Note: This is a point-counterpoint article style. If you want to see 5 ways Android beats iOS, click the link at the bottom of the article.
If you want to start a flame war on the Internet, there are a few topics to try bringing up. One of these is iOS versus Android. Even just a news article about a minor update or rumor about one OS or another is likely to summon anger and hate. That being said, there are a few ways iOS is better than Android. Here are 5 of them. These reasons do not revolve around downloadable apps except where it applies to the debate. Also, the arguments are not listed in order of importance or effectiveness. Jailbreaking and/or rooting is also not being taken into consideration unless explicitly stated otherwise.
SECURITY: McAfee certainly finds iOS more secure than Android. For better or worse, Apple tightly controls the experience of iOS, including the flow of apps into the App Store. Apple’s examination process means increased security against malicious apps making it onto your iDevice. We have seen proof of concepts where the App Store has some security bugs or apps have gotten through Apple’s screening process, but overall nothing like the malicious attempts against Android.
This goes deeper than just apps though. Apple has the Find My iPhone app available for all of its iDevices in case yours gets lost or stolen. I can’t tell you how many times in my job I have used or have seen this used to track a student’s stolen iPhone. Of course you can get free or paid third-party options in the App Store and some of them offer more features. But Apple’s own offering provides a very simple experience that you can access from any computer or iDevice that allows you to track your phone, send messages, or erase your entire phone. Android has no solution of its own for this.
Both stores have apps that sometimes grab things that they probably shouldn’t be meddling with (why do some games need access to my contact list?), but with the recent iOS 6 update, Apple has allowed finer controls. Now apps that want to access your Address Book, Location, Facebook or Twitter account, among other things, have to actually ask permission to do so. Admittedly this whole thing started after a few scandals, but better late then never.
MULTITASKING: iOS multitasking was implemented before Android got their own solution and has done it better since day one. Just a double tap on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch’s home button brings up the multitasking bar. You can slide through all of your open apps, or slide to the left and get access to your music controls. Pause, play, fast-forward, and rewind, or jump straight into the app playing the audio be it Pandora, your Music app, or whatever. You also can control your iDevice’s AirPlay streaming controls and whether to lock the screen’s rotation. iOS users also got the ability to kill apps from that multitasking bar, even if they didn’t actually need to.
Android users get most of the same multitasking features like background audio or voice calls, but application switching didn’t get any native solution until Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”. Android users had been using app-killing solutions from the Android Marketplace, but it took Google until Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” to actually implement that feature natively. Admittedly the way Android 4.0 does it looks pretty slick, but it seems like something that could have been included so much earlier. And speaking of apps…
APPS, APPS, AND APPS!: If there was one thing any smartphone or tablet has to have these days, its apps. While Steve Jobs may not have initially liked the idea of iOS apps, it’s pretty safe to say that he was wrong. Today, Apple’s iOS has the largest marketplace for apps of any mobile OS (and maybe even some desktop operating systems). iOS has over 600,000 apps with almost half of them for the iPad. If you’re looking for an app, chances are you’ll find it there. Apple does place some restrictions on how apps may function, some of this for security while others seem downright controlling, but as a whole, the Apple experience works fluidly, and many developers have figured out how to use the rules of iOS to their needs, especially with the lack of a file manager like Mac’s Finder. On the user end, many people are leaving the standard computer for the iPad, including the elderly, students, young children, and more.
Some of the limits also factor in to quality control. Apps on iOS seem better built, more stable, and less resource intensive than their Android counterparts. This certainly seems like a factor in why iOS users are more willing to retain apps than Android users. To be fair, some apps are great across platforms, while others are coded badly no matter the platform (I’m looking at you Facebook), so Android and iOS are not completely responsible for apps or their entire quality experience. It’s also fair to note that the amount of free apps on Android is greater than iOS.
This also affect developers too. Many developers publish an app hoping to make some money for the time they put into it. This varies from developer to developer and the reason the developer makes an app may not be solely for profit. It’s not uncommon for popular apps to come out on the iPhone or iPad first before making the leap to Android. Why? Android developers don’t make the same amount of cash as iPhone users do. Macworld reports about how developers make less on Android than iOS.
RESPONSIVENESS: This is where we get a little technical. Hardcore Android users love to talk about the hardware specs of their devices. These can include 2 gigs of RAM, quad-core CPU and graphics, NVidia chipsets, etc. For any tech geek, those are fairly impressive mobile stats. Here’s something Android users never seem to talk about though: why does iOS run just as smooth, if not smoother, then the majority of Android devices while having generally lower stats (save for the graphics processor and the resolution of the screen on the latest models)? Android and iOS users can play the same games, like ShadowGun, but iOS tends to play it so much more cleanly than Android.
Let’s look also at touch response. The response time of an iPhone or iPad is consistently faster, more fluid, and better tracks your finger’s motion than Android. This is what it breaks down to: iOS was created from the very beginning to be a touchscreen system, meaning that responsiveness to your touch needed to be a top priority. So iOS sets a user’s touch command as a “real time priority”. When you touch your iPad or iPhone’s screen, the device puts your touch and the corresponding commands at the highest priority. It focuses all its attention on you like a puppy on a new toy.
When Android was first developed, it was competing against BlackBerry, so Android originally used a physical keyboard and mouse like BlackBerry. Then the iPhone came out, and Android had to adapt. But they implemented touch as a “normal priority”, treating it the same way as all the device’s other processes rather than the most important. Google could fix this, if they wanted to have almost every app in the Google Play store rewritten to support the change. Chances of this happening in the near future are pretty slim, so Google and manufacturers will likely keep sticking with more powerful hardware. You can read more about this at Redmond Pie’s article.
FRAGMENTATION: OK, I saved this section for last because it’s a very sensitive point in the debate and is probably the most detailed. This argument also tends to be the go-to argument when people comment on the negatives of Android and I wanted to show there were other legitimate reasons before coming to this one.
With that out of the way, Android has a huge fragmentation problem, partially as a result of its openness and partially because of Google. Android is available on many different devices running different hardware specs, screen sizes, and versions of Android. It’s only recently that Google has tried to reign in on Android’s fragmentation problems.
Let’s start with the user interfaces. You get a different user interface per manufacturer: Motorola has Blur, there’s HTC’s Sense, the stock Android experience, etc. If you switch manufacturers, say to the Samsung Galaxy series from a Motorola phone, you have a little bit of a learning curve. Some of these interfaces are downright ugly, though that’s a comment directed at the manufacturers rather than Android. Different user interfaces aren’t a problem if a user chooses it because that’s their choice, but it’s a different story when you can’t customize that (which has always been a strong point for Android).
While we’re on the subject of manufacturer differences, let’s talk about stock apps. Every OS comes with stock apps, such as the browser, calendar, etc. But Android, like Windows on the desktop, generally has extra apps that the manufacturers put on the devices to make extra money and they have the right to do so. However you don’t hear Windows users cry out in the same way that Android users do over third-party stock apps. Why is that? On Windows, you can always uninstall these apps, but not on Android. If you want to uninstall the third party stock apps like security services, office software, etc., you have to root your device. Plus, mobile phones don’t have the hard drive space that a full computer does. You can eventually uninstall these apps, but you have to wait until there is a way to root your device (basically putting you in complete control over your device), and these aren’t always stable activities and can end up breaking your phone if you use the wrong one. It’s one thing for Google to have their stock apps, but it’s different from those apps that a manufacturer puts on there.
Apps are also a problem on Android. I’m not talking about the quality or range of apps on Android, I’m talking about not being able to install apps. Let me explain: there are apps on every operating system, desktop or mobile, that won’t install on certain versions or devices or lack of requirements. Some apps don’t update and require older operating systems, while some are new and don’t support older versions. Likewise apps aren’t capable of running on some systems because of the lack of hardware requirements (this is especially true for media intensive apps like games). No use using a camera app if your device has no camera. So why am I picking on Android? It’s the way Android handles this issue. If I run into an app that I can’t run on my iPhone or iPad (which is rare indeed), the App Store will tell me that this app isn’t compatible with my device. On Android, I don’t get this pop-up for incompatible apps. In fact, I don’t get anything. If an app isn’t compatible with my device, looking it up on my device won’t tell me that. It just acts like the app doesn’t exist. I have to go to the Android Marketplace website to see this for certain. I want to be clear here: I’m not talking about screen size limitations. There are apps that are only available on my iPad that aren’t available on my iPhone and vice versa, and this isn’t something I hold against Android. This is specifically when I’m look for an app on two different Android devices the app will show up on one device but not others.
But by far the worst thing about Android fragmentation is updating the OS. In the iOS world, so long as your device is at least 2 years old or younger, you’re guaranteed to get the latest version of iOS. You may be lacking some features due to hardware or Apple limitations, but you still get the majority of the patches, features, and fixes for your device. The latest version iOS (6.x.x) already is on a majority of iOS devices. If you’re waiting for an Android update, join the club. The current version of Android (Jelly Bean, 4.1-4.2) is still only about 10% of the market. The hardware manufacturers are doing a pretty lousy job at upgrading their devices, even their latest devices. They aren’t making the grade. The only devices that consistently get the latest and greatest Android updates are the Nexus devices running the stock version of Android. Those are released yearly and are run almost entirely by Google, who also controls the design of the Nexus devices, though they outsource the actual manufacturing to one of their hardware partners. Funny, does this sound a little like Apple?
CONCLUSION: I’m not an Apple fanboy, despite what you might think. There are things I sincerely like about Android, and some things I wish would change in iOS. All that aside, I know that my iDevices will always have the latest software for at least a few years, have a wider and better selection of apps, and will work when I need them too. Apple and iOS aren’t perfect, but this is a case where the vertical integration style of Apple just works, and that’s what I really need. If you care to hear 5 ways Android is better than iOS, another post will come out soon detailing 5 ways Android is better than iOS. I encourage you to read both sides of the debate.
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