The iOS vs Android debate has been an ongoing battle for several years now, in fact it’s a year and a quarter short of a decade old, yet it’s still as hot a topic as ever. This last generation of Apple handsets, with the forray into the “phablet” market, has seen thousands of Android fans flock over to the dark side of the
force mobile ecosystem, while many others who had previously been Apple-only enthusiasts were finally tempted over to the diverse world of Android, whether the HTC One M9 was the shiny thing that caught the eye of the magpie, the fluidity of the big and beautiful Nexus 6 that called them over like a psiren to the rocks or the magnificently crafted Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge that acted as the carrot on a stick, many have vowed never to return to their previous platform after discovering the joys of what the other had to offer.
There was a time when Android was a pain to use; it was buggy as hell, lagged like nobody’s business, looked awful and was frustrating to use, unless you were a hacker who could “cook” your own custom rom and kernel, fix all the major bugs for your device, etc etc or use someone else’s homebrew ROM and/or Kernel as long as you trusted them, and even then after thousands of man-hours spent optimising the system and squashing bugs, it was still pretty awful to use, and this terrible experience had even earnt Android the reputation of being “the poor man’s iOS“.
Regardless of its reputation, Android surprisingly, had a hardcore cult following even back then, in the Cupcake-Froyo (1.5-2.3) days was that you could have a torrent downloading on it directly onto a Micro SD card, while simultaneously downloading and re-encoding a YouTube video into both MP3 and a video for later use, while browsing the web, and still being able to multitask into and out of your SMS inbox, while the poor old iOS (3) user couldn’t dream of doing any of that on his mobile device, let alone doing all of that at once, as far as I recall, iOS 3 could do no more than read a web page or have one app open at a time, and closing it to do something else meant that it would have to fully reload the previous app (iOS 4 fixed that with a basic form of backgrounding the app, a faux-multitasking functionality, if you will), and you couldn’t load anything onto it without iTunes, you couldn’t do all of this computer-like stuff that you could do on Android, and you couldn’t load anything onto expandable storage.
From that point of view, Android was “better”… It could do more than iOS, however, would you want to download a 4gb torrent file through your 3G data provider onto a handset with very little RAM, with an operating system that always crashes or fails and often needs a battery pull, a battery with less capacity than George W Bush’s brain and an experience so buggy that not even even a Taiwanese kitchen would serve it?
They were trying too early to deliver a full PC in your pocket, while utilising a broken interface.
iOS on the other hand, put a focus on what can be easily done on a small, portable device, and what most users would want to do on the go, rather than what they’d be doing if they were sitting in the PC. It had the interface processes threaded in such a way that it always took priority over any other process, so that you always got a fast, fluid and smooth experience with what you SEE and TOUCH, even if it meant that whatever was happening in the background took a performance hit, as opposed to Android which prioritised everything equally (or according to it’s own “understanding” of what was important) and so the user interface struggled a lot and caused a lot of frustration.
Since those days, iOS has advanced to become a lot more like Android in terms of opening up its capabilities, or in finding ways of simulating or replacing such computer-like tasks, (for example in the forthcoming iOS 9, iPad users can use two split-screen apps to multitask, similar to Windows 8 or Samsung’s Touchwiz phones/tablets) but still has a heavy focus on performing and completing mobile tasks well, which is why I personally favour iOS on a tablet, if I pick up a tablet it’s because I want to watch a movie, read a book, browse the web or check my email with a comfortable screen, while if I pick up a phone I want to have more control over what I’m doing, over my communications, I have a lot more computer-like functions in my Android phone that can’t be replicated in iOS or even Windows Phone.
It’s definitely true that Android REQUIRES far more capable hardware than iOS, and for those interested in why, I’ll give you a brief rundown of how the systems work, to the best of my knowledge (though please bare in mind that I’m not an expert on this topic, so please feel free to correct me in the comment section below).
That is the simplest way that I can explain it for those who aren’t too well-versed in the field of mobile operating systems, and as I’ve said, I’m not an expert, so please don’t crucify me for making any mistakes, but feel free to inform me via the comment section if you believe that I am mistaken.
While a lot of people also cry out about an Apple conspiracy – that they intentionally cripple older phones and iPads to sell newer models, I don’t think that this is true per se, I think it’s a result of the fact that iOS needs such little power and that iOS coders are probably pretty lazy and just see the user needing to upgrade as an incentive to NOT work harder than they need to.
To clarify; Apple upgrade their chips every year in order to provide new functionality to their hardware and software, but the extra power boost given in terms of processing power and RAM is only relative to the power needed to run the new version of iOS well (unlike GPU which they seem to hand out like sweets, probably because they understand the popularity of mobile gaming, and like to ensure that their products provide the best mobile gaming experience possible) meaning that the older hardware is not quite powerful enough to handle the newer version, and so after two or three updates, the older hardware now runs slow with the new firmware, and from the developer point of view, assuming they work according to Moore’s Law (which is, in very basic terms, that the number of transistors that fit on a circuit board doubles every year, in theory meaning that the power available for computing doubles every year), they will always be given double the amount of computing power to play with in the next year so there’s no point in putting a lot of effort into optimising software to run better on lower powered hardware, as soon they will get moar cores, moar ram, moar powerrrrrrrr, and people regularly update phones anyway, so there’s no point in them making iOS 8 run as smoothly on the iPhone 3G as iOS 2 did back in 2008.
That said, there are a few methods being implemented in the way that iOS 9 installs itself and installs apps that should alleviate the problem of the older hardware being killed by updates – rather than install all the parts of the system and apps optimised for newer hardware, it only downloads and installs the parts that are specifically required to run on that hardware. This will also significantly cut down the amount of space that your apps and OS take up on your phone.
Android, on the other hand, constantly has better and better hardware thrown at it, more RAM, more processors, so the most up to date flagships shouldn’t become dated very quickly at all, a nexus 4 or Galaxy note 2 from 2012 run far better than the iPhones of that day (as well as having a lot of custom ROMs available for after they do finally begin to feel dated or are no longer eligible to receive official updates), my old Nexus 4 is so fast and smooth on Android 5.1 that, from the interface and user experience, you’d think it was a top of the range flagship phone still, if you didn’t know better.
The hardware that the top-tier Android handsets receive is better, but it also runs on far lower powered handsets than iOS, because it also targets the lower priced markets so, unlike Apple, both Google and the specific device manufacturers (who all make their own customised version of android from the standard “vanilla” or “AOSP” Android components and source code) have a lot of motivation to keep Android running nicely on slower or older hardware, and so with most updates except extremely feature-heavy updates, you’ll always see an increase of speed on older hardware with an update, they optimise everything to run as well a possible on every chipset and find new ways to code things so that they work faster.
Both operating systems sufferer different kinds of fragmentation:
iOS suffers feature fragmentation, anyone with the latest iPhone/iPad or any model all the way back to the 4S or iPad mini/full sized iPad 2 can run the latest iOS and will be upgraded to iOS 9, however the newer the hardware the more features you will get, while older models will feel left out, for example, only the iPad Air 2 will get full multi-window multitasking with iOS 9.
Android suffers from base version fragmentation, the Nexus handsets always get the latest version of Android available, straight away, and they always have feature parity (as far as hardware permits), but then, with other OEM branded handsets, there are always differences in which version Android-base they use. The latest Samsung phones almost always ship with the latest version, under their own modifications, but will then require at least 3 months (plus carrier verification time, often) to get any later versions of the software, until the handset is a year old, and then updates will take at least 6 months, if not 9 until they are no longer supported, and some companies such as LG are notorious for lack of support and updates after the initial few months of release.
Android tackles this by unshackling most of their core framework and services from the operating system. Every part of the operating system that can be treated as an app, is treated like an app : if they update the SMS app, the App Store, the email app, the api framework, the original home screen launcher, the camera app, etc etc then you don’t have to wait for the latest operating system update like you do with Apple, you just update it through the App Store, yes, you even update the App Store through the App Store. This means that even people who are still, stuck with an old HTC or Samsung from 2011 with no hope of ever seeing a new operating system update still get all the newest features and framework that 2015 flagship owners enjoy. That was a really smart move, and one that doesn’t get anywhere near enough praise!
iOS now allows for custom keyboards and other alterations to the system, but Android allows you to change almost everything out of the box (and even more if you want to root and ROM it), don’t like the SMS app and don’t want to receive SMS through hangouts? Download a new SMS app. Don’t like the dialer? Well, good news… Want a new home screen launcher? No problem. Want the background to interact with your touch? Say no more, you can do whatever you want with your Android device while with iOS you’re stuck with a functional yet static and boring grid of icon and folders for your sins.
I used to love modding it and coming up with creative and complex ways to view and use the Android phones that I’ve, though as the stock experience got better and better, I just use it stock but with some nice looking widgets that make me less dependant on opening apps all the time, but I’m glad that I have that choice, and iOS doesn’t offer me that choice.
Finally, there’s the fact that iOS is consistent, in terms of knowing that, if you buy an iOS device, you know how it will look, feel and operate, while Android always offers a different experience depending on the manufacturer. Now, let’s be honest here, any Samsung device released before the s6 was heavily bogged down with a laggy, bloated and ugly skin known as Touchwiz. The new version used on the s6 is really nice, elegant and fast, granted, and if I were to ever be tempted back to the Samsung side of the Android fence, it would have to be with a device running this new updated Touchwiz rather than the horrible antiquated version of yesteryear. I prefer larger devices, so I’d wait for the Note 5 and I like the idea of the Edge variant, I don’t think it’s revolutionary but I do think that it’s a nice addition. The “Edge”, a screen that wraps around the edge of the phone, is just one example of a fair few little quirks available on OEM-specific Android phones that you’d probably never see on an Apple-made phone.
HTC make a pretty nice looking skin but I’ve never used a modern HTC device save for trying the One M8 in a store, though HTC offer quite a few nice hardware-specific touches to the Android range too, for example the Ultrapixel camera technology and “Boomsound”.
Android may not be consistent across the entire device range, but as you see from the two previous examples, that is a good thing. Diversity is great and just as many Android fans love the diversity of the system just as much as iOS fans love the consistency of their iPhones and iPads, at the end of the day, it comes down to little more than personal preference, there is no clear better choice, no clear winner, well, there is a winner, there’s always a winner. When you get a shiny new device from the 2014-2015 generation of tablets, phones and phablets, you’re a winner, regardless of what software drives it, and the company that manufactured your device either takes around 600 of your hard-earned big ones, or ties you into a contract through a mobile carrier, so I would say that they’re winners too, so regardless of which operating system you choose, everyone’s a winner.
Which operating system did you choose? Would you like to change to your rival eco-system when you upgrade your device? Do you favour Windows Phone over both? Lets us know in the comments below.