In the spirit of giving folks what they ask for, I’ve decided to take on the subject of iOS versus Android head-on. This is hardly an easy comparison to make as each platform evolves so quickly. Over a period of a few years, both of these platforms have undergone major changes to many of the key features that drew initial users to the platform(s) in the first place. Just look at the way iOS and Android handle notifications today compared to the way they were handled just over a year ago.
Both Apple and Google put an effort into bringing features to the platform that were in high demand by users. Some very iOS-like functionality made its way to Android while some very Android-like features are now firmly embedded within iOS. In the end, we all benefit because this gives us the ability to choose between two incredible platforms. Let’s not forget that you might also prefer Windows Phone or RIM’s platform over either of these. Better is always relative.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the important notes surrounding each of these platforms and how these differences might influence a consumer’s choice.
iOS is only made available on Apple-branded products. You won’t find any third-party OEMs taking iOS and putting their own features on it or carriers delaying updates in order to put custom features on the device. If Apple didn’t put it in iOS, it doesn’t ship with it to the customer. Of course you can jailbreak your iOS device and/or install a vast array of useful applications to extend your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad’s functionality just as you can on Android.
Android is a product of Google, but Google decided to make it available to OEMs. It can be distributed by just about anyone, and there are plenty of third-party mods and ROMs available which drastically change the user experience. Carriers and OEMs put their own changes into Android as well, which delays the update process on devices not directly supported by Google. This is one of its strengths, but also one of its biggest weaknesses.
Interoperability with Other Products
Apple has a full family of products that work hand-in-hand and have the same user experience whether you’re on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. This product family also shares a common set of accessories that extend that inherent functionality well beyond the initial product offerings. iCloud makes it easy to sync content generated on one device to any other iOS device you might have.
Android devices are more like islands. Different manufacturers make different choices about product size, screen resolution, connectivity, and even the control buttons. Some OEMs put built-in features on their devices that others will not work with. The Samsung Galaxy S III, for example, has a syncing feature that only worked with other Samsung Galaxy S III devices until the next generation of Samsung products came out. Only the core Google software included with Android and some third-party apps are inherently compatible with other Android devices, and even then this doesn’t apply to all of them.
Apple’s products have an incredibly active community of third-party accessory makers that come out with new accessories before the devices even ship. This is one of the benefits of Apple’s market share. OEMs love making accessories for products that a large percentage of the market is using.
Android devices don’t always have the same level of accessory support. Not every Android phone has a wide selection of cases or additional accessories. Often, a less popular Android device will be all but forgotten by even the most inclusive big box stores. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of Android device accessories out there, but the level of support for each device varies considerably.
With Apple, you deal with one company. Apple supports its products from day one and will continue to provide support in one form or another as long as you use the product. You know what to expect with Apple, and its service is fairly well rated when compared to the leading competition.
Android is a bit different. The OEM may provide support for your device, but not the software. Your carrier has some level of responsibility in the support chain as well. This could be a good thing if you prefer dealing with that particular OEM and/or carrier, but there’s something to be said for consistency.
iOS devices can be jailbroken, but Apple might void your warranty if something goes wrong. Apple is firmly against jailbreaking, and the legality of the action is still being highly contested in court.
Android is far more open. Some Android devices are designed specifically to encourage rooting and custom software modifications. Android is all about choice, and choice can be a very good thing for users. Whether you enjoy CyanogenMod or stock, the choice is yours to make.
Apple has locked down iOS and its UI is simplicity defined. It’s made to be picked up and used without a manual. It’s simple and easy to use for just about anyone. Even if you tried, getting lost in the iOS UI is very difficult.
Android is all about choice. Animated wallpapers, widgets, customization, and the ability to change the UI through an app are just a few reasons that people are drawn to Android. Choice is important, and Android users get plenty of it.
iOS gives users a fairly strong amount of iCloud-powered recovery and restoration options. Find My Phone makes it easier to locate a lost and/or stolen phone, remotely wipe it, and lock it from anywhere in the world. iCloud backup makes it easy to restore or transfer your data from one iPhone to another with ease. Just make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection.
Android also gives users a great cloud-based restore feature. You can move between phones very easily and even send apps to specific devices from your PC’s browser.
Core OS Features
iOS has a basic set of core features. Its evolution has been somewhat slow by comparison to Android. It’s designed with an emphasis on simplicity and appealing to the largest possible pool of users.
Android has a remarkable amount of built-in features with more being added at a breakneck pace. Don’t blink! You’ll miss something.
The included iOS keyboard is pretty good. Predictive text continues to improve and it’s one of the most accurate touch experiences I could hope for.
Android has more flexibility here. You get a nice gesture keyboard included, but you have the option to expand to other keyboards should the default one not be to your liking. Again, Android is about choice.
All modern iOS devices receive updates as Apple releases them. Small updates come frequently with more major updates coming at a yearly pace.
Android receives more frequent significant updates though the pace of adoption is noticeably slower. Unless you have a Nexus device, you could have a long wait for a new version of Android to appear on your device. In many cases, support for new versions cease after a single major update.
Apple likes to control everything about the user experience. This control extends to the marketplace where every app is scrutinized and either approved or disapproved.
Google has an approval policy in place, but it’s a lot more open than Apple’s. That said, there are fewer tablet-specific binaries available on Google Play than there are on iTunes.
Software / Hardware Congruency
Apple has made very specific plans over the years that have put iOS and its supporting products in lockstep. Screen resolutions are consistent, and the software matches the hardware almost exactly.
Android is all over the map. Android devices have any number of different screen resolutions and often developers have to take special measures to adjust their software for the platform. This is one reason there aren’t nearly as many tablet-optimized binaries available for Android as with iOS. Developers love the platform, but this inconsistency can create issues with various devices.
Ease of Use
iOS is simple. It’s made to be picked up and used on the first day with little to no instruction. It is intuitive, and that’s one of its biggest strengths.
Android is becoming increasingly easier to use. What was once a more complex platform is quickly becoming an easier choice for new users making the leap to smartphones.
iOS puts priority on the front experience. Apps running in the background are very limited and capable of only doing things that Apple doesn’t feel will negatively affect user experience.
Android is a bit more like a “classic” machine. It still gives a bit more emphasis on the app in the foreground, but it has a slightly more robust support platform for multitaskers.
iOS is a strong driver for users interested in fit and finish. It’s a combination of function and form that emphasizes balance.
Android is better at driving features. Every feature you might expect a modern phone to have is in some way supported by the Android platform. This makes it a much bigger draw for feature fans with powerhouses like the Nexus 4 and Samsung Galaxy S III in the wild.