“I want to buy a new smartphone. Should I get an iPhone or an Android phone?”
I got this classic question from my friends from time to time, and decided to write an article about it. All comparisons in this writing uses iOS 7 and Android 4.3 as base. Future releases of both operating systems might change how they compare.
The real comparison should use the term “iOS” and “Android” because both are mobile operating systems. There are many brands offering smartphones with Android operating system, but there is only one smartphone brand using iOS operating system: iPhone. There are many brands offering tablets with Android operating systems, and there’s only one tablet brand using iOS: iPad.
I have personally used, owned, and experimented using both operating systems. I own iPhones and iPads, and used to own Android smartphones and Android tablets. I am not affiliated with either Apple, Google, Samsung or any other brand related to this comparison up to the time of writing this article (I might have in the future, who knows). My personal choice is iOS (iPhone and iPad). However, I am not saying that everyone should choose iPhone or iPad over Android devices. Because both operating systems have their own strengths and weaknesses. So you should choose a device based on your specific situation.
[notice]The basic concept of most purchases is…
people should choose a product based on three basic criteria:
taste, need, and price.[/notice]
And so we are going to discuss various aspects of both operating systems.
The OS’ Openness
Android is an open source OS. iOS is not open-source. But what does this mean? A lot of people take the word “open” for granted without even knowing how it will affect the product on their hands.
An open-source OS means, after being released by its original makers (Google), the source-code of that OS is made available for public so they can use and modify it themselves and create their own custom version of Android operating system. If you have decent skill and knowledge to do this, it might be interesting to do so. But if you’re just an average user trying to get a smartphone to use out-of-the-box, this openness will mean nothing for you.
Which one to choose? If you have the technical skill to modify an operating system, Android should be your choice. If you’re an average user, both operating systems can be chosen. This openness difference will not affect anything. I choose iPhone because I simply want to use my smartphone, not to modify it.
Apps Choices and Quality
Most flagship apps are available for iPhone first before Android. A highly popular game “Plants vs Zombies 2” for example, has been available for more than a month in iPhone before it finally available in Android. However, this trend might change in the future.
Both Android and iOS have massive number of third party apps. Users can just go to Apple AppStore or Google Play to download whatever app they want. Some are free apps and some are paid apps. However, this massive number of apps actually means very little in ordinary users’ day-to-day usage. Most of these apps are low quality apps with crappy interface and limited “real” functionality. You will find hundreds of apps having one similar function. Most people will need one app to do that function.
App quality is hard to compare, because there are just too many apps. However, my personal experience in searching for good app to read comic in my tablet (for my iPad and my Samsung Galaxy Tab), I find that iOS apps is more polished and run more smoothly compared to Android apps of the same criteria. I have spent money on both stores, tried free and paid versions of those apps, before coming to this conclusion. Remember that this is a very specific case for comic reader. Different type of apps might give you different comparison.
For apps that I frequently use, I find myself more comfortable using the iOS version. There’s no technical comparison here, just my personal taste.
Android app ecosystem is “open”. Apple app ecosystem is “controlled”. What does this mean?
While most people just assume that being “open” is good and being controlled is bad, many of them actually have no idea how openness (in this context) will affect them.
Open ecosystem means everyone can submit any app in the store. ANY app. That includes apps with malware infections, fake apps that pretends to be something else, fake apps to steal our passwords and credit card numbers, anything. Few weeks ago when Blackberry was about to launch official BBM app for Android and iPhone, there are hundreds of apps in Google Play pretending to be “the official app” from Blackberry. Apple has controlled app ecosystem, means every app must pass some testing procedures from Apple. When a developer wants to submit an app for Apple AppStore, he/she needs to provide valid identity, either as individual or as company. This is to make sure that an app can’t pretend to be from someone else.
In Google Play, even an ordinary people can submit app pretending to be from “Blackberry Official” or “RIM Official”. In AppStore, they can’t do that because they will have to submit a proof that they have sufficient right to use such identity.
I choose iPhone because I want to be sure that apps I download are legit and not just some fake version of an app I intend to get.
Android comes in huge variations of screen sizes and screen resolutions. This is a strength and a weakness at the same time. From user’s perspective, they get “more options”. From app developer’s perspective, it becomes nightmare to develop an app which should be compatible to all those screen resolutions. As a result, there will always be some apps not compatible or runnable but not optimized in some devices.
Some people love huge screen for their smartphones. I’ve been using iPhone 4S for 2 years and found the size fits my hand perfectly. When I upgraded to iPhone 5S with slightly taller screen, same width, I already feel huge discomfort in using my phone with one hand (that’s how I always use it). I even think that iPhone 5/5S screen size is already too big, I hope they will go back to iPhone 4/4S size next year.
I choose iPhone because I can still use it using one hand and a thumb. I need this feature because I take public transport and often I need to stand and my other hand needs to hold on to something.
Device and OS Update
New Android devices are announced every few weeks. New iPhones are announced annually. I don’t like when a new model from the same brand already appear within few months after I purchased my model. I choose iPhone because I’d like to have the feeling that the phone I have is the latest model from the brand for quite a while before accepting that newer model has arrived.
Android OS update is released by Google and usually some “selected” Google Nexus models will receive the OS update. Devices from other brands will have to wait weeks, or months before they can get an OS update. Some of them will never get any update at all unless it’s a flagship model.
iOS update is launched yearly. I choose iPhone because every Apple devices from 3 years back will receive the latest OS update on the same day as the latest model.
My work requires me to interact a lot with documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDF files a lot in my mobile devices. This is one of my need factors. The last Android tablet that I used (version 4.0) was highly unstable in opening large-sized PDF, resulting in countless crashes and hardware restarts. It embarrassed me several times when I needed to use it for something important, making me lose trust of its reliability. I ended up relying more on my 2 year-old iPad gen 1 (with much lower hardware spec) over my 2 month-old Samsung Galaxy Tab back then.
App files sandboxing
Android adapt the concept of file system. We can browse our files in a device using a file manager app, just like explorer in Windows. This concept is preferred by many people because they don’t need to re-learn new concept.
I like Apple’s concept of file sandboxing. Document files are treated as “data” of an app, so every app manages its own files, while sending certain files to a different app is still made possible. With this concept, I can fully manage separate sets of files in each of my apps, providing better sense of privacy for me. Of course, no digital data is ever going to be totally private, there’s always ways to hack into something. But I’m talking about everyday usage here, not national-security level top-secret files. What I need is simply a system easily manageable to avoid some prying eyes around me. And iPhone’s style of file management suits my taste better.
Music is important for life. And one person music collection is usually different from others. I have started building my library in iTunes years ago, since I was still using Windows. I have arranged all my songs, put artworks on them, give each song the 5 stars rating system. I have created more than 15 smart playlists that will dynamically change depends on the star rating and genre of the songs. I have created more than 50 manual playlists for special occasions and have spent countless hours in managing them. When mobile devices have the capability of playing music, it’s important for me to have all my custom setting, playlists and play counts of my library to be synced between my devices. And iPhone does that with one click to sync.
Price of used devices
This factor might be different from one country to another. But at least in Australia, used iPhone can be sold for a good price. I like to sell my old gadget and buy new ones instead of collecting everything. Based on my past experiences in selling Android devices, the price of used devices dropped more significantly than Apple devices, and it usually took longer time and more efforts to sell them.
Back to my previous statement, people choose products based on taste, need and price.
So that’s how I will recommend product to people who ask me.
No matter how good or how bad other products are, if someone can only afford certain “price”, the I won’t recommend him a product beyond his affordability level. Just this factor alone already made me recommend Android phones to some friends. Because Android has low-end smartphones as options, iPhone doesn’t have low-end option.
If price is not a problem, the next factor comes to “need”. I would ask people, what do they need to do on their phones. Most of people expect their smartphones to be able to do some browsing, listening to music, email, maps, Facebook (and other social media) and chatting (text, voice or video). Few other people use their phones for self management like reminders or calendars. For these basic needs, both iPhone and Android will be able to deliver.
For me, I rather spend on more expensive product, as long as it fits my needs and my taste.
I have very specific needs compared to ordinary people. I use my smartphones heavily. Yes I also use it for the features mentioned above. But I have other needs on top of that.
One, I need strong capability to work with work files (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs). Based on my personal experience using and comparing devices (devices I own, friend’s devices and stores’ demo units), iPhone does this better especially in handling large-sized PDFs.
Two, I want my smartphone to be wirelessly in sync with my desktop Mac and my Macbook. I want my calendar, my reminders, my emails, my documents, my chat messages to be available in any device so that I can just continue my activity in whichever devices in front of me. And iPhone does that without I need to do a lot of efforts.
Three, I have huge collection of movies and would love to be able to watch my collection on-the-go. Many video files from my collection use heavy encoding of H.264 and 10-bit color compression in 1080p resolution. Even my old Windows laptop with Intel i3 processor used to have some issues in playing these files correctly. The Android devices I tried so far failed miserably (I haven’t tested these files in the latest Galaxy Note 3). But I can watch the videos just fine in my iPhone 5S with VLC app without the need to do any conversion.
Four, I don’t want to re-build my entire library with custom settings, play count and playlists. So I choose iPhone because it will sync to my iTunes library without much trouble.
Five, I have purchased plenty of paid apps, movies, and books in iTunes Store. Hundreds of dollars. If I move to a new ecosystem, I would have to purchase all those apps, movies and books again. That would cost me a LOT of money. Not to mention that not all my favorite apps have their Android version.
Six, I can buy iTunes gift card with 25% or 30% discount here. This makes everything I purchase in iTunes Store is actually 25%-30% discounted. Google Play doesn’t sell gift cards here, so I can’t even hunt for discount.
Finally, it’s about “taste”. This is rather personal and I realize I can’t give objective explanation about this. I choose iPhone because I like the way it does things. I like how their menu looks. I like how they handle image size vs text size when they go to HiDPI (retina display) resolution. I like how the device feels on my hand.
If a person have a need to build his own custom version of mobile OS, I would recommend him Android.
If a person likes to customize and modify his device as hardware rather than actually using it in the sense of day-to-day function, I would recommend him Android.
If a person has bad eyesight so he needs larger screen (larger display), I will recommend him Android phones with 6″ screen or larger.
But if a person does not fit the three criteria above and can afford an iPhone, I would always recommend him an iPhone.