BlackBerry and Windows Phone are practically non-existent now, so for most of us, the choice of which phone platform to buy into comes down to choosing between iOS and Android. Since their launch in 2007 and 2008, iOS and Android respectively have had their share of fan following.
It is obvious that Android dominates the smartphone market share worldwide by virtue of its presence across wider price brackets, and being offered by a variety of phone makers. Apple has consistently maintained a healthy share of the global market despite having only about a relative minuscule number of devices on sale each year.
For the past few years, September has been the month when Apple unveils its new iPhones. While a new Android phone is launched almost daily these days, Google also usually introduces one Nexus phone a year, typically in October. Along with new hardware, this is also the time when both companies release the latest versions of their mobile operating systems.
Both companies have, over the years, made strong cases for why a user should choose them. This means that a typical iOS versus Android debate could run on for hours. Over the years, both operating systems have been filling the gaps, and Android has become more polished over time, while iOS became more flexible.
So how does one choose? Here is a list of pros for both platforms that should help you decide the camp you belong to.
Things you gain with Android
1) More functional apps
This is evident with useful apps like the TrueCaller family; a bunch of no-input expense logging apps like Smart Spends and Walnut; automation apps like SpeakerPhone Ex and Tasker. Due to limitations of iOS platform, the ones mentioned above either don’t work as well or don’t work at all on an iPhone. On Android, apps like these that can truly make the most advantage of the phone’s capabilities.
2) Lower cost of ownership
The ‘Apple Tax’ is a term used to describe the premium one has to pay to own Apple products. Android phone makers have been consistently trying to price their flagship phones as high as iPhones for years, but most of them end up quickly discounting the price, to sell better. Then there are the new-age upstarts like Xiaomi and OnePlus that thrive on selling phones with near-high-end features at a cost that’s less than half of what Apple charges for its flagship device.
It is not only the iPhones that sell at a premium. A simple charging cable from Apple for your iPhone will cost you an excess of a thousand rupees. Even upping the storage capacity from the base 16GB on an iPhone to the next step (64GB) costs Rs. 10,000 – the same amount of money required to buy a usable Android phone these days.
3) Innovative hardware features
Due to stiff competition amongst Android smartphones, phone manufacturers go the extra mile to innovate on the hardware front, as Google covers most of the software side of the story. As a result, you get phones with nifty useful features like an IR blaster, which lets you control TVs, set top boxes and other appliances in your home, via your phone. Front-facing stereo speakers are great while consuming audio-visual content without hacky solutions like holding your hand behind the speakers on an iPhone to bounce the sound back.
And in markets like India, many people also prefer using two SIM cards at the same time. Dual SIMs were largely restricted to entry-level phones at first, but today, you’ll see dual SIM options in phones like the LG G4 and the OnePlus 2.
There are a lot of other features you can get if you go with Android thanks to the large number of phones out there. You’ll find phones with double-sided displays, screens that curve at the edge, andwireless charging, to name just a few new features.
It’s not to say the iPhone doesn’t have any hardware features to boast about – things like a capacitive multi-touch display with the original iPhone, the Retina Display with the iPhone 4, the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID with the iPhone 5s, and the 3D Touch-toting iPhone 6s are some of the innovations that the rest of the industry has followed suit on.
4) Tight Google Integration
Apple makes its money selling hardware, Google makes its by selling ads. Since iOS is the second biggest OS in terms of market share after Android, Google makes all its services available to iPhone users.
But although Google has made several apps for iPhone, they are just not as well integrated as they are on Android, and this can matter a lot if you’re highly reliant on Google’s services.
Take the example of voice commands – say you want to translate ¿Cómo estás? to English. On an Android phone, just saying “Okay, Google” and then repeating that phrase will get you the answer. Or say you want to send a WhatsApp message to a friend using voice – it’s doable with “Okay, Google”. This kind of stuff is not possible with Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant today, as it does not integrate with third-party apps. There is a Google app for iOS, it’s just an app and not a part of the OS like on Android.
Take another example – every time somebody shares a location with you on WhatsApp, Apple Maps will open up by default, not Google Maps. And we all know how helpful Apple Maps are in India.
5) Deeper customisation
No need to elaborate on this one too much – almost everybody’s aware of the fact that you can customise Android to the way you like. Don’t like the homescreen or lockscreen? Change it. Don’t like how the default fonts look? Change them too. Want to open your favourite app when you swipe up anywhere on the home screen? No problem.
These are things you can do easily on Android, without any heavy modification to the software the phones comes preinstalled with; doing similar things on iOS is only possible by jailbreaking your device.
With Android, customisation has been allowed since day one, and that has also allowed hardware manufacturers to create their own flavours of Android. Phones like the OnePlus One were successful not only because of their bang-for-the-buck hardware, but also because of the highly-customisable variant of Android that came preinstalled on the device.
6) A universal charging port
Last but not the least, there’s a good chance you won’t miss carrying your phone charger everywhere if you’re using Android. The Micro-USB port is ubiquitous amongst all phone makers except for Apple. A transition to USB Type-C is now underway, which will cause some hiccups, but it’s something that will quickly be resolved. On the other hand, even though Apple has adopted USB Type-C in the new MacBook, there is little indication that it will replace the proprietary Lightning port anytime soon on iOS devices.
Things you gain with iOS
1) Timely OS updates, and updates to older devices
The biggest advantage when the same company makes the hardware and software is timely updates. The newest iOS 9 update hit 50 percent of all devices in just 4 days. Android Lollipop reached 21 percent in 10 months, iOS 9 crossed that in 48 hours.
Android phone makers usually promise one major Android update for each handset. The iPhone 4s has received four major iOS updates since its launch 2011. I doubt there is any Android phone in the market that was made in 2011 that is running the latest version of the OS, which could bring in a host of new features and be a new lease of life to an old phone.
Sometimes important security fixes also are a part of newer updates, which will be hard for Android users to get.
2) Negligible fragmentation
Google generally releases a new version of Android every year, most manufacturers then take that OS and make their own variation of it (the manufacturers “skins”, such as TouchWiz, HTC Sense, MIUI et al) and then sell it to customers. Then next year, Google releases the next Android software update. For Android phone makers to keep supporting older hardware with new versions of Android is tedious and cost-intensive (remember they stop selling that model after a year or two anyway) so you get lots of Android phones on the market, all of which are running different versions of the OS.
Then there’s fragmentation within manufacturers’ own UI overlays. Look at TouchWiz on a Note 4 and a Galaxy S6, and you’ll notice they’re not exactly the same and they have separate timelines for updates. Or let’s take the example of how Xiaomi’s MIUI 6 chose to keep some of its own feature implementations instead of Google’s, while running Android 5.0 Lollipop.
Then there’s hardware fragmentation that causes further software fragmentation, as there are a wide variety of screen sizes and display resolutions, processors, and different amounts of RAM available to developers.
With iOS, there is negligible software fragmentation as there are only a handful devices with fixed screen resolutions, processing power and hardware capabilities. With different screen sizes and multiple models, the iPhone is slightly more fragmented than it was a few years ago, but it is still a tiny variance, when compared to Android.
3) Unmatched cross-device syncing if you use other Apple products
This is a big plus if you’re the owner of multiple Apple products. Thanks to software-hardware integration, no other software ecosystem lets you take phone calls that come to your phone on your computer without installing any additional software, then reply to SMSs from your tablet, and pick up an article you were reading on a tablet on your phone, right at the point where you left off.
4) Consistent hardware upgrade cycles
Many iPhone loyalists usually stick to a two to three year upgrade cycle. The reliable software updates are also an incentive to stick to your current iPhone, knowing that you’ll get the same software features as the new one (unless they’re hardware-dependent). Also, since 2011, a new iPhone consistently comes out by September each year. This is reassuring since you’re buying something knowing when the next version is going to be out.
With Android, there’s far too much distraction, with so many manufacturers vying for your attention with their devices. Unless you’re loyal to one Android phone maker, the timelines are all messed up with tempting Android phones launching all along the year. You buy one thing, and some other phone maker will come up with their next best in a few months, making you yearn for a feature or two that it has, and yours doesn’t.
5) A variety of high-quality, creative apps
Two years ago, apps on iOS were better designed than the ones on Android. In the past two years, we’ve seen more and more developers make Android apps look good. Today, a fair share of apps we use on Android are certainly not poorly-designed. But iOS still holds the pedestal for good looking apps. Not only are apps well-designed, but some really excel in terms of their creativity. For example, the famous Paper app is to date exclusively for iOS. Infinity Blade, a game with cult following, has remained iOS exclusive for all three versions. One wonders if it would have ever gotten paid downloads in the same numbers, had it released on Android.
You may say there’s a certain superiority complex among iOS-exclusive developers, but it boils down to the fact that iOS users are more willing to pay for apps than Android users and that they’re simply pandering to that audience, by going the extra mile.
6) Comparatively lesser malware
Apple’s “walled garden” of apps comes with certain benefits when it comes to malware. Apple doesn’t let you tinker with the OS in any meaningful way, and doesn’t (for all practical purposes) let you install apps without using the App Store. It does not permit third-party app stores, and has stringent measures to prevent malicious apps from entering the app store. Okay, maybe this is a bad week to be writing this, but it’s generally true.
Add to that the fact that Android has the lion’s share of the global market, which makes it an appealing target for malware makers, the same way Windows users tend to get targeted more on PCs.
So there you have it – both platforms compared in 2015. Personally, I’ve kept swapping between Android and iOS every few years and although currently I swear by Android, iOS only has one shortcoming, in my view, the fact that I can’t have system-wide default apps that don’t belong to Apple. Come iOS 10, I hope Apple will finally let me pick Gmail as the default mail app.