In today’s world, you can’t walk down the street without spotting a mobile device, and each of the billions of smartphones and tablets out there runs one of several different mobile operating systems. Whilst the likes of Windows Phone and Blackberry compete for a small section of the market, there exist two main operating systems which are used by the vast majority of people: Apple’s proprietary iOS, and Google’s open-source Android OS.
Whilst both look fundamentally similar, each system is actually very different under the skin and has unique features (and shortcomings!) which can influence your decision about which phone to buy, a fact which has become even more true with the recent releases of iOS 9.3 and Android 6.0 Lollipop. So what are the main advantages and disadvantages of the two? Let’s take a look.
The big difference between iOS and Android is the fact that Android is open source. Whilst iOS is Apple’s proprietary OS and is used exclusively on Apple devices, Google lets any hardware company utilise Android for free on their hardware, and modify it as they see fit.
This means that Android can appear on anything from the cheapest, most basic smartphones all the way up to top-end flagship models. Thanks to this versatility, Android has become by far the most widespread mobile OS, appearing on a massive 84.7% of mobile devices as of Q2 2014 according to the IDC, with iOS the closest competitor at 11.7%. These numbers have remained relatively stagnant since then.
The logic behind Google’s seemingly generous sharing of technology is that it obliges manufacturers to use Google’s own app marketplace, as well as other services such as Google Search. Nevertheless, many manufacturers customise their version of Android to include their own apps and services, resulting in a fair amount of difference between devices.
The disadvantage, however, of being spread to so many pieces of hardware is that Android isn’t always optimised for the phone it’s running on; iOS, on the other hand, is specifically designed to work perfectly with iPhones, which is why Apple phones still tend to be associated with reliability and ease of use.
The second big difference, which stems from Android’s open-source nature, is the degree of customisation which each OS allows. On the whole, Android allows for easier and greater customisation than iOS, allowing the installation of information widgets, non-store apps and custom home screens and keyboards to name a few. iOS is more limited in its scope, focusing instead on reliability and ease of use, though the recent iOS 8 update now allows custom keyboards and notifications.
Android also has the option to easily ‘root’ your phone (i.e. take control of it at a developer level, with increased privileges), which allows for large-scale changes such as replacing built-in apps or even uninstalling the operating system completely. The flipside of this is that the more power you have over the software, the greater the likelihood of causing accidental damage to your system –especially if you’re unfamiliar with computers. Whilst there is an equivalent process for iOS, known as ‘jailbreaking’, it’s significantly more difficult and violates Apple’s end-user license agreement. It also falls in a legal grey area in many countries depending on DRM and copyright laws.
The notification system in iOS has long been superior to Android, though recent updates to Android have done a lot to close the gap. After the latest update to Android, many users have complained about finding the new notifications system spammy and annoying, and have been seeking to turn it off.
iOS notifications appear on your lock screen and you can swipe them to the right to open the relevant app; they also appear at the top of your screen when using your phone, where you can reply to messages or updates without leaving the app you’re in.
Android’s notifications are now similar, with the ability to double-tap notifications on the lock screen to open the app, though in-app replies are exclusive to iOS. Both systems also offer quick access to the camera app from the lock screen for capturing those fleeting moments, and Android also does the same for the phone dialer.
Built-in apps and ecosystem
Both iOS and Android come with several built-in apps which cannot be uninstalled. iPhones all come with the same apps as standard, whereas manufacturers using Android often add their own proprietary apps to the standard ones provided by Google (though Google’s own Nexus line of products comes with these apps alone). In both cases, all the bases are covered, with apps included such as maps, messaging, email, document editors, health and fitness, photos, notes and more.
In the early years of Android, only a few good applications would make their way over from Apple’s dominant App Store to the Google Play Store, but nowadays you can find almost every major app on both systems. As a general rule, the iOS App Store is slightly smaller but of higher overall quality, as Apple tends to thoroughly scrutinise programs before allowing them to be downloaded. With well over a million apps for both systems, though, you’re unlikely to miss out whichever one you choose.
The defining factor for a lot of people, iOS and Android models differ quite a lot when it comes to splashing the cash. iPhones and are more expensive than Android models in most cases; The average selling price of the latest model is around $870 AUD in Australia, and about $690 USD ($920 AUD) worldwide.
Mean iOS price over the years
Android devices are more difficult to define in terms of price since there are so many different developers, due to the OS being open source. While different websites list different average prices, Fortune.com shows the current average price as being just $215 USD. Not bad for a smartphone, but bear in mind some of these devices would be of a fairly low quality.
Mean Android price over the years
You can compare smartphone brands on our website to gain a better understanding of the different developers, and whether they’re best for you.
Pros: Android vs iOS
We have summarised all of the above information into a single list of pros and cons for each device, which can be seen below.
- Android is available on a large number of operating systems. A wide range of devices means you are more likely to find an Android that fits your size, weight and cost needs.
- Android is the most flexible operating system, and can be adapted and configured according to your needs.
- Android apps are well integrated with Google’s online services, so this is a serious bonus if you use Google regularly .
- Android has widgets. As mentioned before, widgets are apps that you can sort of lock to your home screen so you don’t even have to open it to get information. People commonly use this feature with weather apps, so their lock screen displays the weather forecast. iOS does not have this feature.
- There is a wider range of apps in the Android store than on the iTunes store.
- They are also cheaper than iOS phones, with a lot of models ranging from $100 to $600.
- iOS is generally simpler to use than Android. The interface is easier to navigate and is usually better suited to less experienced technology users.
- It has more stringent guidelines for submitting apps, to improve the usability of these apps and improve the quality and consistency of those in the app store.
- There are a lot of accessories available, from sound systems to remote controlled helicopters you can control with the touch-screen. These accessories enable iOS devices to be more integrated with your daily life.
- Better integration with some social media services.
Cons: Android vs iOs
- Android phones are not about simplicity. The flexibility and configuration capabilities mean it might take some time to get used to for less-experienced tech users.
- Android phones are also not the most reliable, with users generally expressing more freezes, bugs and drop outs than other major operating systems. Not to say it happens all the time, just more often than the others.
- The greater number of apps on the app store comes at the cost of quality. There are a greater number of not-so-great apps on the Android store, due to the fact that Android and Google to not have the same stringent guidelines that Apple do.
- The device range is restricted. iOS is only available on apple devices, which very much limits customisability
- Apple devices do not have widgets. This is another example of the low levels of customization you can expect with an iPhone or other Apple device
- iPhones are significantly more expensive. The average iPhone costs roughly $650, so if you aren’t willing to spend significant amounts of cash on a phone, iOS models might not be for you.
So what is better?
While there is no definitive answer as to what model is best for you, you can use the pros and cons list above to aid you in your decision. If you are already familiar with the apple brand and are willing to pay extra for a smoother and easier mobile experience, then iOS systems like the iPhone might be the best choice for you.
On the other hand, if you’re more experienced with smartphones and are looking for one that allows you to customize your interface at a cheaper price, then Android models such as the Samsung Galaxy could be your best bet.