If you’re looking at buying a smartphone, you’re probably going to buy an Android device or an iPhone (sorry, Microsoft). What’s the difference, and which should you choose? We recently gave the pro-iPhone side of the story, and now in the interests of balance, it’s time for to put forward the case for Android.
Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS aren’t just competing operating systems with different software; they’re radically different platforms. Apple provides a locked-down, restricted environment, while Android provides freedom, flexibility and choice. I bet some of you are already itching to comment on this one – remember to share your perspective in the comments.
You Can Run Any App You Want
Apple exercises ironfisted control over what you can do with your own phone – iOS is a walled garden. Exercising control over the app store is one thing, but it’s more pernicious than that. Apple prevents your phone – or rather, their phone – from running anything that doesn’t appear in the app store.
Here’s an example of why this is bad. Apple originally banned Google Voice from the app store. Apple didn’t allow Google Voice apps on the iPhone because they “duplicate features that come with the iPhone“. Gee, it’s a good thing Microsoft didn’t think of that – if they had, you wouldn’t be able to run iTunes on your Windows PC because it competes with Windows Media Player. The US government stepped in, and now you can run Google Voice on your iPhone.
Firefox, Opera and other browsers compete with the default browser (Firefox for iPhone is just a shell on top of Safari). App stores like Amazon and GetJar compete with the Market by offering paid apps for free.
You Can Customize Your Phone
Although Google Voice is on the iPhone, it can’t be as deeply integrated with your phone. On Android, Google Voice can hook into the built-in dialer, so all calls will go through Google Voice. Android allows apps to replace and modify parts of the OS that are untouchable on an iPhone.
Custom keyboards for Android can provide new input methods (and themes, if that’s your thing). Swype and other keyboards allow you to slide your finger over the letters you want to type instead of hunting and pecking. It sounds a bit odd at first, but it’s very intuitive (and fast!) once you try it.
Android also allows custom home screens. People complain about the launchers that come with Android phones, but you can replace them if you don’t want them – just install one of the many third-party launchers from the Market. Home screens, even the built-in ones, also support widgets, so you can see rich information without opening an app.
Or, how about Tasker? It digs deep into the innards of your phone in a way that no iPhone app could and lets you create all sorts of automatic tasks. Tasker can automatically turn off the Wi-Fi at night, mute your phone when you’re in a specific location, and more.
You Have More Hardware Choice
Henry Ford once said that a customer could have any color of car they wanted – as long as it was black. Apple takes the same approach to hardware choice.
Do you think the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen is too small? Android’s screen size is negotiable – some phones have massive, 4.65-inch screens, while some have tiny, 2.8-inch screens.
Looking for a cheap smartphone? You’ll find cheaper Android smartphones at the low end. Older iPhones may be available for $0 with a contract in some places, but you won’t find cheap iPhones that come without a contract.
Do you want 4G speeds? You’ll need an Android phone. There are also Android phones with physical keyboards, phones with 3D displays, phones designed for gaming and phones with a stylus.
You Can Escape Apple’s Censorship
When you buy an iPhone, you’re allowing Apple to censor content on your phone. Apple recently banned “Phone Story”, a satirical game that criticized labor practices at all smartphone manufacturing factories. They said it depicted “violence or abuse of children” which is kind of the point. A similar game would not have been banned from the Android Market. Even if it was, you could download and install it straight from the developer.
In the past, Apple has also banned a Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist’s app from the app store. Apple explained that they don’t allow “content that ridicules public figures” on your phone. Bad press forced them to back down in this case, but people who haven’t won Pulitzer Prizes would likely be out of luck.
You Can Use Custom ROMs
I hear you iPhone fans out there – you’re saying that this doesn’t matter because you can jailbreak your iPhone. But Apple works hard to ensure jailbreaks are reversed when you update your iPhone’s OS, and they fought to make jailbreaking illegal in the US. Not just against the terms of service, but illegal. As in an actual crime.
The Android equivalent of jailbreaking is called “rooting” and you can also install customized operating systems on your device (known as custom ROMs). Android manufacturers don’t go out of their way to make this extra difficult – some even help you do it.
Android is open-source, so the modding community has a lot more freedom and flexibility when it comes to tweaking it for your device. It’s your phone, and you can do whatever you want with it.
There’s no denying that Android has problems and that Apple’s ironfisted control can make some things more convenient for iPhone users. But I’d rather have the choice, freedom and flexibility that comes with Android.
I’m sure many of you already have an iPhone or an Android phone – why did you choose your favorite device? Did I miss your favorite Android feature? Let me know in the comments!