science-fiction, writing, technology
As the two dominant smartphone systems, both Apple iOS and Google’s Android have fanatical support. Fanatical is not too strong a word. I’ve seen threads about Windows phones that have turned into heated iOS vs. Android debates. There is probably a review of a washing machine somewhere that turns into an iPhone debate.
The strength of feeling is a testimony to great products. Apple has consistently made excellent phone hardware combined with a simple, intuitive and consistent interface. Android has developed over the past few years from a basic interface heavily modified by manufacturers and with a limited range of applications, into a slick and flexible system running on a wide variety of very good hardware.
So which is better? I’m going to give my opinion based on the current versions, all in standard (non-rooted) form:
iOS 6 running on iPhone 4S and iPAD
Android 4.2 (Jellybean) running on Nexus 4 phone and Nexus 7 tablet
There is no doubt that the best Android hardware is catching up, but there is still a quality to Apple products that I haven’t seen anyone else quite match. The products are attractive, feel solid and are typically good all-round devices, with excellent cameras and speakers as well as sharp screens with great resolution. Samsung are the clear leaders for Android phones, with Sony, Motorola, HTC and LG providing good options. The best Android phones and tablets are now matching and sometimes surpassing Apple in terms of screen resolutions, but the real concern for Apple must be in terms of screen size. A 4-inch screen is undoubtably easier for smaller hands, but additional screen size brings obvious benefits in terms of web and video. Even ignoring the Galaxy Note, with a number of high-end Android phones expected to include 5-inch screens in 2013, the iPhone 5 is looking a small in comparison.
Google Play may be numerically close to offering the 750,000 apps available in iTunes, but in terms of the quality of those apps, iTunes is still a step ahead. The progress of Google Play over the previous iteration of Android Market has been impressive and most of the best and most popular apps are now available, but there are still a few, such as Paper and Procreate, that remain iPhone specific. On the positive side for Android users, the Google Play apps are often cheaper than the Apple equivalents.
The iOS facility is fairly basic, with a double-click of the physical button the bring up the currently active apps, then select an app to switch to it, or hold down to enable to option to kill any of the apps. In Android Jellybean, the third static (i.e. always active) software button gives immediate access to a full screen display of the active apps. You can then select an app to switch to it, swipe to kill the app, or hold down to access much more information on that specific app.
There are a few places iOS apps integrate very effectively. Choosing a photo to share via email causes the photo the shrink on screen into the email in a simple but pleasing animation. Many apps have options to switch directly to Maps, to view an address or landmark, although it’s frustrating that the default is now Apple Maps rather than the more reliable and established Google Maps. Android isn’t quite so slick, although usually provides the same options.
I know that some will disagree, but for me a major bonus with Android is the static ‘back’ button. iOS relies on the single hardware button to exit the app, and the app designers to provide navigation within the app itself. The ‘back’ operation is so common though that I prefer it to be always in the same place rather than unique to the design of each application.
The iOS keyboard is very good but lacks the swipe option and visual case changes in the latest standard Android keyboard.
This is a tricky one to call. iPhones don’t have notification lights, so you are reliant on hearing the notification or switching on the screen to check. You can swipe down to see recent notifications and select one to jump to the relevant app. The Android system is very similar, except many phones do have a notification light too.
To show content updates, iOS is limited to the small red indicator in the corner of the app icon to show how the number of unread messages, outstanding tasks or similar. Even the clock, calendar and weather icons don’t change to show current information. Surely Apple must address this soon. Android widgets allow extensive information to be immediately available in your homescreen, depending on how the widget has been designed, so you often don’t need to even open the app at all. I use them sparingly, given that they do have a small impact on battery life, but it’s great to have the option.
iOS remains an effective and intuitive system. The iPhone and iPad are still the best hardware platforms, just, but you have to be willing to pay for them. Even if money isn’t an issue, Android provides the more flexible and feature rich system. There may be a favourite app that you can only access on one platform. Otherwise what to buy is still a decision that many will make with their heart rather than their head, which is fine by me regardless of whether that leads you to iOS or to Android.