Android vs iOS

Earlier this summer I decided to make the switch from iOS to Android (actually, “make the switch” may be a bit of a stretch. I still use iOS devices, but I switched for my primary phone from an iPhone to a Google Pixel 2). In this post, I’m going to talk about my observations on the subtle differences between the platforms that may be helpful for others trying to decide between the two platforms.

Why switch?

We live in a multi-platform world. Most people use applications and services from multiple vendors–Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others.  While there can be benefits to locking into one ecosystem, there are also risks. If you use only Apple products, your experience will generally work seamlessly; however, you also will commit yourself to pay a higher cost (in some cases) and limit your choice of tools from other vendors.

My personal technology philosophy is to choose applications and services that are not proprietary to one platform. This gives me the flexibility to move between different types of devices and maintain productivity.

The differences

My first observation is there are many more similarities than differences between the two platform. Most of the gestures, options, and apps are the same between the two platforms. The following are the differences that have been most obvious to me:

Phone

It’s kind of funny to say, but most people don’t buy a smartphone for the phone feature. However, it is a very important core feature, and I’ve found Android is better at being a phone.

  • Smarter dialing–when you click a hyperlink in a conference call invitation, the dialer will identify the access code in the invitation email and ask you if you would like to dial the code. This is extremely useful when dialing in to webex meetings with 13 digit access codes.
  • Caller ID–the Android Google Phone app will show caller ID from people and companies who are not in your contacts, so you know who is calling even if you don’t already know them. IOs doesn’t do this.

Apps

I haven’t found any apps that I use regularly on iOS that aren’t also on Android, and the app functionality is generally at parity. Some differences:

  • I have seen more app crashes on Android than iOS. Not significant, but every few days I see a message that an app has stopped working.
  • One nice thing about apps on Android is that you can purchase digital content through apps on Android that don’t let you do so on iOS (due to Apple’s charging a hefty percentage of digital sales through apps). So if you want to buy an audiobook from Audible or a Kindle ebook, you can do so from the app rather than launching a browser session to purchase content.

Messaging

The iMessage experience is the best text messaging experience on any platform; however, there is a cost to that experience–it takes something that is an industry standard (SMS) and changes it to a proprietary platform. This means that in the garden when talking to other people in the garden, you can use cool stickers, but it degrades the experience for people outside the garden.

On the Android side, you can choose from a variety of text apps, some of which are very nice (if you are willing to give up your stickers). You also gain functionality not available in iMessage (like the ability to schedule texts to be sent later).

Miscellaneous

The following are general/miscellaneous items that don’t fit in any specific category:

  • Volume controls–iOS has one volume control, so when you turn the volume down before a big meeting, it generally silences the media, notification, and ringer sounds. Android separates that into three volume controls–when you turn down the volume, it turns down the ringer volume, and if you expand the volume notification, you can alternate the volume for media and alarms as well. I’ve found this is great in theory but has lead to some issues for me–such as I turn down my volume for a meeting, then turn up the volume after the meeting for media (to listen to music) and forget the ringer is silenced and later miss calls.
  • Back button–Android devices have a back button. iOS devices do not. This is a personal preference, but I love having a back button so that if I get 3 levels deep into something, I can easily go back to where I was before.
  • Search–iOS is more forgiving of misspellings in search terms. I use Microsoft To-Do for task management. On iOS I type “todo,” and it finds the app. On Android, search does not find the app if I don’t type the name precisely.
  • OS layout–Android’s design and layout follows the same metaphor as leading computer operating systems. You have a desktop with app shortcuts and a launcher with the full list of apps. iOS to me is reminiscent of Windows 3.1–everything is the desktop with apps and folders in random order. I find the Android approach works better for me, and since the apps are listed in alphabetical order, it is easier to find apps without searching.  Also worth noting is that Android allows you to change the launcher, and there are several good third-party launchers available (I use the Microsoft Launcher).
  • Notifications–Notification experience on the two platforms is very similar. I give Android points for making it easier to turn off individual app notifications–when you see a notification from an app and want to silence future notifications from that app, you can tap the settings icon by the notification and turn off notifications for that specific app. In iOS, you have to navigate to settings to disable notifications for apps. iOS scores points for handling notifications more elegantly–if you shut your phone off for 2 days (could happen) and turn it back on, on iOS you will see the latest notifications. On Android, be prepared for 10 minutes of dings, because every notification that was sent during the time your device was off will appear on the screen sequentially.
  • Screen reading–one of the features that I use extensively on iOS is the screen reading accessibility feature. This useful feature (when enabled) will read whatever is on the screen (and is useful for turning Kindle ebooks into audiobooks read by your phone’s robotic voice).  Android has some screen reader options available, but none are as good as the standard iOS screen reader. I was able to find a replacement for ebook narration in the Alexa feature of the Amazon app. Start the Amazon store app, tap the Alexa icon, then say “read Kindle book [name of book in your library].” Alexa will read the book from the point you left off, and generally has better diction than the screen reader robot voice.
  • Accessories–Given that all iPhones are the same, it is easier to find accessories like cases that will fit your device; however, if you purchase a phone like the Pixel, you will still be able to easily find accessories for it. The Pixel 2 uses USB-C, which is rapidly becoming a standard. I have found that some USB-C accessories don’t work with my phone. Generally charging cables work, but USB-C accessories like headphones don’t all work with my phone.
  • Voice assistant–I find almost all voice assistants to be frustrating, so I don’t use them. Google assistant is at least as accurate as Siri.

Conclusion

Use what you want. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Fight platform lock-in and use apps and services that are not proprietary to one platform. Your phone’s brand is not your lifestyle–having an iPhone or an Android phone don’t define who you are. Think differently.

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