Apple vs Android, and unbiased comparison

I have been asked about Apple vs Android products for years. I hope to provide as unbiased a comparison as possible but I honestly think that being totally unbiased is probably impossible.

Every day when I walk out the door to go to work I have two smartphones with me, one Apple, one Android. Both of them are the same generation, currently an iPhone 6 and a Samsung Galaxy S5. In addition I often have both an Apple iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8″.

I don’t carry both because one is personal and one is provided by my office, but because I firmly believe that the only way anyone can know the pros and cons of either is to carry and use each on a daily basis. Anything less is speculation. Both are bought and paid for by me personally.

I have used a wide array of devices from both camps, tablets and phones. I do go back a little further with Apple devices than Android but then again the iPhone and iPad were the ones that started all this mess. To show my age, my first “smartphone” was a Samsung Blackjack running a variant of Windows CE as I recall. My first “smart device” was an Apple Newton 120 (my wife still has one although it hasn’t been used in years).

I will start off by conceding I prefer the Apple devices. If push came to shove and I could only carry devices by one manufacturer, it would currently be Apple.

I am by no means saying that the Android devices are bad devices, in fact they are very good devices. If for whatever reason I was forced to only carry Android devices I certainly would not feel sorry for myself.

Both camps make excellent hardware and excellent operating systems. Apple of course has all their devices running the same operating system (which I will call OS from here on out) and do a fine job of making sure all but the oldest devices run the most current version. It is very nice to not have so much fragmentation (meaning different devices running different versions) in the market. It makes things so much easier to use.

This fragmentation has the downside of not making all Android user interactions the same. For example, using email on one device can vary substantially from using it on another depending on what the default email app is as it ships from each manufacturer. Apple has one email app and it is consistent across all devices that run the same version of software, which means the vast majority of units currently in use.

The other side is that while Android is very fragmented, companies such as Samsung can add layers, interfaces and utilities to the OS that make the OS more user friendly and powerful. The Samsung Touchwiz interface is one such interface that makes the system a little more user friendly, although not everyone agrees.

Customization has become a big issue when differentiating the two camps as Apple allows only a fraction of the customization options that Android has. What does that mean?

To start with, on the pages or screens that make up the basic Apple interface you have two choices, an app’s button, or a folder containing app buttons. That is it.

Android on the other hand can contain app’s buttons, folders of buttons, or widgets which can be a wide array of different interface elements. These widgets can also vary in size from the same size as an app’s button to taking up the entire screen, and anything in between.

Widgets can be something like a weather widget that shows the current temperature and forecast for the day where you tap the widget to go to a full screen weather forecast.

Widgets could also be a half screen showing three of the newest news headlines where you click on one of the headlines to jump to that story in a news reading app.

There are hundreds if not thousands of possibilities of widgets.

App availability used to be a huge differentiating factor as Apple dominated with both the most apps for phones and tablet specific apps. I want to discuss tablet specific apps because this is a really important point. At one point the vast majority of “tablet apps” that were offered on Android were simply phone apps made bigger. The tablet apps on Apple were redesigned to take advantage of the larger screen. This made the Apple devices far superior in usage to their Android counterparts.

Recently Android has done an excellent job in catching up with Apple. While Apple still seems to have more high quality tablet specific apps, the vast majority of apps most people want are fantastic on both platforms.

Note I said high quality tablet specific apps in the previous paragraph. Phones suffer the same issue in that Android has a very high number of what I consider garbage apps when compared to Apple. I believe this is due to the fact that Android does not require the purchase of an Apple computer to create apps with like Apple and does not have as stringent rules for acceptance in the app store. This means you get a lot of lower quality apps.

As with the tablets however, the vast majority of phone apps most people will want is of excellent quality on both platforms.

I guess the easier way for me to say this is that Apple has a higher number of higher quality apps available, but Android has more than enough to make virtually anyone completely overwhelmed with choices.

An area that I run into frequently in IT is that Android allows more access to the hardware and software on the platform than Apple does. There are two effects of this: Apple is more secure out of the box, while Android allows more capability out of the box.

The security aspect is related to including security on the phone where the phone itself is encrypted. Additionally the phone can wipe its contents if the passcode is attempted too many times. This has caused some serious consternation not only with thieves, but with the FBI and law enforcement. You can also track the phone, remote wipe it, and prevent any thief from every being able to activate it should it get stolen. These are all features available to any and all Apple devices running the last few versions of their OS and they are all there by default.

Android devices can do everything I just mentioned for the Apple devices, but none of it is there by default on all devices.

Viruses and spyware is also not a concern on Apple devices while they certainly are for Android. The only infections I have read about for Apple devices required injection through a compromised computer connected to the phone. Android devices can be infected over the internet just like any Windows PC. Heck, I have even had some pretty nasty stuff installed directly from the Google Play Store.

The more capabilities I mentioned for Android means things like apps that can do WIFI sniffing and network diagnostics. Apple will not let you have low level access to their networking protocols which means all but the most basic networking tests are impossible. This same problem permeates all of Apple’s hardware and software. If you are looking for a serious hardware tool, don’t look at Apple.

Many Android devices allow you to replace the battery and extend the on board memory using an SD card or Micro SD card. Apple devices can do neither of these two things. If you are a heavy talker and need a lot of battery life, and don’t like the option of making your phone thicker and heavier by using a battery case, the ability to swap in a new battery in less than a minute has fantastic appeal.

Being able to slap in a huge Micro SD card is also very nice as you can carry as much video and music as you could ever want, all without paying a premium. Simply by a 16GB or 32GB phone and plug in a 64GB or 128GB card. With Apple you have to buy the largest storage you can afford (or that they offer) and then you are stuck with it.

Another great concern is ease of use and support. Both camps have more than enough books, videos and how tos online to make most people happy. Where the Apple device shines is that it is, regardless of what a lot of people think, the easiest device to use. Not for me or anyone else in tech support, but for the general public who uses a phone as a phone first and foremost.

The Apple device also has the best support. The reason for this is simple, there are millions more IOS 9 users than any one version and style of Android. This means that there are millions more people who can help you.

I am not taking about helping the tech savvy person who could figure out both phones in a matter of minutes. I am talking about helping your eighty year old granny with her iPhone6s. The seventy year old man next door with his iPhone 5 can shows her exactly what to do because both phones look and act exactly the same, every icon is the same, every setting is in the exact same place, etc. Unfortunately you just can not do that as well with Android.

The next concern may be accessories. There are more high end accessories for Apple than for Android. This is simple economics here. There were far more iPhone 6 phones sold than any single Android handset. Accessory manufacturers understand this and know they can sell more accessories for the bigger market.

You may be saying that Android devices outsell Apple so it is a bigger market, that may be true, but if you are a case manufacturer and you see that the iPhone sold 700 million phones as of March 2015 and Samsung, the largest Android phone manufacturer has sold 200 million, which market do you want to concentrate on?

That is not to say that there are no accessories for Android devices, all the major accessory manufacturers cover both Apple and Samsung devices quite well. Unfortunately the further down the Android sales rank you get, the fewer of these accessories are available.

The next difference I want to cover is the general feel of the device, both physically and in operation. It wasn’t too long ago when Android devices felt like cheap imitations of Apple devices. I know some fandroids out there (hard core Android fans) will really bash me for that comment but it is true.

The top tier Android manufacturers have made great strides in quality and now some of the top phones from Samsung, Google, LG and others are very close to the same quality as the iPhone and iPad. Note I said very close. Even with the latest generations of Galaxy S6 phones and Galaxy Tab tablets I can see small difference that put the Apple on top.

The truth about that is that those difference have now become so minor as to only be noticeable to those of us looking for them. To the typical end user they will seem very much the same.

I brought up physical quality not to bash Android, but to praise the top tier manufacturers for really working hard to make a high quality product. Even as Apple has continued to increase the quality and feel of their devices, the Android camp has not only kept pace, but closed the distance to almost nothing. Nice work.

Operational feel is almost the same story as physical feel. In general use most people will not really see much of a difference. Unfortunately the gap here is not nearly as close as with the physical feel.

Scrolling from screen to screen on an Apple device is perfectly smooth and effortless. The same task on the Android can be just as perfectly smooth and effortless… long as you don’t have a widget on the screen you are scrolling to. One down side to these active widgets is they take a second to load data and display it, this causes a lag or stutter when switching screens.

To some people this stutter is a very small price to pay to have those widgets, and I totally agree. To others, they prefer the perfect fluidity of the Apple interface, and I agree there too. It is a tradeoff and one only you can decide if it matters to you.

Lastly is the concern over reliability. The Blancco Technology Group did a study The State of Mobile Device Performance and Health:
Q4 2015 which showed that 85% of issues with handsets were with Android devices while only 15% were IOS (Apple). Was this actual problems with the phones? Was the more difficult to use Android OS causing user errors? Who is the Blancco Technology Group? All fair questions but it does raise concerns.

The only personal evidence I have is that my Galaxy Tab 3 8″ did have charging problems when brand new and had to be sent back to Samsung three times. Now however it has been working fine for years. Since that is the only issue I have had with any Android (or Apple for that matter) device, I just chalked it up to bad luck. Make enough of anything and you will make a bad one. Now I wonder.

There are of course a lot more differences between the two but in my opinion this covers the biggest points of contention between the two. So which should you choose?

If you like to customize things to the max, want to push the phone to do everything it could ever do, need massive storage and replaceable batteries, pick the Android.

If you want something that just works, works very well and is extremely well supported, pick Apple.

Under no conditions should you feel you have an inferior product for using one or the other. Both the Apple and top tier Android devices are excellent choices. You can’t go wrong with either.