If you’re considering buying your first smartphone, you’ve got a fairly big decision to make. As well as choosing a carrier, plan and minimum contract period you then have to trawl through the barrage of handsets until you find something you like.
Most buyers will probably end up choosing between the Android operating system and an iPhone, running iOS. So how do you know which is right for you? In this editorial I’ll put the iPhone argument forward and explain why I think Apple’s plan is better than Google’s. Don’t forget to have your say in the comments.
UI Response & Lag
I’ve had enough terrible mobile phones in the past to understand the value of a smooth and responsive UI, and this is guaranteed with the iPhone. Pretty much every mundane task you take for granted – scrolling your Facebook feed, looking up a phone number or responding to email – is silky smooth with very little lag at all. Even if you managed to pick up an ageing 3GS you’d still be pleasantly surprised as the OS glides through most tasks the way you’d expect.
Unfortunately, Android has still not quite caught up despite Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) making leaps and bounds over previous versions. The Galaxy Nexus is surely one of the most talked-about devices of 2011, but even it seems to have some issues. This controversial TechCrunch article claimed: “It’s still not as smooth as it should be. For the most part, ICS fixes many of Android’s performance issues, but there are plenty of times that you’ll still see stutters here and there.” Let’s not forget the multi-touch issues and rotation lag that has plagued the device as well, making some apps and games unusable.
Google even acknowledged Android’s lag issues before Christmas, and whilst Ice Cream Sandwich is a huge improvement not every brand new Android phone in the shop will be running it. So why, when manufacturers continue to pile on the power, is Android still stuttering through some pretty basic tasks?
Too Many Handsets
The dazzling array of phones sporting the Android operating system is enough to confuse many people considering a purchase, especially your average consumer. Globally HTC released 4 Android phones last year, Motorola and Sony Ericsson turned out 6 but none could match Samsung who incredibly managed a total of 12.
Aside from the release date, choosing between these phones is bound to confuse your average consumer. The names become even more obscure (see Android Phone Name Generator for a humorous take on the situation) with only letters, words like “Droid” or “Galaxy” and screen size to tell the models apart.
Apple’s response is a one-size-fits-all device, released every 12 months or so. The company devotes its time to one product and the multi-device iOS operating system that every iPhone uses. The result might be limiting in terms of choice, but when it comes to quality of build, software-hardware integration and support, no manufacturer comes close. Which leads me on to…
Many people were surprised when Apple announced that their iOS5 update would be compatible with the 3GS, a device that was released mid-2009 (making it three years old when the update hit). This level of support is much easier for Apple to provide considering they produce much fewer devices and control the operating system on which the products run.
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of Android phones on the market today with varied hardware set-ups, many running outdated versions of the operating system. The problem with releasing 12 phones in one year (Samsung, I’m looking at you) is that many of them will probably never see a single update, partly due to the perceived cost-effectiveness of updating “old” devices (for free) and partly due to the fact that the manufacturers do not control the core OS.
The result? A horrible mess of varying Android versions on the shelf of your local smartphone retailer and updates that might never arrive. Much of the time this update process is hindered by another bane of the Android OS…
Be it the carrier or the manufacturer, Android phones are guaranteed to come with some sort of custom interface that is designed to make your life easier. The only problem is that in the long run these interfaces – HTC Sense, Motorola MotoBlur, Samsung TouchWiz to name a few – slow down the upgrade process as they introduce more work for developers.
Another issue (which is often purely subjective) is that these interfaces may bloat and slow down devices, with no straightforward “disable” option. Tweakers prepared to flash their phones on a regular basis might be happy enough with a custom ROM, but for your average consumer who just wants a phone that works: this is not the way it should be.
Apple were stubborn over crapware ever since the iPhone was announced, declaring that no additional carrier-installed software would ship with their devices. This ensures a smooth uniform experience, regardless of whether your device is 3 weeks or 3 years old, and to top it off there’s no custom interface to write for when it comes to updates.
One thing Android users have to worry about is malware, which became a real problem in 2011. In August of last year McAfee announced a 76% surge in malware over a matter of months with incidents reported in the Android Market and seemingly benign apps. Now the problem is so bad that there are dedicated scanners designed to remove malware for the platform, such as Avast! for Android 2.1 and above.
Another report from McAfee in December of last year announced:
Apple so far has done an excellent job of securing its devices; as we write this there were no reported cases of malware for iPhones that have not been jailbroken.
The report criticises the Android security model and goes on to analyse Apple’s approach as proactive and Google’s as reactive, stating:
from the security perspective [Google's approach] creates exactly the kind of environment in which malware gangs feel comfortable.
Clearly, there’s work to be done.
These are my personal reasons for choosing and above all recommending the iPhone to friends and strangers alike. Whilst this is an editorial, there’s no denying that Android devices have become fragmented, threatened with a lack of updates, loaded with custom manufacturer ROMs and are the highest-risk devices on the market when it comes to mobile malware.
Finally, it must be said that the iPhone is not a perfect device, especially for users who don’t appreciate the locked-down nature of the OS. Then again, if you want an easy to use, rock-solid device with performance and build quality to match…
What do you think? Do you own an Android device? An iPhone? I bet you’re itching to get stuck in, so have your say in the box below.
Image Credit: HTC Sense (Wikimedia Commons)