September 30, 2012 48 Comments
Last update: October 30, 2013
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Last year I wrote two articles that compared Android to iOS. One stressed Apple’s advantages, and the other stressed Google’s advantages. Both turned out to be extremely popular. Since each operating system has had at least one major update since then, I’ve decided to update both articles — starting with the one about Android. Can Android 4.4 hold its own against iOS 7.1?
The Top Ten Most Important Android Advantages
Although iOS is a great operating system, Android has many advantages over it. Let’s start with the most important ones:
- Google Answers Your Questions Before You Ask Them – Google Now goes beyond Siri because it learns about you through your searches, and automatically provides useful info to you. For example, Google Now knows when you need to leave for work and from which gate your flight is departing. It also automatically displays things like sports scores, traffic and weather. It will even alert you if there’s a traffic jam and automatically recommends places around you like restaurants. Google Now can now can give you movie start times, help you track packages and help you find great spots to take photos based on your current location.
Google Now goes far beyond Passbook by looking for flight confirmations in your email so it can automatically notify you of upcoming flights and changes to your itinerary. Unlike Passbook, you’ll don’t need to install a separate mobile app for each airline you travel with. When you get to the airport Google Now pulls up a digital boarding pass for you which includes a QR code to scan at the gate along with information on the terminal, gate number, seat number and boarding group. Google Now looks at where you’re going, and tells you how the weather will be when you get there. The service can also remind you of hotel, event and restaurant reservations.
Update (4/29): While it’s true that Google Now can finally be run on iOS there are significant limitations: It cannot be run on the iOS lock screen like it can on the Galaxy S4 and other Android 4.2 phones. It also can’t run in the background as a widget. Google Now is also missing quite a few options on iOS and doesn’t run automatically upon startup. Some of the best Google Now cards are not currently available on Google Now for iOS. This includes Airline boarding pass, Activity summary, Events, Zillow, Fandango, Concerts, Research topic and Nearby events. Another important difference is the fact that Google Now can only be activated from within the Search app, and it must be turned on by a user, who will be prompted on launch of the updated app and must sign in to a Google account. Once you’ve given permission to turn it on, it can be accessed inside the Search app only.
- A Digital Wallet That Can Buy Things Today – Apple’s Passbook shows promise, but it’s the only digital wallet which can’t buy things anywhere except Starbucks (or the Apple Store). Android supports near field communication (NFC) and Google Wallet which lets you buy things at over 300,000+ PayPass cash registers. After setting up Google Wallet on an NFC equipped phone like a Samsung Galaxy S III, you simply place your phone on the terminal for a second, enter your PIN and your Google Wallet will be debited by the amount of the purchase. Google Wallet is currently accepted at more than twenty retail chains including 7 Eleven, Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Duane Reade, Einstein Bros Bagels, Footlocker, Home Depot, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Peet’s Coffee, Pinkberry, Rite Aid, Sports Authority, Whole Foods and more. You can learn more about Google Wallet here.
- Better Sharing Between Apps – It’s easiest to explain system intents by contrasting the sharing options between an iOS app and an Android app. When you share on my iOS Notes app you’re given four different sharing choices: Mail, Message, Print and Copy. When you share from the Android Notes app, you’re allowed to share via Bluetooth, Google Drive, Dropbox, Email, Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Read It Later, SkyDrive, Text Message, Twitter, Wi-Fi Direct, WordPress Blog and 17 other apps. The actual list varies, depending on which apps you have installed. Google realizes Android cannot be best at everything, and allows you to choose which apps you want to interact with.
- Touch-to-Share Anything – Android Beam allows any two NFC-equipped devices to exchange data wirelessly by simply by tapping them together. This allows Android users to share web pages, maps, You Tube videos, contacts, links to apps and more. Starting with Android 4.1, Android Beam made it possible to share photos and video bover Bluetooth for the data transfer. Samsung’s S Beam combines NFC with Wi-Fi Direct. This makes it possible to transfer almost anything including music playlists, documents, photos and longer videos between two Samsung devices. Here is a video of S Beam in action. It’s even possible for Android devices to share data with Windows mobile phones.
- Multi-user Support on a Single Device– Multiuser support was a new feature in Android 4.2. For now, it’s restricted to tablet use. When enabled on the quick settings menu, you’re taken to a lock screen similar to a log-in screen you’d see on a PC. Choose the user, swipe to unlock, and you’re in. Each user has their own home screen, background, apps, and widgets. Even when multiple users share an app, you’re still able to keep your app settings, game-progress and high-scores separate. You can even set up a guest profile so a friend can check their email, but can’t update your Facebook status. All iOS devices are tied to a single iTunes account and changes made by one user will affect all other users of that device. Multiuser support is a very difficult feature to add, so it’s very unlikely we’ll see this in iOS soon.
- Associate Multiple Gmail Accounts with a Single User – iOS only allows you to associate a single iTunes account with a single device. Android lets you add extra Google Accounts to a device running Android 4.0 (or later). Each account has its own email, contacts, calendar, apps and Google Play media. This allows you to use one email for work and another for your personal use, or one email for you, and another other for your significant other. By adding both accounts to your tablet, you’ll be able to view the merged data.
- More Advanced Multitasking – Apple places restrictions on third-party apps which run in the background. In most cases, they are suspended and not allowed to communicate with other apps. This improved with iOS 7, but it still very different than what Android is capable of. Android supports true-multitasking without any of the above restrictions. This makes it possible to do things which cannot be done on iOS.
- Smart Widgets – Widgets provide you with real-time weather updates, stock quotes, recent e-mails and more. Widgets are always visible and updated in the background — without needing to launch an app. Widgets provide easy access to system and application settings. Want to disable Wi-Fi or GPS services? Use a widget. When using Android widgets are “smart” and automatically resize themselves based on the amount of room available on the screen. You can get widget-like iOS apps, but they can only run on your lock screen, and some require a jail-broken phone, or third-party software to run.
- An Open Source Foundation – The underlying architecture of the Android is open-source. This makes it much more customizable than iOS. Not only is the Android OS customizable, handset manufacturers like Samsung open source their software for individual phones like the Galaxy Series. This makes it relatively easy for developers to improve on what Google and Samsung have done. A wide range of different custom ROMs can be easily loaded onto rooted phones or tablets. These ROMs often have significant benefits when it comes to performance and battery life, and also provide additional features. iOS 7.1 is a totally closed operating system. Although it can be jail-broken, it’s much harder to do. At the time of this writing, the iPhone 5 had not yet been jail broken. Expert say iOS jailbreaks are going to be harder in the future.
- A Better and More Open App Store – Although this may not sound like a platform benefit, it’s very important. Google Play has far less restrictions than the App store. There is a long list of apps Apple won’t allow, including apps which compete with iTunes, free Wi-Fi tethering apps, VoIP apps which use technologies like Google Talk, and great utilizes like Farproc’s Wi-Fi Analyzer. Apple also practices their own form of censorship by removing apps like “500px” from the App store, while leaving other apps that feature hard-core porn like Twitter’s “Vine” app. Update 2/3: 500pix is back with an NC+17 rating, while Vine remains.
Another Android advantage is the number of quality alternative app stores including AppBrain, GetJar, Handango, Handmark, and the Amazon App Store, which offers one paid app a day for free. The only apps which can be installed outside the Apple app store are Cydia apps, which are only available for jailbroken devices. Another Google Play advantage is the fact that it lets developers upload videos as well as screenshots for their apps. This gives you a much better idea what the app does without having to download it first.
For example, Samsung’s “Pop up Play” feature, allows videos to hover, so you can text and watch a video at the same time. It’s also possible to have two apps visible at one time on devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Other Areas Where Android Is Still Ahead of iOS
- Apps Crash Less – I use iOS and Android 4.4 many hours each day. Apps occasionally crash on both, but I experience more crashes on iOS — especially while using the Safari app with multiple tabs open. Studies have confirmed that iOS apps crash more than Android apps.
- Fewer Security Vulnerabilities than iOS – This is going to surprise many of you because companies spend millions trying to convince you that malware is a serious problem on the Android platform, but security expert Symantec released a study in April 2013 that says Apple’s iOS had more security vulnerabilities than Android in 2012. Symantec’s report revealed that there are 387 documented vulnerabilities on Apple’s iOS software, compared to a mere 13 on Android.
- Much better account security – Like Apple, Google requires an e-mail address and password to setup any device. However this is easy to hack, so Google offers optional two-step authentication. This is done by downloading a Authenticator app on your mobile device. This app generates unique verification codes that are entered along with your password. Apple’s iCloud was cracked because of the lack of two-factor authentication.
- More Advanced Notifications – Although notifications have improved in iOS, Android still has advantages in this area. You can tell at a glance what types of notifications have occurred, and clear all notifications with a single click. Devices running Android 4.1 (or later) have rich push notifications, which can be expanded and collapsed with a pinch. These notifications offer even more contextual information and are now actionable. That means if you’re notified about a meeting, you can dismiss it from the Android notification bar, or email others about the meeting. You can also call (or text) someone right from the pull-down notification menu.
- Flash Video Support – Flash may be a dying format, but there are still millions of Flash videos around and iOS can’t play any of them. All Android devices running 4.0 (and earlier) can play Flash videos out of the box. If you have an Android device running Android 4.1 (or later) and you didn’t previously install Flash, you’ll need to side-load it by following these easy instructions.
- Extensive Customization Options – There are so many ways you can customize Android devices it would be impossible to list them all here. Almost anything can be changed in the Android ecosystem.
- More Effective Parental Controls – Apple finally added Parental Controls to iOS 6, but they are buried is Settings and disabled by default. Even if mom is smart enough to find and enable them, her kids will still be able to read the copy of “50 Shades of Grey” that she bought six months ago. This is because Apple’s Parental Controls do not hide explicit books which are already in your library. iOS is a single-user OS and this prevents effective parental controls. Android 4.2 allowed each family member to have their own password-protected account. All of the media is only visible when logged in to their own account. This prevents children from accessing inappropriate content.
- Restricted User Profiles – In addition to parental controls, Android 4.3 allows you to control access to apps and content at a user level. This allows you to control which apps each user can see and which are hidden. It also allows an app to behave differently when it’s running in a restricted profile. For example, an app can hide unpurchased levels and not allow in-app purchasing. Restricted profiles are also ideal for retail kiosks or POS systems.
- Easy File Transfers – It’s a hassle to get anything but photos off of an iOS device. With Android devices there’s no need to use iTunes or iCloud to copy media. Just connect a USB cable and your mobile device appears on your desktop like a hard disk. You can then drag and drop any number of file onto your mobile device to copy them. This is a really big advantage.
- Virtual surround sound audio – There are several iOS apps with surround-sound capabilities, the Android 4.3 OS has advanced surround-sound technology from German audio pioneer Fraunhofer built-in. Android 4.3 supports surround sound three different ways: Over HDMI, over any headphones and using the stereo speakers on supported devices including the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.
- No Need to Use 2x Zoom on Some Apps – Android automatically stretches apps so they look good on screens of all sizes. Many iOS apps like Instagram still appear small when they are run on a tablet, or have to be blown up to twice their regular size in order to occupy the entire screen. When you do this, the graphics look distorted and funny.
- Ability to Set Default Software – One of the most powerful Android features is the ability to change the default software the OS uses for different tasks. For example, if you want to the Dolphin browser to open any URL (instead of the stock Android browser), just pick the app you want to use. Want to use a different app for turn-by-turn directions or media playback? Pick one, and it will use that app every time. This is an incredibly powerful feature. You can even replace the stock keyboard with a 3rd party keyboard like SwiftKey. Apple doesn’t allow this.
- Fewer Image Scaling Issues – The way Android is structured, apps automatically support all new resolutions without needing to be modified like iOS apps do. Every time Apple releases a product with a different sized screen like the iPhone 5, developers have to scramble to make their apps look great. If they don’t, text will be less crisp and there may be screen layout issues. Android seems to have fewer issues in this area. It seems Google has a better method of scaling up low-resolution images which makes them less ugly than they appear on Apple devices.
- Third-party Alternate Keyboards – There are some outstanding third-party keyboard apps that run on all Android phones and have many advantages over the stock iOS 6 keyboard. Some of the best keyboards include Swype, which lets you create words by tracing between the letters on the keyboard. Swype can even sync your personal dictionary across all of your Android devices. SwiftKey 3 goes even further by predicting the next word in your sentence based on past behavior. To save time you can personalize it using your Gmail, Facebook, Twitter or blog posts. This can save you a massive number of keystrokes, as you can see from the screenshot on the right. SwiftKey and other 3rd-party keyboards also have extensive customization options unlike iOS. You can see the dramatic difference here. There are other good keyboards as well. Here’s a good review of some of the best ones.
- Smoother Scrolling & Transitions – Starting with Android 4.1, the CPU and graphics run in parallel and the entire interface runs at 60 frames per second. The processor jumps into action the moment you touch the screen to keep input lag at a minimum and graphics are now also triple-buffered to keep scrolling and transitions smooth. It’s true that iOS had less of a problem with this, but its interface doesn’t currently run at 60fps.
- Smart App Updates – Google Play now delivers only the parts of an updated app which have changed to devices, rather than the entire app. This makes the app updates much faster to download, and conserve both battery and data usage.
- Better Speech-to-Text Entry – Android’s speech-to-text entry is second to none. Unlike iOS, Android is capable of doing the speech-to-text conversion without a network connection. It’s also more accurate. Siri does not work well on voices with certain types of accents and certain dialects. It’s normal for voice recognition systems to require some training, but Siri doesn’t seem to improve over time. By contrast, Google’s voice recognition technology requires no training on voices with strong accents as long as they speak close to the microphone and talk a little slower than usual.
- Intelligent Switching between Wi-Fi and Cellular – iOS sometimes has problems switching between cellular and Wi-Fi connections. If a Wi-Fi signal is present it will select it — even though its signal strength is low, and its data is slower than the current 3G or 4G connection. Devices running Android 4.1 (or later) don’t have this problem when the “Wi-Fi Only Connects to Strong Signal” option is enabled. This forces your mobile device to only connect to strong Wi-Fi signals.
- Offline Maps – Although Google Maps was mentioned above, offline maps are important enough to have their own section, because the time you need a map the most is when you don’t have Internet access and are lost. Android allows you to download any number of maps to your device and access them without an Internet connection.
- A Media-centric Home Screen – Android tablets like the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 displays your media library on the first screen you see. You’ll see the last book, magazine and CD you played (or read) larger than the others. This is a feature which has really grown on me. Of course you can move or delete this, if you don’t want it on your home screen.
- A More Advanced Default Keyboard – Android’s in-line spell checker and suggestion modes work better than Apple’s today. The Android keyboard (4.1 and later) guesses what the next word will be before you’ve started typing it. You don’t even need an Internet connection to see the suggestions. The Android keyboard also lets you add dictionaries, gives you control over auto-correct and has advanced settings. Android 4.2 also included a new feature called Gesture Typing, which lets you glide your finger over the letters you want to type on the keyboard.
- Attach Any File to An Email – Android allows you to attach any file to an e-mail — not only images or video like iOS 7 does. This is important, because it’s common to attach Word docs or Powerpoint presentations to work-related emails.
- 360-degree Photos – Android 4.2 introduced a new camera feature called Photo Sphere, which lets you capture Google Street View-style images that are larger than life. While you take photos in every direction Android stitches them together to create 360-degree experiences that you can share on Google+ with friends and family, or add to Google Maps.You can see Photo Sphere in action here.
- Superior Music Scan & Match feature – The new Google Play Music service has a free “Scan and Match” option that goes through your entire music library and saves it to the cloud, so it’s accessible from any Internet-connected device. Like iTunes Match, you don’t have to upload most songs because they are already there. Unlike iTunes Match, Google lets you store 20,000 songs on its servers for free. Apple charges $24.99 a year for the iTunes Match feature and transcodes all of your high-bit rate songs down to 256kbps prior to uploading to iCloud. Google allows songs up to 320Kbps.
- More Advanced Photo Editing Features – The stock iOS camera and photo viewer apps are very limited on features. The Android Gallery app let you tweak your photos in a similar manner as you would with Photoshop. This goes far beyond the four options Apple has (rotate, enhance, red-eye and crop). Starting with Android 4.1 Google let you apply Instagram-style filters to still or video footage including warm vintage, posterize, black and white, and sepia. You can also edit different video clips together by simply pausing and resuming video recording.
- A True Full-screen Mode – Android 4.4 supports a new ‘Immersive mode’ that allows apps to take over the entire screen when needed. That means you won’t see any controls on the top of the bottom of the screen. To get the controls back just swipe from the top or bottom of the screen. On the iPhone, this type of full screen mode isn’t possible.
- File Management on Your Device – iOS apps like iExplorer claim to be file explorers, but they don’t allow you to browse, copy, paste, rename and delete any visible file or folder on your device. This is because Apple doesn’t allow you to access the iOS file system. Android file explorers like ES File Explorer do all of this and much more. The 10 best Android File Explorers.
- Individual App Volumes – Android lets you adjust the volume for individual apps and functions. To do this, press the volume keys along the side of your device and wait for the on-screen volume slider to pop up. Touch the Settings button on the right and you’ll see sliders for music, video, notifications, ringtones and alarms.
- A Persistent Back Button – Android’s Back button is available at all times. Some iOS apps display a Back button, but it’s not always available and some apps don’t include it at all. This is one of the features I miss the most when moving back and forth between Android and iOS.
- Miracast Wireless Video Streaming– Android 4.2 added support for a wireless video streaming standard called Miracast, which is an open alternative to Apple’s AirPlay. One advantage that Miracast has over AirPlay and DLNA is that it streams over Wi-Fi Direct and does not require a Wi-Fi hotspot. Miracast allows you to stream anything that’s on your phone (or tablet) to a Miracast-ready HDTV. Although there aren’t many TVs that support Miracast yet (LG will be among the first), experts are expecting many to be released next year, along with low-cost dongles that plug into the HDMI port of older TVs. Most of the newest smartphones and tablets already support Miracast — including the Samsung Galaxy Series, LG Optimus G, Nexus 4 and more. You can see Miracast in action here.
- Moving Screen Backgrounds – iOS 7 has dynamic backrounds that give the illusion of moving, like Android apps, but this is very different than the live wallpapers that run on Android devices. They allow you to run cool animations or videos on your home screens. Most live wallpapers like Ocean HD span across all five of your home screens and pan when you move from screen to screen. You can interact with some live wallpapers by touching the screen. For example, touching the screen on Ocean HD causes the swimming fish to change direction. You can even have a 360 degree panoramic photo as your live wallpaper (e.g. PanoPlanet Live Wallpaper).
- High-definition Magazines – Traditional magazines are printed at 300 dpi. Since Android tablets like the Nexus 10 have a screen that supports 300 ppi, it makes sense to offer magazines at their native 300 dpi resolution. Look for HD magazines in Google Play that only be viewed on Android devices.
- Full Stylus Support – Although you can use a capacitive stylus on an iOS device, the OS has very limited support for it. You won’t get the same level of expression you get on a Samsung Galaxy Note II, which has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. iOS also won’t let you toggle between a brush, pencil or eraser by simply holding the stylus above the screen and clicking a button. The stylus on Note II even lets you preview emails, photos or videos by hovering slightly above the screen. Here are some more things you can do with a stylus.
- Data & Resource Monitoring – Android shows you exactly how much data you have used so far each month and warns you when you’re getting close to your data cap. You can even disable mobile data entirely if you’d like, once a certain threshold has been reached. Android also lets you see how much battery and memory and data each app is using.
- Haptic Feedback Support – The Android OS and most Android devices support haptic feedback natively. This gives you a tactile vibration when you type, long press, or touch any of the navigation buttons. This is done to make it clear your touch was acknowledged, so you don’t have to tap twice. Haptic feedback also makes games much more enjoyable to play.
- More Screen Unlock Options – Android now has five different ways to unlock your screen: A slider (which lets you access the home screen or camera), pattern unlock, PIN unlock, password unlock and Face unlock.
- No Bluetooth Transfer Restrictions – Most iOS Bluetooth apps have limitations which Android apps don’t have. They cannot send data over Bluetooth to an Android device (unless the iOS device has been jailbroken). Most apps available in the App store can only send photos, and cannot send audio, video and other documents.
- Speed Dials – Android allows you to add icons for contacts directly to your home screen(s), so you can quickly call or text them. iOS users must first open the Phone or Messaging apps before communicating with contacts.
- Multicolored LED alerts – Most Android devices have a small LED that alerts you to missed calls, new messages and other system events like low-battery. As with other Android phones, you can customize exactly how and when the LED works by installing a third-party LED control app like Light Flow. The iPhone does have a setting buried under Accessibility, which flashes an LED when a calls or text message is received, but it’s not nearly as flexible as this feature. Light Flow lets you assign different colors to voice mail, missed calls, calendar reminders, Gmail, Facebook notifications, SMS messages and many more things.
The Tide is Turning
Although iOS still has some very important advantages over Android, it seems that every time I update this article, the list of Android advantages gets longer, and the list of iOS advantages gets shorter. Even the most die hard Apple fans admit that iOS is showing its age and Apple still hasn’t figured out Sharing or the Cloud. Apple’s between a rock and a hard place, because they have to add some of the above features at some point, but when they do they will be accused of copying Android. Sure Apple still has a few tricks up their sleeve, and an amazing patent pool, but they are clearly playing catch up at the moment.
“Real Men Use Android”
After many years of promoting Apple’s products Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki recently switched to Android. Really. He recently did a interview where he said, “People are kind of amazed, but I don’t use any iOS products, none at all. I fell in love with Android on the smartphone, and then I got a Nexus 7 and started using Android on the tablet as well. To me the great irony is that Apple’s slogan was `Think Different,’ but today if you think different you’re looking at Android.” Guy uses a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Now that Apple has finally caught up to Android hardware in areas like 4G , Guy says it’s Android’s “superior software that keeps him from moving astray.”
- Multiple apps running in multiple windows
- Ability to launch files and choose default apps
- Ability to see all your apps in an alphabetical listing no matter what folder they are in
- Ability to pick your own keyboard (he uses SmartKey)
Copyright 2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.
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