-to-day experience. For example, Google Maps is a must-have replacement for Apple Maps, no matter how much you may hate Google. And I installs apps like Google Chrome, Sonos, Spotify, Pocket Casts (podcasts), Audible, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Google Play Newsstand, Pocket, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others on my phones and devices.

Use your contacts in the Phone and Messaging apps

Whether you go the Microsoft (Outlook) or Google (Gmail/Inbox, Google Calendar) route, if you use non-Apple apps for email/contacts, you will need to separately configure your account so that your contacts appear in the Phone and Messages apps. But I already wrote about that, so check out iPhone for the Windows Guy: Use Your Microsoft Accounts for more information.

Backup your photos to multiple services (not Apple’s)

Many people believe that they can only use one online service for photo backup on their smartphone. But that’s not the case: You can configure multiple services to backup your phone-based photos. I use two—Microsoft OneDrive and Google Photos—and recommend that you do as well. Which services you use doesn’t matter all that much, as long as you’re staying away from Apple Photos/iCloud.

Speaking of which, while you’re focused on photos, let’s turn off all of the Apple stuff, as it’s terrible. Navigate to Settings, Photos & Camera and disable basically every option you see. (You should leave “Keep Normal Photo” alone; that one is related to HDR photos. And you can configure the options under Camera to your liking.)

Consider turning off iMessage

One of the truly goofy things about using an iPhone is that the Messages app works differently if the person you’re communicating with has an iPhone too. That is, you can use this app to send normal SMS/MMS messages to your contacts. But if the person on the other end of the conversation has an iPhone too, you can also take advantage of unique iMessage capabilities.

I actually leave iMessage on because my kids and several of my friends have iPhones, so taking advantage of these features makes sense for me. But if you want nothing to do with Apple’s lock-in messaging functionality, you can turn it off in Settings, Messages.

Turn off Siri

I’m not a big fan of personal digital assistants, so I leave Siri turned off. But you might want to do so because Microsoft Cortana, and Google Now (via the Google app) are more powerful alternatives.

Use iCloud for device backups, Keychain, and Find My iPhone only

Apple provides 5 GB of free storage to everyone with an Apple ID. My recommendation? Use this storage only for device backups, Keychain, and Find My iPhone, and turn off everything else, especially the photo services. And use only the free storage: There is no reason to ever pay Apple for cloud storage. If your backups exceed the 5 GB of space somehow, just delete the oldest ones.

To make this happen, navigate to Settings, iCloud. And then pretty much turn everything off: iCloud Drive, Photos, Mail, almost the whole list. You’ll want to leave Keychain, Backup and Find My iPhone on, however.


Add Microsoft (or Google) widgets to the Today screen

The Today screen appears when you swipe right from the first home screen, providing you with at-a-glance access to the weather and some other information, which is surfaced from apps. Apple apps.

The default Today screen.
The default Today screen.

But you can turn those off and add the apps you prefer. There aren’t too many from Microsoft, for some reason, but on my own iPhone, I’ve left Apple’s Weather widget and killed the rest, and added Bing Today and Cortana.


Spend some quality time in Settings

Beyond these explicit tips, be sure to set aside at least 30 minutes to manually page through all of Settings, as you’ll find numerous options to tweak and disable. For example, just turning off—or configuring—app notifications will take quite a while. It’s worth doing.

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