iOS and Android are both great mobile platforms. They also have quite a bit of room for improvement and different ideas of what matters to users. Naturally, many people feel one trumps the other. So is one actually better? Here are your best arguments.
Note: This post summarizes what you said, not necessarily what we think on the subject (although you might find a comment or two from us summarized as well, as we often participate in the discussion). Also, in this specific case, the Lifehacker readership vastly prefers and uses Android. Keep that in mind as you read, and check out the original discussion if you want to see every argument including those from Lifehacker staff (Whitson Gordon and Eric Ravenscraft).
Android Is More Customizable
Android lets you do so much more with your phone than iOS does. DancherBoi explains why this matters to him:
I like change. I like new. I like things the way I like it. And because of these 3 things, Android fits the bill best. The customization that Android allows with 3rd party launchers is fantastic. I can make my phone look and behave like nothing I have ever seen before, and fit the way I like to interface with my phone. I despise the fact that Apple thinks that they know me best. They don’t.
I also like to tinker. I like to push the envelope with the things I can do with my phone. The open platform Android provides is a sandbox for developers to get extremely creative.
But when and where does Android’s customization cause problems? Reader jeffreyjames explains:
Android is also messy to use and customize. Every time I try to customize it, I realize the only way to customize it is to be happy with launcher skins other people have made and be limited to only their apps on home screens, or really hunker down and spend the kind of time only teenagers from Japan seem to have to make something that suits my needs. Bundled apps that I can’t delete are also annoying. At least the standard apple apps are from apple. My phone came with a Zappos (yes, the shoe store) app that I can’t delete as well as a golf game, 3 separate amazon stores, and a TON of other crap I don’t need and cannot delete.
iOS Feels More Fluid
Despite slower processors on Apple hardware, iOS feels faster and more fluid to most users. Apple prioritizes the user interface over just about everything else so no matter how slow a device runs you rarely feel any lag. While taxing software and aging hardware won’t always compete, reader Rory Brett feels Android can’t even run fluidly on the latest and greatest:
Whenever I use an android phone, I get spikes of random lag, and an overall inconsistent experience. No matter which phone I use (I tend to buy and try then return if it doesn’t meet my expectations), from the new S4 and HTC One to The new Galaxy Mega I always run into those same issues. It’s not fun, because as a tech obsessed, new and greatest gadget loving man, it’s a let down to try the best and new and have it feel like it was released last year. So far the HTC One was the closest to everyday usable to me. I love all the features that android has, and I do love how open it is and the customization, but I’m continually let down by the performance.
For iOS it’s almost the opposite. I am frustrated with the lack of customization, and over all lack of how open it is, but I have never in my life had a more reliable phone. It has been hands down the fastest, most consistent phone time and time again.
These comments were mirrored by several other users, and we struggled to find someone arguing on behalf of Android’s fluidity so I’ll break form here and offer my personal experience. I own an original 8GB Nexus 7 tablet and a 16GB Nexus 4. I’ve never experienced any lag with either device that I wouldn’t expect from a smartphone. I primarily use Apple devices but always considered my Nexii on par with fluidity. That said, this is a very common complaint, so it likely has a lot to do with your device, your version of Android, and what you run on it. It seems like you’re pretty much guaranteed fluidity on a modern iOS device, but not so on Android (though it’s very possible to get there, even if it takes a few tweaks).
Android Offers an Open Platform
Android likes to tout its open platform over Apple’s closed, walled garden. Reader Howard Blair notes this opens up tons of possibilities on the Google Play Store (versus the iTunes App Store):
Emulators are allowed on Android, as is side-loading…you can get apps from Google Play, AppBrain, Amazon Appstore, or anywhere else you can get your hands on an .APK file…something that’s hard to do (but not impossible) on iOS. On the other hand, the iTunes Appstore won’t allow anything with downloadable code (emulators, Flash).
You can change the app launcher (home screen), the default keyboard and Web browser on Android…things you can’t do on iOS. If Apple includes it in iOS, chances are you’re stuck with it…unless you jailbreak.
While Android definitely provides more flexibility in terms of what apps you can get and what developers can accomplish on the platform, calling it a fully open platform rings a little false. You don’t have complete control over your device without rooting and Google sometimes pulls content from their store. Still, even with these downsides, Android remains a considerably more open platform than iOS for both developers and users.
Android Is Fragmented
When you look at the iOS vs. Android on a high level, it looks like iOS gets a nice update every year and Android moves a little slower. It also looks like Android’s updates never really roll out to must users or make it to them so late it almost doesn’t matter. This creates a lot of fragmentation between devices and makes it hard for developers to support every Android user out there. Benjamin Sow, an Android user himself, voices this complaint:
However, because it is an Open Source OS, Android runs on a battalion of different phone makes and models, and each tweaked with its own features and UI enhancements. It is this that I despise. A great example would be Samsung. This year, it proudly launched its flagship the Galaxy S4. It features cutting edge technology and software enhancements which sports an array of cool features like Eye scroll, Air gestures etc. These features might have bedazzled a heck load of people, but it has its downside too – a major one at that. Along with those features, you’ll obviously get less space, and with the S4, by less I mean almost half. The 16GB model comes with just over half of its promised storage due to its massive size of the its Android Touchwiz OS. Due to the reduced size, it is inevitable that even with state of the art processing power, the software will bottleneck the whole system. In which is the case for many Android phones, they have tweaked Android to such an extent that it backfires on the very great OS they chose to use.
He also notes you can easily solve this problem with a Google Nexus (or stock Android) device, as he did, because those get updates immediately and for as long as the latest version of Android will run well. iOS offers more frequent, yearly updates, but not all devices get all the features of the latest version. You generally get everything if you buy the new iPhone or iPad or stick with last year’s model. If you keep your device for more than two years, Apple starts removing features that won’t run on it. Furthermore, sometimes Apple locks down features on older devices anyway because it wants to use them to promote sales of the new hardware. This sounds bad, but few people keep their smartphones for more than a couple of years anyway because they get an inexpensive upgrade from their carrier.
Google doesn’t do this. They’ve also started taking features out of the OS and moving them over to Google Play Services so any device can download them in app form. This keeps new features coming to all users even if they have an older version of Android. The fragmentation argument gets detailed and complex. If you want to read more about the fragmentation issues on Android and why they just don’t matter as much as they used to, check out this post.
Android Has More (But Sometimes Low-Quality) Hardware
Apple compliments themselves on great design all the time, and they mostly earn it. Some Android devices, on the other hand, use cheaper materials and lower aesthetic standards. You get a lot of choice in which device you buy, but you sacrifice hardware quality in some cases. Joshua Talley explains:
Perhaps more specifically the touch response, camera, display quality, and battery life. My Nexus 4 and 7 are every bit as smooth as my iOS devices, but compared to other Android hardware they are superior. Mainly TouchWiz devices. Also, I really wish the iPod camera was in my N4. Photospheres are way cool, however. The display on the iOS devices just looks better…if only they were a standard resolution, say 1280×720? My iPad will last for days – nearly a week – on idle. The N7 will go for a few days, but not like the iPad. Wow.
That said, Apple’s phones and tablets have very few models. They control the hardware design themselves. Google, on the other hand, just makes the operating system. They don’t try to force specific standards upon Android device manufacturers. Nevertheless, Android hardware has improved. Newer devices run plenty fast, offer lots of battery life, and even look pretty good. This may not include the majority of devices, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. If you can choose a well-designed Android device that competes with Apple’s hardware efficiency, Android wins that battle regardless of how many crappy devices other manufacturers may create.
iOS Is More “Intuitive”
Many people argue that anything Apple makes provides a more intuitive and easily-learnable experience for just about anyone. Our own editorial fellow Andy Orin agrees:
I recently got a seven inch Asus tablet that runs Android. It’s really quite a useful little thing, but I’ve been surprised by how un-intuitive some aspects of the OS have been. Just the little details. And I know that Icould find solutions to every minor irk and annoyance, but the thing is, with my iPhone I never had to. I knew how to use it without even thinking about it. I don’t want to have to search out solutions (and yes I’m working for Lifehacker). There’s a reason babies love iPads and I side with the babies.
But perhaps babies love iPads because more people happen to have iPads than Android tablets and they’re not actually more intuitive. Blaine provides a counterargument:
That’s not a fair comparison because you learned on iOS and then switched platforms. Likewise, if you learned to use a computer running Windows and switched to a Mac, many things would be unintuitive to you, but the OS would be less to blame than the fact that you were being forced to alter your habits.
You also must consider that we all learn differently and may find one platform more intuitive than the other for those reasons. Even so, those arguments only go so far. While we’re not here to call one platform more user-friendly than another, one may be. iOS often gets this label, but that could have to do more with what it advertises and less with reality. No one really knows.
Perhaps it’s better put this way: Apple cares more about design standards. Though Google has made great strides in recent years, it’s clear that Apple cares about it more than pretty much any other tech company around. While their design sometimes fall short of expectations, they repeatedly deliver a consistently pleasant experience. Edward Champion puts it best:
The reason I love my iPhone over android is the UI. For me I love the way my iPhone works. Clean, quick, and its all consistent. The reason I don ‘t like android is because different icons on the UI look ugly, and the icons don’t look like one team presided over all the icons, they look like one team per icon. On iOS every icon looks like they belong all on the same screen. Also in Android, the Icon gives a different feel that the menus. Where as in iOS, an icon feels like it belongs to that app, the icon and application give me the same feel.
Whether or not you feel Android looks great out of the box, apps that provide customization allow you to circumvent most anything you find ugly. If you want to hear how people feel about customization on Android, just refer back to that section of this post. (We don’t want to rehash the same stuff in an already long summary.)
Android Is For Tinkerers, iOS Is Not
Most people agree that you use Android if you enjoy messing around on your phone and you use iOS if you just want something that works. Let’s hear from a few people on this subject, starting with mpcarolin:
I’ve used both extensively and I’m all Android. I think the answer to the question, however, is simple:
If you want to take the (sometimes extensive) time to tinker with your phone to create an experience that’s molded to your preferences and ultimately more productive than iOS, Android’s the OS for you.
If you simply want your phone to work very well out of the box, an work smoothly, iOS is for you.
That’s my experience. My galaxy s4 and nexus 10 are power houses of efficiency and productivity that I don’t see being replaced any time soon. My iPad doesn’t come close to them in that regard, but neither is it bad, and it didn’t require any work. It’s also a much more refined and smooth os, on which android needs to improve.
Reader ender42081 agrees with a food metaphor:
I find that iOS is a bit like fast food. It is simple, convenient, and appeals to the masses without going out on any limbs. You want beef? here’s your whopper. You want a keyboard? here you go. Simple, easy, pretty good, but very limited. Android is that local restaurant franchise which is a bit inconsistent (bad managers at some locations) but lets you do what you want. Want beef? well, we have quarter pounders at the buffet, but you may want to talk to doug at the grill who will do something amazing with bacon and blue cheese for you.
Despite that, some feel iOS offers a better platform for tinkering because jailbreaking opens up so many different options. Of course, you have to want to jailbreak and forego later iOS updates. The same goes for Android if you want to root, but Android offers more without rooting and so you can update without the fear of losing any of your effort. So while you can make an argument to the contrary, most people stick with Android for tinkering and iOS for something that just works predictably.
I Like This One Thing…
Everyone has something about Android or iOS that they claim keeps them on the platforms. Sometimes it’s a lot of little things. These tend to be pretty specific and the ones that actually do keep people around, rather than all the grand sweeping benefits described in previous arguments. Let’s take a look at some examples.
For lurking_grue, it’s Tasker:
Tasker on android makes things so much better. I love how my phone now will just seamlessly change depending on where I am or what I am doing.
Hop into a terminal and my keyboard swaps out.
Get to work and my ringer goes to vibrate.
Get in my car and it turns on the ringer and GPS and disconnects to wifi networks.
With apple things are either easy or near impossible.
For Joshua Talley it’s about sharing (among other things):
Both my wife and I have had that moment where a certain file needed to be attached to an email, or uploaded to a site, etc., and been on the verge of irate when it just couldn’t be done on iOS. Android is an entirely different story. The ability to share any file through just about every app is so nice…if at times a bit overwhelming (I have about 25+ options that I have to scroll through).
Tom hates iTunes (which, for the record, you do not have to use with an iDevice anymore) and the lack of a back button:
I have never owned an iOS device before, but i have to admit they made a better job with the UI than Android. The smoothness of it all just amazes me. But there are two things keeping me from getting an iPad:
The first is the horror of iTunes, which has to be the worst piece of software in history, at least on the PC, and the lack of a universal file system. I used to have an ipod, but i ultimately parted with it because it could only be synced using itunes. On android you just drag and drop, and open the file with any app that supports it.
The second reason is the lack of a “back” button. This is probably because i never used an ios devecie for a longer period, but every time i play with someone’s iphone/ipad i get stuck somewhere in apps, not knowing what to do next. Every app has a different way, some have a back button on the screen, some are gesture controlled, and some are just plain stupid. I once asked the owner of an iphone how to get back to the previous screen. He went back to the home screen and restarted the app. It’s probably just his stupidity, but talk about intuitiveness.
Our former editor-in-chief Adam Pash often complained about the inconsistency of the back button on Android, so clearly you can take the same issue and consider it a deal breaker on either OS.
Why None of This Matters
Because most of us choose a mobile platform because 1) we’re used to it and 2) we like something pretty specific, no argument really holds a lot of weight. In fact, most arguments boil down to a concise comment made by reader Ovy:
X platform is better than Y platform because X is better at fulfilling my idiosyncratic needs, which I have stupidly generalized as being everyone’s needs!
Reader add explains why this debate doesn’t really matter:
This is like asking what’s better? a santoku or a bowie knife? Italian leather or Air Jordan’s, an SUV or a sedan?
The fact is (which rabid fanboys really need to start to accept) is they both have a place in the market and they’re both better and worse for different things.
So pick what you like. You don’t really need to justify your choice. You like your mobile platform, it helps you do what you want to do, and not much else really matters.