Apple versus Android: We know, we know—you’ve got some strong opinions.
If you’re an Apple guy, your mind’s already made up. The iPhone essentially launched the smartphone revolution, and with each new release, Apple improves on their flagship product. Their quality control is impeccable. Their user experience is absolutely perfect. That’s why people camp out at Apple stores for days. Sure, it’s fanaticism, but it’s warranted. Right?
— ANEeSD (@aneesdadabhay) September 14, 2017
Likewise, if you’re an Android fan, you’re not going to be switching anytime soon. iPhone owners are essentially slaves to their devices, mindlessly adhering to the limited functionality of the iPhone operating system, iOS. Android phones are (generally) cheaper, less fragile, and more powerful than iPhones. Plus, many of them still have headphone jacks. That’s a clear set of advantages, right?
Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle, but that won’t stop iPhone and Android fanboys from fighting bitterly. We decided to reach out to the experts to find out whether one mobile operating system is truly superior—and why consumers should care about the differences.
Apple Vs. Android, Round One: Hardware
Immediately, we’re running into a major issue: Android phones don’t have any sort of standard hardware, while the iPhone is obviously made by a single manufacturer. As such, any discussion of hardware differences ultimately becomes critical towards the iPhone.
You right but my iPhone hasn’t had a crashing issue because of faulty software or hardware like my previous 2 androids
— Tylar (@TyPelletier) March 12, 2018
Still, we’ve got a few important points to make here, and they’re mostly in Apple’s favor. The iPhone is absolutely a trendsetter in the world of mobile technology, and while it frequently faces criticism for lacking features like expandable storage or removable batteries, it also introduced a number of innovations like multi-touch displays, high-quality built-in cameras, lightning-fast mobile processors, and Siri. While some of Apple’s decisions are easy to criticize—and yes, we’ll get to the headphone jack in a moment—the company has an enviable place in tech history.
“Their hardware is always nearly flawless,” software consultant Cole Mercer says of Apple. Mercer strongly prefers Android devices, but he admits that the iPhone is an incredibly well-built piece of tech.
“There’s no doubt that Apple has superior hardware design and manufacturing practices compared to nearly anyone else, especially when it comes to consistency,” he says.
As for the infamous headphone jack issue, Apple adherents claim that it’s really not a big deal. While newer iPhones don’t have headphone jacks, they can always use a dongle to connect traditional headphones, and iPhone fans say that the change is actually quite forward-thinking.
Boasting that your phone has a headphone jack to iPhone users is just like how horse owners used to boast to car owners back in the early 20th century that their mode of transportation is not a machine #technology
— Sheng Xiang (@thatmasteryen) March 23, 2018
“When they got rid of the floppy disc drive, people were outraged, but it was a short lived outrage,” says Luke Dormehl, journalist and author of numerous technology books, including The Apple Revolution.
“I think, with the headphone jack, you had people who spent a lot of money on headphones, and they were sort of outraged that they had to buy a dongle to use their expensive headphones with their new iPhone,” he notes. “But Apple can sometimes dictate these things because of their market position.”
While some Android phones can match the iPhone’s features, Apple’s numerous innovations and excellent quality control probably give them the edge in terms of hardware.
Apple Vs. Android, Round Two: User Experience
Apple’s brand is built on ease of use. Their slogan, “It just works,” perfectly summarizes their approach; users don’t have to search for hidden features (although the iPhone certainly has a few of them) or suffer through catastrophic software bugs. iOS is clean, simple, and easy.
I’m having to use an Android phone for a couple days until I’m able to go get a new iPhone and I would 100% compare the experience to medieval torture
— Sam Gaither (@SamGaither) March 21, 2018
However, that simplicity comes at a cost.
“[iPhones have] severe limitations placed on applications and background processes, except for Apple’s own apps,” Mercer says. “For instance, sending data across two apps on an iPhone has always been very difficult compared to an Android, depending on the apps involved, their coding, and whether they’re integrated into the ‘sharing and actions extension’ in the right way or not.”
Android devices don’t have the same limitation, but as a result, they’re more susceptible to software bugs and malicious programming.
“On Android, the user can pretty much send any data across any two apps, but it’s not always the best experience,” Mercer admits.
other than iphone having a really good camera, android is better in every other aspect
— Mynx Alexandria Morose Ⓥ (@MynxMorose) March 7, 2018
If you’re buying a brand-new phone and you’ve never owned a smartphone before—and yes, we realize that those types of buyers don’t really exist anymore, since 77 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones—the iPhone absolutely provides the best experience.
However, if you want the freedom to do anything you want with the hardware you paid for, Apple’s strict control of the iPhone counts as a mark against it.
“In general, almost everything is completely customizable by the user [on Android devices],” Mercer says. “Not to mention direct access to the file system, if you want it, a superior notifications system with high degree of customization, [and] non-proprietary connectors for power and data.”
Android users certainly have to take more responsibility, but Mercer says that the differences in user experience are, for the most part, overstated.
“Overall, Android is just much better software in every way, especially in productivity, but the user must take care not to ‘mess it up’ by installing malicious things or customizing it into oblivion,” he says.
Apple Vs. Android, Round Three: Available Software
This rolls right into the iPhone’s biggest problem: its “walled garden” approach to design. If you start using an iPhone, you’re unlikely to switch to an Android, and Apple’s software helps to keep you from exploring.
“It’s difficult to get out of the [Apple] ecosystem once you’ve got data in it,” Mercer says. “iOS doesn’t let the user do anything anti-Apple. For instance, you cannot replace the default apps for certain tasks and could only within the last couple years start using a third-party keyboard.”
“In general, most everything is ‘child-proofed’ in a way, and users can’t change much. This is intended to stop users from ruining their experience through changing too many things or installing malicious software themselves.”
Apple’s tight control of its operating system also means that it’s harder for developers to sell their apps. As of March 2017, the App Store had 2.2 million apps, while the Google Play store—the largest Android app marketplace—offered 2.8 million.
Still, Mercer notes that some developers prefer the iOS development environment. Dormehl says the trend probably won’t change anytime soon.
“Apple has been really active with things like Swift, their programming language, and teaching classes at Mac stores, and getting it into curriculums at colleges and universities,” he says. “They’re doing a lot of groundwork getting new generations of developers into their projects. For Android, I think it’s a little harder, because your apps won’t work on every device that runs the OS. It’s a more fractured platform.”
Apple Vs. Android, Round Four: The Future of Smartphones
Let’s assume that you’re preparing to buy a new smartphone in the next few months. You’ve probably got a pretty good idea of whether you want to switch platforms—but before you make the decision, consider that you might be working with outdated information.
“In my anecdotal experience, most iPhone devotees have never used a similar-tier Android device before, so they’re not actually familiar with how much better life and productivity can be with one,” Mercer says. “If someone has a bad experience with Android, it was usually because they had one five or six years ago when things were in a much worse state and Google didn’t build them directly.”
Everyone around me is an iPhone user. And they even tempted me to change for an iPhone.
I’m a loyal guy. Android forever. Huhu.
— A. Nasri (@a_nasri_) February 14, 2018
Mercer notes that Google’s Pixel line provides the purest Android experience available, and he believes that the Android market will become less fractured over the next several years.
“We’ll see more people converting to [Android] over the long term,” he says. “Apple got the head start in the smartphone game, but Android is way more popular on a global scale.”
With that said, to appeal to new users, Android phones will have to steal a few of Apple’s tricks. Starting with Android Oreo, newer versions of Android have imposed more restrictions on background processes in an effort to improve phone battery life.
Currently, Android is still much less restrictive than iOS, but depending on your technical knowledge, that’s not necessarily a good thing, since fewer restrictions means more room for error. The variety in the Android market might also count as a point against it, at least for casual users.
“With Android, it’s a much more fractured market,” Dormehl contends. “You’ve got your high-end Samsungs, but you’ve also got affordable handsets that are really popular in the developing world or in the West when people don’t want to spend too much. Apple is much more a luxury brand.”
“I value performance, function, and open software ecosystems over brand value and consistent hardware,” Mercer says. “If you pick the right Android device, it will be better in every way than an iPhone. The trouble is, many folks don’t pick the right devices.”
Apple does continue to innovate, and features like Face ID, flaws aside, keep the company’s trendsetting reputation alive. For Android fans, however, hardware gimmicks can’t really compete with the freedom of an open mobile operating system.