In an ideal world, of course, there would be more than two contenders for any major buying decision. In smartphones, Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile have been left to wither by Microsoft, Blackberry OS 10 got canned a few years ago, and the mass of ‘alternative’ phone operating systems comprise a fraction of one percent of all phone sales and can be ignored completely. But I do find the opposing worlds of iOS and Android fascinating. In some ways similar – both have app launchers and support all modern apps – but in other ways worlds apart, in terms of flexibility and openness. Can there be an overall winner?
With Android Q, i.e. Android 10, now available for use, as here in beta at least on my Pixel 3 XL (I’m an Android user day to day), I thought the time was right to give an overview of the pros and cons of each smartphone operating system and interface.
iOS vs Android in 2019: Which is the Best Mobile Operating System
You’ll know much of this already, I suspect, so I’ll keep things interesting by scoring things as I go along – can numbers alone pick a winner?
Like for like, iOS and iPhones feel faster and more responsive than Android – this is partly down to the rate at which the UI and touch detection can work, and partly down to the custom ‘A’ series chips, which are optimized massively, only having to work with Apple’s own chipset and software.
Having said that, the fastest Android phones – think Pixel 3 XL or OnePlus 6T, that class of device – are still demonstrably fast enough for even phone enthusiasts, so iOS’s speed advantage is minor in the grand scheme of things. Android also catches up slightly in terms of RAM use in that running applications are a bit closer to the surface, as it were, and can often be brought up essentially instantaneously.
Raw speed tests show the very latest Snapdragon 855-powered Android phone to be faster to start applications, though doubtless, that will invert when Apple’s next iPhone flagship launches in the Autumn.
In short, there’s very little in it, pound for pound, though I have to give iOS the win by a nose because the speed at which the interface runs. Plus – you know – there are so many Android phones available which are cheaper and with heavy skins that slow things down…
iOS: 9, Android: 8
Yes, yes, I’m using the consumer term ‘memory’, when I actually mean ‘flash storage’, but hey, you’ll know what I mean here. The iPhone and iOS have always worked on fixed storage, users simply buy the capacity they want. And then wish they’d bought the next tier up, often! And it’s absolutely true that some Android manufacturers, notably Google itself, but also Huawei, Nokia, and others, have tried copying the iPhone model with some success – the jury’s out on whether having expandable storage is a good idea.
It sounds like it’s always a good idea, but there are often issues with people not understanding the difference between internal and expansion disks and putting the wrong content on each, filling up the internal, swapping microSD cards and running into formatting issues. Plus internal storage is almost always faster and more reliable in the long run.
BUT I get it, I like my expandable storage as much as the next man, so I’m going to call this one a draw. Android supports both schemes anyway, so I guess it has the edge if you want the choice!
There’s also cloud storage, of course, though again Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Drive are very similar in scope and cost.
iOS: 9, Android: 9
By which I include both built-in applications and the third party scene. Out of the box, the iPhone generally does more, with iMovie in particular being a standout that has no match in terms of quality on Android. It’s part of what Apple calls the ‘iLife’ suite and there’s also the ‘iWork’ suite (of course!), though Google’s Docs, Sheet, and other office applications roughly match it in this regard, albeit not always being preinstalled, so there’s a discoverability issue here.
When you hit the application stores on both OS you find much the same content – at least at the consumer level. When you want to head into specialist areas (e.g. medicine) then iOS has a distinct advantage in terms of application quality and quantity.
Conversely, Google’s barrier for entry into the Play Store is much lower than Apple’s for the App Store, meaning that far more rubbish and even malware does get in from time to time – and this is a trap for the unwary (e.g. search for app X and find the real thing plus half a dozen rip-off clones). As mentioned above, I’m writing this feature as an Android user day to day, but I have to admit the comparative safety and quality control in Apple’s ecosystem.
And, much as I like to play the hacker, I also have to back up Apple’s lockdown of their devices so that irresponsible end users can’t willingly turn on side-loading of applications from dodgy sources and thus open themselves up to goodness knows what.
iOS: 10, Android: 8
The most obvious aspect to tackle, since we look at our phone displays a hundred times a day. Despite most Android phones copying iOS with the icon dock at the bottom of the screen, Android does allow significant customisation to what we commonly call the ‘launcher’.
Aside from theme packs (with different icons), we have ‘live’ wallpapers, often showing real world-related graphics (e.g. the Pixel 3’s live view of Planet Earth, rotating, with night and day shown in the right countries for that particular time). But the biggest difference is the visibility of widgets, small panels which display live information, whether weather, stocks and shares, news headlines, your Calendar agenda, social updates, and so on. On Android, these can live on the main home screen, in amongst shortcuts and application icons, arranged as you see fit.
Under iOS, widgets were a fairly recent arrival and are limited to existing on a swipe-down pane, i.e. you have to remember to perform this manual action (and a swipe to the side as well). While not too onerous, the reliance on human memory and the extra swipes to check widget information rather take away from the ‘live’/push feel that a truly ‘smart’ phone needs.
The iPhone X onwards introduced a gesture system to replace the old physical/capacitive home button and, at the same time, Android manufacturers started bringing in their own gesture systems – neither was first, of course, since MeeGo and then Blackberry OS 10 was doing this up to ten years ago. But gestures do mean that content can be expanded on both OS to (almost) full-screen and with displays themselves not having to fit around physical/capacitive controls.
Within applications, navigation is much the same between iOS and Android, though the lack of an obvious ‘back’ control in iOS still rankles to anyone coming to the OS for the first time. Yes, you can often swipe right to achieve the same end, but this doesn’t work in all applications and isn’t visually obvious. Google has been rumored to get rid of the back control in Android Q, but it’s still there in the early betas, so hopefully the move to using a gesture for ‘back’ won’t happen, at least not yet.
The only negative for Android on the interface front is the variety of approaches from manufacturer to manufacturer – not an issue if you stay with the same company’s hardware, but from the point of view of a user ‘playing the field’ interfaces are a varied mess.
iOS: 8, Android: 9
5. Light and Battery Efficiency
A decade ago, with the first (AM)OLED screens appearing in phones, I did some research and shouted for all who would listen that the ‘white’ nature of web pages and most applications meant vastly more power drain than was strictly necessary – ‘dark’ applications (where most pixels are either off of running at low power) could reduce battery drain for the exact same application ‘up to’ ten times.
Now, modern phones have more going on than simply putting up a screen full of data, so you have to factor in LTE data, GPS, GPU power, and so on, so that initial ‘ten times’ estimate can be scaled back a lot, perhaps to a factor of two.
Then there’s the sheer cosmetic shock at night, or in a cinema, etc. when it’s dark and you’re checking Twitter, perhaps, with its wonderful night mode, and then you hit Gmail or a web page and your eyes are positively blasted with light. It’s something of a shock!
As a result, dark themed applications and even dark modes for the UI generally have been creeping in over the last few years. The likes of Samsung have allowed almost everything to be dark for a couple of years now (aside from the usual app suspects) and with Android Q Google is doing the same, I’ve been enjoying a fully dark Pixel 3 XL for the last week and loving it. Yes, a few applications insist on white backgrounds, but many of these will allow a dark mode switch as 2019 rolls on, I’m assured.
iOS has been resolutely ‘white’ (aside from wallpapers and whatever apps themselves do) since launch, but iOS 13 is reliably rumored to also (optionally) go black, joining Android – and I can’t believe I’m using the cliché – ‘on the dark side’!
Still, Android leads the way here, at among modern OS – Windows Phone was fully dark back in 2012! Just thought I’d point that out…
iOS: 5, Android: 8
No question here, at least as long as you live within easy reach of an Apple Store – which is most people watching this, I suspect. Whether it’s hardware support – our own family has had several out of warranty repairs done for free – or software, through the so-called Genius bar, Apple and iOS are definitely ahead here.
In contrast, Google and Samsung and others have very patchy physical support – at least here in the UK – and you’re on your own in terms of solving problems on the whole. The Internet will have to be your friend here.
If this all sounds a little generous to Apple then it’s not, it’s a matter of fact. Even though I use Android, I still like going into the Apple Store, enjoying what’s going on and bantering with the staff. Wish that I could do the same in a fully stocked Google, Samsung, Huawei or LG store….
iOS: 9, Android: 4
7. Voice Assistance
Siri was predated by Google’s voice recognition, but only just and, once bought by Apple, Siri became the first genuine assistant on smartphones. Google took their sweet time at packaging their own voice system for Google Assistant, which appeared in 2016 and is now on just about every Android smartphone in the Western world. We’ll overlook competitors such as Cortana since they never achieved market share on mobile.
Siri is remarkably capable for a software system that claims not to transmit any of your personal information online and it handles all the basics (reminders, alarms, web queries, and so on), but Google Assistant is in a different league, at the cost of letting Google know just about everything you’re doing. It’s close to being a true AI (Artificial Intelligence) system though and is getting better every month, thanks to the data piling up on its servers around the world. You’ll have heard of Google Duplex, an extension of Assistant, which is rolling out and will handle phone calls for you responding intelligently and talking naturally to the other party.
We live in fast-moving times and I have to give the win here to Google.
iOS: 8, Android: 10
8. Choice of Hardware to Run it on
This is the big one, of course. iPhone and iOS fans will say, with some justification, that Apple offers a range of phones… it’s just a very small range. Arguably only three sizes these days and a handful of models. In contrast, as most of you know, Android is a vast, sprawling ecosystem with almost a hundred manufacturers and getting on for 1000 different phones for sale at any given time, around the world.
Those thousand models range in size from 3” screens to 7”, prices range from $40 to $1400 and beyond. Every possible variation in specifications and subtle form factor variation is represented.
Yes, I know this is a software and ecosystem article, but the choice of hardware has to play some part. I know these are common hobby horses of mine, but let’s say you decide you do want an audio jack or storage expansion or absence of a notch – there are still plenty of Android-powered models to choose from.
iOS: 5, Android: 9
These days, smartphones exist in a continuum of other smart gadgets – smart watches, smart homes, smart speakers, as well as connected desktops and laptops and tablets. It’s a dizzying mess and one which Google only really tackles through the Cloud and your Google account. Which is usually enough for most people – stuff is in your Google Gmail account, Contacts and Calendars, there’s Google Photos, Google Drive, and so on.
But Apple’s Handoff APIs for iOS and MacOS mean that there’s an extra degree of connection between your Apple software gadgets, picking up applications on one device that you started on another (e.g. iPhone to iPad). Plus the only smartwatch that has taken off in the mainstream is the Apple Watch and that’s tied inexorably to iOS and the iPhone, so that’s another vote for Apple’s approach to connectivity.
On the other hand, Android supports MTP natively, for file transfers when you plug in a USB disk or similar, or for when you hook up an Android phone to a desktop or laptop. It uses more wires and adapters than iOS’s AirDrop (over Wifi to other Apple products), but it’s theoretically faster and more reliable with far more hardware.
Then you get the desktop mode scene on Android flagships, with Samsung’s DeX and copycat systems from Huawei and others (heck, Samsung copied it from Microsoft in the first place) – plug your phone into a big screen and, in theory, you get to work with your data as if on a desktop OS.
Which nicely levels the playing field!
iOS: 9, Android: 9
By which I have to note that the two operating systems and their ecosystems are not symmetrical, i.e. if you have an iPhone and want all the Google (and Microsoft, for that matter) applications and services (e.g. Drive, Photos, Gmail) then they’re all there, in the App Store.
On the other hand, if you have an Android phone then you have no access whatsoever to iMessage, iCloud, Apple’s iWork and iLife suites. I’ve lost count of the number of friends and relatives who have ended up on iOS simply ‘because they needed to be compatible with their friends on iPhones’. This is clearly a conscious lock-in strategy by Apple and it seems to be working.
It’s hard to be too tough on Android in terms of scoring though, since if you’ve chosen Android then you’re probably not interested in Apple’s services in the first place!
iOS: 10, Android: 6
iOS vs Android: Verdict
As you’re reading this on iPhoneHacks, you may be thinking that my verdict in all ten categories was biased, that I was manipulating scores so that iOS would win. However, note that I’m normally to be found writing on AndroidBeat.com and that I typically only use an iPhone once a month or so, just playing around with the technology. So I’m no die-hard iOS fan.
If I’m biased then it should be the other way around, favoring Android, yet if you tot up the numbers you’ll come to the conclusion that iOS is indeed the winner, albeit by a very slender margin.
- iOS: 82 pts/100
- Android: 80 pts/100
It’s all a bit of fun, of course, since there were no weightings on any of the categories and most of us have one factor that we’re passionate about. And the small margin does show that, even after taking into account wildly different pros and cons, there still isn’t much between the two main smartphone platforms overall. By comparison, Windows 10 Mobile (not long for this world) would score around 50 and Blackberry OS 10 (RIP) about 40. It really is a two horse race these days!
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