Friday, 10 May 2013

Top 5: Differences between iOS and Android

Image: EFY Times
When it comes to mobile OSes, there's plenty of choice out there in the market. The most popular at the moment are undoubtedly Android and iOS, followed by Windows Phone 8 and BB10. Then we have the up and coming OSes including Tizen, Ubuntu, Firefox OS and Sailfish OS. Some people would have tried a few until they found one they liked. I think most consumers however, have only ever used one OS and never changed since then. Most iOS users for example, have probably never used Android, and vice versa. This can limit our perception of a mobile OS' full capability, as we don't know the kind of user experience other choices offer. I used iOS for about three years before switching to Android, which I've been using for almost a year. Seeing as how these are the two most popular mobile OSes in the market, I'm going to share what I feel are the top 5 differences between the two. This will just be an informational comparison, not a comparison to show how Android which is better of the two.

5. Software versions and updates
iOS versions are simply named in numerical order, and each year a new major version is released. The first version of what would later be called iOS was released in 2007, followed by iOS2 in 2008, iOS3 in 2009, iOS4 in 2010, iOS5 in 2011 and finally iOS6 in 2012. With Android the version history is slightly different. Android 1.0 was released in 2008, 2.0 was released in 2009, 3.0 (a tablet only OS) was released in 2011, and 4.0 was also released in 2011. What makes Android's history different is the use of different dessert names for each significant update, even if it is still within the same major version number. Starting with Android 1.5 which was released in 2009, each significant update was named after a dessert starting with the next letter of the alphabet. 1.5 was Cupcake, 1.6 was Donut, 2.0-2.1 was Eclair, 2.2 was Froyo (frozen yoghurt), 2.3 was Gingerbread, 3.0-3.2 was Honeycomb, 4.0 was ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) and finally, the most recent version of Android, 4.1-4.2 is Jelly Bean. Using the alphabet method of naming Android versions, Android is technically, currently on version 10, as J is the 10th letter of the alphabet.
Evolution of Android. Image: Bonkers World

4. Functionality (a bit long, forgive me)
Starting with the lockscreen, iOS has a simple lockscreen with the time and date, a camera shortcut and a slide to unlock slider to unlock the phone. When notifications are received, the screen turns on and displays the notification on the lock screen. The lockscreen in the latest version of stock Android also has a slide to unlock mechanism implemented in a different way; a ring, and the time and date (Skinned versions of Android like Sense and TouchWiz have shortcuts to favourite apps on the lockscreen as well). A camera shortcut is not visible, but the camera can still be accessed by sliding in from the right. This is possible due to the presence of lockscreen widgets. Meaning we can have multiple lockscreens instead of just one. We can add a calculator, calendar, Facebook posts, notes and email widgets to several lockscreens for easy access. After unlocking, we are greeted with vastly different homescreens on iOS and Android. On iOS, it is again a very simple experience. The homescreen on iOS is a grid of all your apps. Nothing fancy or complicated here. On Android however it is a very different story. The homescreen is more like a desktop on your laptop. You can leave it completely blank, you can add any number of apps as you please, or any number of widgets, which is the major difference between homescreens on iOS and Android. iOS doesn't support widgets. For the entire collection of apps, the app drawer is accessed by tapping an "App drawer" icon on the homescreen. Next, the notification centre. iOS's notification centre has Twitter and Facebook integration, allowing you to post directly from the notification centre. It also has a weather and stocks widget which updates periodically. When a notification is received, you can either tap it to go into the app, or delete it by tapping the "x" in the top right corner. Android's notification centre is much cleaner. No widgets, since widgets are on the homescreen. Some apps allow you to directly interact with notifications instead of launching the app. Messaging for example will allow you to reply an SMS directly from the notification, instead of launching the Messaging app. Dismissing notifications is easier, a swipe to the left or right will delete the notification. A clear all button will clear all notifications with one tap. One last difference is the presence of quick settings on Android, and the lack of it on iOS. Quick settings are accessed in the notification centre (or a two-finger swipe down), and allows you to quickly toggle Wifi settings, brightness, mobile data etc. On iOS these need to be accessed from the settings app.

3. App ecosystem
This is not the droid you are looking for. Image: Applause
iOS has a very solid ecosystem. Being the first to the market and being the best mobile OS for years has helped strengthen their ecosystem. Many apps are released on iOS first before being released on Android, which gives iOS users a heads-up over their Android counterparts. Apple's App Store is considered by many to be superior to Google's Play Store, although the gap has shrunk significantly these past few years. It's not only about quantity, quality is also an important factor. Apps are screened before being approved for Apple's App Store. This is more a quality assessment and not a malware prevention method, to ensure only high quality apps are published in the App Store. No such quality screening is present on the Play Store, which is why you find many ridiculous apps there before Google has a chance to remove them. Many people also believe that developers that have apps on both the App Store and Play Store make the iOS version of their apps more polished and better in terms of functionality. 

2. Jailbreaking VS Rooting 
Many people believe jailbreaking iOS is similar to rooting Android. No. It's not the same. Jailbreaking iOS allows you to accomplish several things, like installing apps from sources other than the App Store and use themes and extensions that Apple doesn't support. All of these tasks can already be done on Android without rooting. So what does rooting do? Basically, it gives you 100% access to the device. You can completely remove the software on the phone and replace it with a completely different one (known as a custom ROM). You can also control the hardware of your device like the processor, by controlling processor speed, voltage and how many cores are running. 

(I used the term "rooting" here loosely, as I don't want to explain about rooting and bootloader unlocking separately. For simplicity, rooting here covers both)

1. Android is open sourced, iOS is not
This is the biggest difference in my opinion, and is the underlying cause to some of the other difference I mentioned earlier. Being open sourced means anyone can take and use Android in their products. Not only that, because Google makes the source code for Android public, it also means anyone can take it and modify it before using it in their devices. This is where HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz come from. They take the Android source code from Google and modify it to their liking for their devices. iOS is not open sourced, which is why it can only be found on Apple devices. Android being open sourced is also the reason why jailbreaking and rooting are so different. Jailbreaking allows you to remove certain limitations set by Apple, but you can't change the source code and change the OS. You still use iOS as Apple made it even after jailbreaking. On the other hand, because Android is open sourced, people can take Android's code and change it. So you don't use Android as Google released it, but a modified version of it. Google have no problem with people rooting their devices and taking the Android code and changing it, Apple on the other hand don't want people to jailbreak their devices, another difference between an open sourced software and one that is not. iOS not being open source is also a factor in making the App Store better than the Play Store. With a small number of similarly sized devices running largely unchanged versions of iOS, developers have an easier time making apps for iOS, as opposed to for Android. There are literally hundreds of Android devices in the market, with different screen sizes and resolutions, running different versions of Android or skinned versions of Android. This is a nightmare for developers (especially small companies with only a few staff), and the reason why they tend to focus more on iOS than Android.
iOS may be stale, but this consistency is what
makes app development easier on iOS than Android.

I hope that was neutral enough for a comparison. I had to delete and re-write several paragraphs because they sounded a bit biased towards Android. Even trying to explain the differences without any bias seems biased to me. Maybe that's because Android really is better? I'll leave that for another post.