Let me start with a simple truth, I am a fan of Android. I have such a passion for Google’s mobile operating system that I worked my way to a job where I get to play with Android all day, and share my experiences with you, our faithful readers. This has expanded into a really fun role here at TabTimes where I play almost exclusively with tablets, regardless who makes them.
Android and iOS are the clear leaders in mobile operating systems around the globe, with Windows tablets still coming in strong, the idea for each is to provide the fastest, smoothest and most robust performance and features as possible. With different approaches to these tasks, it is about time we did an official Android vs iOS comparison.
The differences between these two operating systems goes well beyond the bits and bytes of it all, Android and Apple have both cultivated strong followers, please note that I said “Apple” on purpose, as “iOS” is not the term used with passion quite as much. This speaks to a larger difference in these two ecosystems, where Android users are loyal to the operating system, but iOS users are loyal to the company behind the OS, we’ll explain more in a bit.
These fans are people that are willing to camp out for days to get the next device, people that are willing to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to enjoy the latest and greatest phones and tablets with each OS. Unfortunately, this also means that there are users on both sides that are quick to belittle the other. We are glad to see a greatly reduced frequency of such outbursts, but there was a time that you could often find crude and indecent conversations between the fans of each OS.
The general dispute in days past is exactly what makes these two operating systems stand out from one another. On one hand, Android is a highly customizable system, with roots in Linux and code that can be found in the Open Source space for all to take and expand upon. On the flip side, iOS is a closed operating system. Without taking extreme actions, the average user will never know what tweaking the OS or alternate versions of the OS would look like.
Bringing it back to the core of the user experience, Android is an excellent OS for those that like to get down and dirty with their devices, where iOS is made for simplicity, turn on any Apple mobile device and enjoy the exact same experience. There is no right or wrong option for all, one must decide what they want and need for themselves, then read articles like this one to learn which system will suit them best.
Android’s double edged open source sword
The ability to take the base version of Android and expand upon it has resulted in wonderful and diverse device experiences. Sadly, this has also meant some seriously strange and problematic situations. At the core of it is what is called AOSP, the Android Open Source Project, built and maintained primarily by Google.
AOSP is, as the name implies, a free and open operating system that anyone is free to take and modify. This is most commonly performed by our favorite device manufacturers. Even Google develops the Nexus program, which is a fairly vanilla experience, just with the addition of Google’s own suite of apps and services, which are not built into AOSP.
In addition to the manufacturers creating unique skins for the OS, there is a vibrant community of smaller players making third-party (so to speak) ROMs for popular Android devices. For those unfamiliar, a ROM is what we typically refer to as the actual code for an Android OS, and it is possible to install this code to an Android device by a means called Flashing. Every one of these ROMs offers a unique and flexible set of design and features placed on top of the core layer of Android.
While I believe that having options is a good thing, there are those that feel that there are just too many options available under the Android banner. With something north of 5000 unique Android devices available for purchase, it is no wonder that there is some confusion for consumers. Sadly, there is also no surprise that more than a few of these devices and ROMs are utterly useless. But that’s why you are here, to learn the good from the bad, right?
The “iSheep” situation
A commonly used term, meant as a derogatory description of an Apple user, “iSheep” implies that a person blindly follows wherever they are told to go with their iOS powered mobile devices. In stark contrast to the plethora of options on Android, iOS users have just a few options in front of them. In fact, I could name each and every mobile device made by Apple right here, and you wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
With now three current generation smartphones and three sizes of their tablet, Apple’s latest and greatest offerings are easy to choose from. For many, there is no need for options or variables, they just want a simple device that gets the job done. More often than not, a person purchasing a newer iPhone or iPad will be found to already own an older version of the device. This is not to say that they are blindly following, just that they are comfortable with the type of device that they have, but need a newer version in a different size or with a little more horsepower.
Sometimes these folks “need” a new version of their iPhone or iPad because they’ve been told the new one is just better, but that holds true of flagship Android devices as well, doesn’t it? The main difference, at least in our little world of Android fandom here at Android Authority and TabTimes, is that us Android users care about the specs inside the devices, whereas, the average iOS user that I know personally just wants the device to be able to keep up with them, regardless if it has Intel, Snapdragon, Exynos, MediaTek, Kirin or Apple processor. Hint, your Apple product is likely to only contain one of these processors, can you guess which one?
Enough with the theory, let’s look at the actual software.
The basic software experience is actually fairly similar between Android and iOS. Aside from the initial setup, users are greeted by a lock screen, requiring a swipe gesture or authentication challenge to enter the system. Once inside, you get a Homescreen or two and some apps. Everything from your system settings to your favorite game or social media program is made available through individually installed and updateable programs, and each ecosystem has an attached store to install from a collection of over a million other apps.
Apps generally run in full screen mode and, for the most part, you can only really use one app at a time. That is not to say that you cannot multi-task, just that without the latest of iOS software and devices, specialized apps on Android or the latest beta preview of Android N, only one app displays on screen, your other ‘multi-tasking’ apps will need to run in the background. This is ideal for music players or file downloads, but means you cannot, generally speaking, have a spreadsheet and a text document on screen at the same time. Luckily, this is changing, as the latest versions of both operating systems are incorporating split screen app usage.
One can quickly view their recently used apps from a dedicated list. This recent apps list also allows one to effectively close an app by swiping the app off of the screen from the list.
Swipe down from the top of the screen to access what Android calls the Notification Shade. This is a drop down menu that houses current notifications from the apps and services on your device. Android includes a quick settings menu at the top, from a second downward swipe, and iOS put their quick settings panel at the bottom.
Do you get my point yet? In the big picture, things are very similar, much in the same way that most all cars on the road have four tires and a steering wheel. The differences are in the details, where one can find options for fuel efficient small cars all the way through to jet engine equipped monster trucks, literally, so too can one find many differences in Android and iOS devices.
The default location for all of your computing is the homescreen. Both Android and iOS have Home screens, and on each you can place links to apps, folders and more. The largest difference, at least for now, is that most Android builds include an app drawer in which the OS stores all of your app icons, though there are exceptions, with the LG G5 going completely app drawer-less, for example. In contrast to ‘stock’ Android, iOS simply dumps all your apps onto the Home screen by default. Each operating system includes folders for better management and will add in extra screens as needed if you go over the default amount.
Advantage Android – Launchers. One key feature of Android, which goes well beyond the Homescreen, is the ability to install third-party Launchers. A Launcher is a full desktop environment for your device, you may have heard the term ‘skin’ as well, which is appropriately descriptive of how a Launcher works. Providing different and extra tools for controlling apps, icons, folders, number of screens on your Homescreen layout and more, Launchers open a whole new world to the Android experience.
Advantage Android – Widgets. Admitting that iOS has made some strides in this department, Android is still king of customization, particularly homescreen customization and utilities through interactive elements called widgets. Perhaps the best examples of widgets are a clock widget and a music widget. Where there is a full fledged app in the back end for the clock and music playback, widgets put small interactive graphical windows on your homescreen for quick actions like viewing the time or simply controlling your music playback.
The lock screen is pretty inconsequential place on a mobile device today. The basics of a lock screen is to provide a little bit of information, but ultimately to provide an authentication screen before accessing your phone or tablet. For some, this is an absolutely crucial aspect to their computing experience, and some devices now use biometrics, like fingerprint scanners, for authentication. For the less extreme, set up a pin, passcode, password or on Android you can set a pattern by connecting the dots on a grid.
Aside from keeping your data safe, the lock screen also prevents butt-dials on phones.
The experience is pretty straightforward on iOS, but Android allows third-party apps and more to change up the experience, adding new authentication techniques, extra functionality, such as music playback controls, and, well, widgets. Although, widgets are no longer supported by default on Android, so there again one must rely on the thriving modding community.
For our current mobile experience, we all but depend on notifications to keep us ticking along. Gone are the days of manually logging in and clicking a button to make your device check for new messages, we now get notifications across all of our devices, and some of them manage to stay in sync, so we can dismiss that new email notification on one device and it goes away on the others.
Apple and Google both employ a drop down notification tool, designed to group together current notifications until you can get around to checking them all. Android calls this the Notification Shade. Go ahead and try it on any of your devices, just swipe down from the top of the display. Aside from the notification drop down, both systems employ popup notifications the moment a new message or call arrives.
Google has implemented rich notifications, allowing the placement of actionable buttons on each notification. Enjoy quick replies to messages, music playback controls and more all without having to actually open the apps in question.
In addition to the main notifications, go ahead and pull down again on the notification shade on Android to access Quick Settings, a short list of toggles and sliders to control things like display brightness, volumes, turn on or off WiFi, Bluetooth and more.
iOS has split up this sort of functionality, while swiping down does give you your notifications, swipe up from the bottom instead to access the quick settings. We can’t deny that we like that the iOS quick settings bar includes dedicated media playback controls, but we do wish we could slide in from any part of the display, not just the dead center with the small indicator arrow.
Google Play Store vs the App Store
I hope you know by now that the true power of any mobile operating system is in the apps and services behind them. Around these parts you’ll be looking at the Google Play Store to install apps on your Android device. iOS has the Apple App Store. Made to provide the same safe place to find and install apps for your phones and tablets, there are a few major differences between the two, and in the operating systems themselves, to consider.
Let’s start with iOS. In terms of being truly mobile, Apple’s products have a few limitations. Now, it is possible to own and operate an iPhone or iPad without a PC, but you will never be able to get full functionality of services without an old program many have heard of, iTunes. Not just for buying music, iTunes is the program on your PC that will allow for full device backup and recovery, syncing of apps and songs and so much more. Without it, all you have is the Apple App Store on your device and the ability to do some basic backups and syncing through iCloud.
The Apple App Store contains, at last official recorded measure, 1.5 million apps. Many apps are free, but many more will run you at least $0.99. As mentioned, go ahead and install them directly from your mobile device and sync with iCloud, but there is not much more you can do without a connected PC.
The Google Play Store, at last measure, contains over 1.6 million apps. In addition to installing these apps directly from your device, you can actually install from the web. There is no need for the average user to ever connect their Android device to a PC, if they don’t want to. All app installs, backups and recoveries and so much more can all be handled from the phone or tablet in hand.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to the Android app situation is for the adventurous to easily side-load apps directly on their device. I’m not talking about the ability to root and ROM the devices, more basic than that, any one of us can write our own apps and install them on our devices. This is not so on iOS, there is no option in the settings, as there is on Android, to allow side-loading apps, at least not as easily.
We won’t get into the particulars, but the general idea is that, without jailbreaking your Apple product, you’ll need a paid developer account and to run your apps through the App Store to get them onto your device. Obviously the trouble was worth it for 1.5 million app developers.
On the other hand, the 1.6 million apps on Android is just the count from the Google Play Store. I alone have created about a dozen simple apps (that are not worth talking about, trust me) that will never count toward that total. Anyone following along our developer projects or are taking even the most basic of app development course will have some of their own as well. This side-loading process even allows you to add entirely different app stores to your device like Amazon’s AppStore, which contains its own library of apps.
Point is, when it comes to being free and open, with all the pros and cons that that entails, Android is king as compared to iOS.
A dangerous topic for any computer related developer, user, tester or more, ‘what makes a device good?’ and ‘is yours good enough?’ Better yet, ‘who’s device is better?’ There are two very distinct theories at work when you compare Android and iOS for performance, with Apple’s tight control over all aspects of hardware and software differing greatly from Google’s approach of building an OS and just putting it out there for the hardware manufacturers to have fun with.
If you’ve spent any time on our sites, you know already that there are in the ballpark of 5000 unique Android devices on the market. But you probably also know that there are only a handful of great devices, the flagships that shape the generation, each year. Apple’s approach avoids the irrelevant devices, focusing only on the best phones and tablets that they can offer, but it is fair to say that Apple’s best and Android flagships are in the same league for performance.
When we put the average iOS powered device beside an average Android device, we still can’t truly compare them fairly. Android manufacturers, acting on their own, and not always in the best interest of Google and Android, have the freedom to install any version of Android they wish, update it as they wish, and add in their own sets of apps and features. There are a few rules to follow to be eligible for Google’s apps and services, but that takes this topic too deep for today’s comparison.
Truth is, for the average user who surfs the web, checks into social media a few times per day, pulls up a map and plays a small game or two, there is no point doing any performance battles. Your average iOS or Android device will work just fine.
Good thing we are not your average users around here, let’s dive in. First up, let’s talk hardware.
Looking for a 64-bit quad-core or larger processor, graphics processor capable of easily running full HD and beyond displays, 4GB of RAM, 64GB or maybe 128GB of internal storage space, fingprint scanners, a 12MP or greater camera sensor capable of 4K video capture? What about high-fidelity audio? Yup, Android and iOS have all that. Mostly, anyway.
You really have to start looking at some of the gimmicks and party tricks of each device to decide what is more important to you for overall performance, but the truth is, deep down where it counts, the hardware available to Android and iOS users is largely the same.
If the hardware is the same, the performance should also be equal, right? Nope! Don’t be fooled by the spec sheets, and all that junk I just told you, there is a difference in performance across the devices. Dramatic differences, actually.
We see this all the time just in Android devices, we’ll have a Snapdragon powered device side-by-side a Kirin or MediaTek device. On paper the processors may be ‘equal,’ but true usage of the processors tells an entirely different story.
iPhones have long been touted as the best phones for photography, while that may have been true for a while, Android devices are beginning to steal that thunder. However, the 12MP, 16MP and even 21MP or larger camera sensors on these competing Android devices could be considered overkill compared to the long running 5MP, 8MP and now 12MP sensors on the Apple devices. Let’s not get into it all, I just wanted to point out that Apple has figured out a trick, if only in the software side of things, that many Android manufacturers have either never bothered with or are only recently figuring out as well. The same specification does not mean you’ll see the same performance.
As you can see, for basic day-to-day tasks, our sample iOS and Android devices perform admirably. You need to get down and dirty, by loading heavy games or other large apps, before you really get a feel for the difference in performance here. Apple’s latest does outperform a one year old Kirin device and a brand new Intel powered device, but that margin is reduced greatly when flagship Android devices are considered.
Please do keep in mind that, although the speed tests above were performed as fair and accurate as we could, we did not account for many external factors such as network performance, device up-time or amount of other apps running and more. Point is: our tests are flawed in many ways, but they are great indicators of real world performance as calculated with no more than a basic stop watch. Also, the first 5 devices were tested by me, but the Note 5 and iPhone 6S were each tested by other members of our team, results may vary depending on how they performed these tests. Bottom line, we cannot definitively announce a best phone or OS here, please just use the data for some perspective.
As we have said time and time again, your preferred ecosystem for apps and services should be your deciding factor between an Android or an iOS device purchase. Obviously, we prefer Android around here. We’re assuming that most of you on our Android fan site are also Android fans, not that that matters. With two highly capable operating systems at your disposal, we truly feel the only reason to choose one over the other is out of personal preference, just please put in the time to figure out what will fit your needs best before you spend a ton of money on a device and accessories.
While we prefer Android mainly because of its ability to mold to our liking, we cannot discount the value in the simplicity of iOS. Admitting that there is still a learning curve, and that the average Android user may be frustrated with the lack of features and options, many users out there appreciate the familiarity and thoughtlessness of using iOS.
Let me say this again in one last way, this is something that I have been saying about Android vs iOS since the days of Froyo and is less true today that it was then, but I still stick with it: With iOS, you ask what your device can do and you stick with that, with Android, you ask yourself what you want to happen, then find out how Android can do it. Bottom line, iOS is a powerful tool, if you want to do what it wants to do, Android is a powerful tool no matter what you want to do.
Final note: I hope that we’ve provided a thorough overview of the major similarities and differences between Android and iOS. We recognize that there is so much more to each ecosystem than what we talked about here today, we also recognize that we are fairly biased in favor of Android, we can’t help it, that’s our passion. Please remember these things as you ponder the differences in these operating systems, luckily it is as easy as ever to bounce back and forth between the two these days, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
It’s your turn, join us in the comments below for a thoughtful and polite conversation, even debate, over these two powerful operating systems. What do you think, Android vs iOS?
When you are ready to move forward, here are some resources to help you get started: