iOS vs Android – which is better?

I often get the question about Android vs iOS and which is better. The short answer is: “neither” or “both” depending on if you want the pessimistic or the optimistic version.

Here’s the breakdown of it:

I’ve been using iOS since the iPhone 1. Just before the iPhone 5 was released, I decided to give Android an honest attempt. I saw that Apple had lagged behind on a lot of features: I had replaced most of the core apps with third party apps – Chrome instead of Safari, Mailbox instead of Mail, Fantastical instead of Calendar – and don’t get me started on the Podcasts app which I seriously hope the whole team at Apple got fired for. Twice. But even though I could switch the core apps out, that didn’t help much as Apple doesn’t let me set those as default. So links from other apps still opened in Safari, though Chrome was my preferred browser. I still had to configure the Mail app with my Gmail account, even though I mostly used Mailbox or the Gmail app to read and write e-mails.

I went for a Samsung Galaxy S3. At first it was awkward, but I thought I could deal with it. Every time I encountered a glitch an Android fan would be “hey, you should download X, it fixes exactly that”. And so I spent hours on downloading apps and customizing the experience so that it would be less awkward.

Using Android instead of an iPhone  was like having driven a sports car on a smooth highway, and then driving a different sports car on a bumpy country road. I ended up going back to iOS.

This year, I decided to give Android another go as the HTC One got really good reviews. That experience was much better and I realized that I didn’t hate Android. I hate Samsung. The HTC One experience was so good that I left my iPhone 5 until recently. What drove me back wasn’t Android or iOS per se, but the fact that a majority of the quantified self devices that I’m trying out only work with iOS.

Here are the things I’ll miss with Android:

– Apps being able to interact with each other, without having to build in explicit support for every app, in each app. I can use Feedly, and from there share directly to Flipboard and Buffer without having to exit the app. On iOS, the support for sharing to Flipboard has to be coded into Feedly (which it isn’t). This means that a new great app on iOS also requires updates for apps I already use in order for them to be able to interact.

– A clean home screen. My iPhone 5 screen looks as if it’ll explode if you just add another app. It’s cluttered and it’s impossible to get the clean, minimalistic look I have on my HTC One. Which is ironic, considering Apple’s minimalistic designs.

I use the same background on both phones. Which looks cleaner and more minimalistic to you?

– Widgets. I loved not having to open the calendar to see my calendar, I just swiped to the screen left of my home screen. Evernote? Don’t have to open it either, the notes are right there on the third screen. To do? Second screen to the left had a full screen Remember the Milk widget with all my todos.

– Google Now. I know that this is available on iOS too, but the whole point becomes moot when you have to open an app to access it. The Google Now widget is a much better assistant than Siri because it’s proactive. I love how, when I switch on my HTC One in a new country, I immediately get the exchange rate of currency X to my own, or a couple useful phrases translated to the local language.

– Voice recognition. Google’s default voice recognition is so much better than Apple’s – especially for me who has an accent as I’m not a native English speaker. The voice control experience is so much better on Android, as it is better of recognizing context and intent. I don’t have to tell it to “search the web” or “google” – Google Now does that automatically when it needs to.

– HTC One specific (I think): being able to snap photos while filming. Great feature, but on the other hand iOS 7 and iPhone 5S will also have this.

– The notification system. Being able to tweak notifications much better than in iOS was very valuable. My phone shouldn’t run my life, it should assist me and make my life easier. The notification system is key here, and Android’s is simply much better. I can choose to have sounds or have the LED blink in different colors, or have the notifications turn up in the notification center – where they are actionable as opposed to iOS notifications that simply start the app in question.

– The universal back button. This is perhaps the single best feature in Android. Being able to go back to the previous app using that button is gold.

Things I won’t miss with Android:

– Pocket dialing. This is an HTC One specific issue, but this is the first smartphone I’ve ever had that has dialled people, move icons around on my home screen and even deleted apps from the tray while the phone has been in my pocket.

– Another HTC One specific issue is that the remote control on the headphones can’t control volume. Nor can it activate voice control. This effectively renders voice control as useless as iOS does Google Now.

– Charging time and battery life. both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One charge a lot slower (with the original chargers) than the iPhone 5 does. You can see a comparison chart between the S3 and the iPhone here

– The constant tweaking. Having to download another launcher, a third party keyboard, a screen brightness manager and a bunch of other apps just to get the phone up to a minimum standard is simply not okay.

– Always being second or third. I felt that if someone said “The iOS app is out now, an Android app is coming soon” one more time, I’d go falling down on them. And then there’s issues like the Basis Monitor, who when releasing an Android app actually released a Samsung app.

– Stupid User Interfaces in apps. Android has got a lot of apps, and it’s got a lot of apps made by people who don’t really understand UX. They make apps for themselves, which is a very different thing. The frustration with some apps made me want to poke my finger through my eye, into my brain and swirl it around. Even apps that should be great (Evernote) aren’t. It’s not logical to have to tap a pen icon on a touch screen to edit a note. In Evernote on the iPhone it’s an intuitive tap in the note that allows you to edit it.

All in all: Android today is great. The problem isn’t Android, but clumsy third party vendors like Samsung that bloat it, or HTC that don’t think things through all the way. Had it not been for me trying out stuff like the Misfit Shine, W/Me, Heartmath HRV monitor and mostly any other Bluetooth enabled device, I’d have kept the HTC One as my main phone. Now the iPhone 5 is my primary phone and the Android is the secondary.

If you’re thinking about which phone to buy, and deciding between Android and iOS, I’d say that as long as you go for one of Google’s own smartphones like the Nexus 4 or Moto X you’ll most likely be just as happy as if you had gone for iOS. iOS constrain you more, but it also works better out of the box. Android allows you more freedom, but also requires you to tweak it more. And you’ll always be second when it comes to the great mainstream apps. But you won’t go wrong with Android.

(Unless it’s a Samsung.)

Link roundup June 17, 2013

  1. The Curse Of The Network Effect | TechCrunch

    • Marketplaces where either the buyer or seller expects to choose from an exhaustive listing – so-called “complete” marketplaces – typically give-up far more value than they are able to capture.
    • Unless they facilitate the transaction itself, these businesses often find themselves in a bind.

    Insightful about monetizing services or marketplaces that rely on being complete from the founder of an event listing service.

  2. Facebook Made Me Do It –

    In a study of social exchange systems like Facebook, when people were told that their networks liked the content they were sharing, they shared more. But when they were told that people in their network did not like their shared content, they actually shared even more to figure out what their network might like, and “come up with more content that was edgier,” he said.

    I think that this is true in lack of approval/disapproval (if we don’t get likes or comments at all). If we get active disapproval my guess is that we’d be prone to share less rather than more. Interesting nonetheless.


  3. How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers?

    But the devices were far less reliable in tracking the energy costs of light-intensity activities like standing or cleaning, often misinterpreting them as physical immobility. Only the calorie cost of typing was overestimated, and only by the armband monitor, which considered the arm movements involved to be far more dynamic than they actually are.

    That wrist worn devices are bad at detecting when we bike isn’t a surprise, but that they’re bad at detecting standing is news to me.

  4. Fertile Ground –

    I don’t think most developers of mature, non-trivial apps are going to have an easy time migrating them well to iOS 7. Even if they overcome the technical barriers, the resulting apps just won’t look and feel right. They won’t fool anyone.

    This is another side of the coin of iOS7. It remains to be seen if Marco is right (I hope so). And if he is, I wonder if Apple did this as a conscious choice, or if it’s a (lucky) circumstance. This is an interesting post nonetheless.


  5. Did Apple Just Ally With Microsoft Against Google?

    It’s a huge win for the giant of Redmond, which has long been hunting for more fronts to open up on Google in the search wars.

    This isn’t a win for Microsoft, it’s a huge loss for Apple users. Have you seen the Bing Challenge? It claims that most people choose Bing’s results when compared to Google’s. However, asking people to “just search for anything” makes it hard to evaluate the results. I did the challenge, but with with five searches that I actually needed results for. Result? Google won 4 of the rounds. Twice. There’s a reason people don’t use Bing, and it’s not “habit”.

  6. Microsoft Has Hired People To Make Positive Comments About Xbox One On Reddit, Contractor Says

    Obviously, we can’t confirm this story. We asked Microsoft for comment on if they have people on their payroll using Reddit and will update when they reply.

    This is sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t story. It doesn’t matter what Microsoft says here: they obviously can’t confirm it. However, the fact that this story can be born says a lot: the Xbox One is receiving a lot of negativity. Had it not, there would be no need to even fabricate a story such as this. So in the end, it’s still a product that (mostly) sucks according to people.

  7. The Irrationality of Giving Up This Much Liberty to Fight Terror

    we aren’t trading civil liberties for security, but a sense of security. We aren’t empowering the national-security state so that we’re safer, but so we feel safer.

    This isn’t happening only in the US. It’s happening in the EU and in Sweden. Everyone should read this, and realize that it’s time to say NO. Politicians gain from giving us a sense of security (not actual security) as it gives them more power.

  8. Smartphones vs tablets vs traditional PCs – and how iOS changed the world
    I love this visualization of smartphones vs tablets vs “traditional PCs”. And the post in itself contains a lot of insights about how iOS changed the world of computing, and also the challenges ahead. Note that this was written way ahead of the release of iOS 7 (and that Apple missed delivering on key features, such as “being able to choose another default app than Apple’s own”)

    Read the whole post here: Fraser Speirs – Blog – The iOS 7 Power User Challenge


  9. “It was the perfect search engine,” Singhal said. “You could ask it a question and it would tell you exactly the right answer, one right answer—and sometimes it would tell you things you needed to know in advance, before you could ask it.”

    I recently switched to an HTC One and after trying out Google’s voice control in it, I really see how it could in just a few years become something akin to the Star Trek computer. It’s much more intuitive than Siri on my iPhone (and I did ask her lots of stuff). After having used Google’s voice control on Android, I’m even more agog about trying out Google Glass.

  10. Facebook is just fine — How to use the internet — Medium

    My newsfeed is almost all signal. This is, in part, because I am ruthless. If you are overtly negative (which is different than having opinions differing from my own), you get hidden. If I don’t find value in your postings, you get hidden.

    As much as I criticize Facebook for their shortcomings, it’s also good to give credit where it is due – and Facebook does have an amazing service at its core, just like Craig Mod writes here. The key is, just as mr. Mod writes, to hide everything that isn’t relevant and teach Facebook what you like and what you don’t. I do this a lot.

Facebook users in rich countries prefer iOS to Android

When I made the test of whether a Samsung Galaxy S3 could replace an iPhone, I didn’t meet a single Apple fanboy who said “Apple’s the best!”. Most of the people that interacted with me fell into two other categories: genuinely curious about the results of the test, or what I would call “Android defenders”. The latter group consists of people who were skeptical about my experience and findings about Android. A lot of them talked about Android’s supreme popularity (number of devices sold). And they’re right: in September 2012, Andy Rubin said that Android has passed the 500 million devices-mark. The same month Tim Cook said that there were 400 million iOS devices  sold to consumers as of June 2012.

So how do you account for the fact that during Black Friday shopping in 2012, iOS devices accounted for more than 18% of online shopping whereas Android devices stood for 5.5%? Or that more than 60% of the mobile the web traffic (in the US) comes from iOS devices? How about the fact that The Next Web, who published their (free) magazine on both Android and iOS devices saw 1 download on Android for every 80 downloads on iOS? Or the fact that the Appstore makes a lot more money for app makers than Google Play?

The easiest explanation is that Android devices are mostly bought because they’re cheap. If people can’t afford an expensive phone, they’re also less likely to afford spending money on apps and shopping. That means that most of the Android devices will be sold in countries with low Gross National Income per Capita. Following this logic, I think that most of the Android devices sold in countries with high GNI are sold to one of two groups:

1. Tech savvy people who love to control and customize their devices. These individuals are the same who would run Linux on their desktop/laptop, or be Windows super users who customize their installations. They are the ones who used to surf on their mobile phones from Nokia or Ericsson before the iPhone disrupted the market. They hate Apple’s walled garden and the fact that they can’t install anything they want on their devices. This is a small percentage of the Android user base in these countries.

2. Low tech laggards. These individuals buy a smartphone more because “everybody has one” and because it’s time to get a new one. They still see a phone as a device for calling and texting, and want a cheap device because “they’re all the same anway” (which is true from their perspective: if you’re calling and texting, any device will do.) These people don’t really download apps, and they don’t shop through their smartphones. This is the vast majority of the Android user base in these countries.

When I was doing research for a project I’m helping out with, I took a look at Facebook’s numbers. With Facebook’s Advertising Tool you can see how many users you reach in each country if you advertise on Facebook. You can for example check the total number of Facebook accounts for any country by simply entering just the country and choosing “13-no max” as age and “Gender: all”. Then you can see how many of the Facebook users are on mobile platforms, and you can sort it by iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad) and Android devices.

An interesting pattern emerges when you check 29 countries in the western world1: while there are more Android users than iOS users on Facebook in these countries in total, the 18 countries with GDI/capita above $30,000 have more Facebook users with iOS devices (39.9%) than Android devices (34.5%) Total Facebook users in the 29 countries: 560 million. Out of these, 29.3% use iOS, 30% use Android.

In countries with a GDI/capita lower than $30,000 you will find more Android users than iOS users: Argentina has 4% on iOS and 20% on Android. Brazil 9% vs 21%. Poland 5% vs 23%. Russia is the single exception, with 14% iOS users vs 12% Android users. There are exceptions among countries with a GNI/capita above $30,000 or higher, with more Android users than iOS users, but the differences are often small:

  • Germany 29% iOS – 38% Android
  • Austria 28% iOS – 42% Android
  • Finland 21% iOS – 25% Android
  • Spain  17% iOS – 42% Android
  • Netherlands 36% iOS – 38% Android
  • Italy 26% iOS – 29% Android
  • Portugal 12% iOS – 20% Android

Here are the numbers plotted in a graph, with the countries listed from lowest GDI/capita, to highest (click for larger version):

Facebook users on Android and iOS devices by country
Countries are listed by GDI/capita, from lowest to highest. Click image for large version

This supports the theory that Android users in traditionally rich countries are technological laggards who are much less likely to buy or download apps, or shop from their mobile device. Now, you can say “but hey, what if Android users are less likely to be on Facebook?”. I believe that to be true for the “tech savvy people”, but since that group is small, it doesn’t affect the numbers that much. Therefore, I’d say that this proves that if you’re looking to monetize on smartphone users and have to choose: iOS first, Android if you have time.

Here is a Google Docs sheet with all the data in case you want to play with it.

1Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil‚ Canada‚ Chile‚ Denmark‚ Finland‚ France‚ Germany‚ Greece‚ Ireland‚ Italy‚ Mexico‚ Netherlands‚ New Zealand‚ Norway, Poland‚ Portugal‚ Romania‚ Russia‚ Spain‚ Sweden‚ Switzerland‚ Turkey‚ Ukraine‚ United Kingdom‚ United States. Source for GDI/capita data: World Bank