Opinion

Android vs. iOS

It’s been a while since I wanted to write this and I finally got around to doing it. Also, in the time it took me to start writing this, I also managed to use both the operating systems a bit more and am in a better position than I would have been a few months from ago. 

If you have been reading my tweets, you probably expect me to praise iOS and blast Android till kingdom come. But don’t worry. That’s not going to happen. 

I’ll start with Android, since that’s what I’m using at the moment. There was a time I hated Android. I thought of it as a cheap iOS knock-off, which to some extent, it was. And although I don’t hate it anymore, the proof of which is the Android phone current in my pocket, I can’t say I have fallen in love with it either. 

For me, the biggest offense is still the design. I’m no designer but I can tell a good design from a bad one and Google has always struggled with designing visually appealing products. Usually their designs are more functional than aesthetically pleasing but on Android you can see they have taken a stab at the latter, and failed spectacularly. The 3D application drawer and image gallery are good examples of a piss-poor attempt at creating something cool. The OS doesn’t even dictate any specific UI guidelines, which means every app tends to look different. You can look at an iOS or a Windows Phone 7 app and know which OS it was made. That’s not the case with Android apps. There is no uniformity. Most of the time developers just design their apps to look like their iOS versions. Or design something so ugly my eyes have no choice but to bleed in protest. 

But once you get past the visual diarrhea that Android dishes out, there is that one thing that makes up for every bad thing about it: it gets shit done. At the end of the day, when it comes to functionality and getting things done few mobile operating systems can match Android. Out-of-the-box, it offers more functionality than every other mobile operating system. 

I can access basic functions like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi right from the home screen, transfer files like a boss without having to rely on any other software, access the file system, download torrents, and do a zillion other things that I’m too tired to write here or can’t remember at the moment. There are very few things that it cannot do natively or without the help of apps from the Market. And this is without rooting it, which I hear gives it the ability to cure cancer and stop tsunamis. 

iOS, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Visually, iOS still looks great. Even after four years of existence my eyes don’t roll back inside my skull when I look at it and my first instinct isn’t to install a theme to stop me from wanting to kill the phone with fire, as it usually happens with Android. Apple’s UI design is simple and beautiful and although it is usually accused of being flashy and frivolous that’s far from the truth. Subtle things like the animation of the Flight mode indicator have been tastefully done and this is something that neither the Android fans, the developers nor Google will understand because this is good design. And because Apple’s own design is so good it has inspired the app developers to come up with even better stuff. iOS currently has some of the best looking apps on any platform on the planet. 

But this doesn’t change the fact that iOS still feels functionally inadequate. Even today iOS users are deprived of several features that other OS users take for granted. There are no widgets, no FM radio, no ability to record calls, no smart dialing and no Adobe Flash support in Safari. Just kidding, Flash sucks.

You still have to use iTunes in order to transfer data. Although I don’t share the same hatred towards the software as several others do I still think I shouldn’t be using it in the first place. One might argue that using it to drag and drop data is just as simple as using USB mass storage and while that might be true for Mac users it isn’t for Windows users. 

Macs come with iTunes pre-installed and over time its users curate their libraries so when they get an iPhone, for example, they just have to plug it in and sync it. A Windows user has to first install it, then add items to the library, then realize that none of the metedata is in order and then sit down to fix it, then connect the device and then transfer the files. This isn’t fucking drag and drop. It’s just a drag. Moreover most Windows users don’t use iTunes for playing music because it feels like using a hammer to kill a fly. 

And I don’t buy the argument that novice users find it easy to use iTunes than using mass storage. If one can find their music folder to add it to the iTunes library one can damn well find it to transfer music to the phone through mass storage too. 

Apple also prevents users from accessing the file system or transferring files via Bluetooth. The argument here is that they want to prevent people from illegally transferring data such as apps and music to other devices but this again doesn’t make sense because once the device is synced with a computer the computer gets all the data on the phone so if one has to illegally acquire something one can easily get it from the said computer. It doesn’t actually prevent anyone from pirating stuff. What it prevents is someone from sending an innocent image or contact via Bluetooth to someone else. For all practical purposes, the Bluetooth in the iPhone is just a checkbox for the specsheet. 

It’s because of shit like this that I cannot imagine using an iPhone as my primary phone. In order to simplify things, Apple has removed so many things that it makes me feel kinda stupid, as if Apple doesn’t think I’m smart enough to use those features properly. Imagine all the havoc I can wreak on the world with Bluetooth file transfers. Oh, the horror! 

And for an OS that claims to simplify your life, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine (I really wanted to say that). Take the Settings app, for example. Instead of having all the connectivity features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 2G/3G switch and GPS under one menu (or better yet, let you switch them from the homescreen) it spreads them all across different sections. It also unifies all the settings from other apps which sounds convenient but having to minimize an application just so you can change its setting through the Setting application feels stupid. It’s like having the remote for the living room TV kept in the bedroom. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love iOS but I don’t like knowing I’m using an OS that was designed from ground up for people who don’t know what a smartphone is, leave alone know how to use one. And I’m all for simplification of technology but I don’t appreciate the method Apple has used here, where simplification means simply removing the features to a point where nothing is left, instead of taking existing features or adding new ones and then making them easier to use.

To compensate for this, Apple adds some major features every year, features, by the way, that should have existed from Day 1. The first iPhone was bare bones and since then Apple has slowly conditioned its users to more advanced features. One can’t help but imagine school kids being taught new things every year because they are too dumb to learn everything in the first year. I don’t feel like being one of those kids. I’ve been using smartphones well before Apple thought of making one and I don’t want to start learning ‘A for Apple’, all over again. Give me some advanced level stuff, goddammit! 

This is where Android excels. It doesn’t do anything new but it instead gives you things you should have, things Apple doesn’t want you to have. I want to use an iPhone but then I wouldn’t be able to do some of the things I want to do.

Simply put, iPhone does three out of five things but it does them well. Android does them all but the execution needs improvement. I like the former method of doing things but I want it to do those other two things as well. Which is why I’ll be sticking with Android for now. I know Apple will never change, I don’t expect them to. I would rather wait for Android to catch-up. 

P.S.: I do intend to purchase an iPod touch or an iPad in the future. I think it would go well with the Nexus S. 

P.P.S.: Once the next generation iPhone comes out I might express my desire to purchase it. In that case, that’s just my heart talking. It still goes out to Apple despite my head telling it otherwise. 

P.P.P.S: I haven’t completely given up hope in Windows Phone 7. It wasn’t as good at launch as I hoped it would be but it’s improving pretty fast. Out of the box it is a happy compromise between Android and iOS. Unfortunately, it lacks in the apps department. Couple of major software updates and a few thousand apps later, I wouldn’t mind pitching my tent in the Microsoft camp. 

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