When it comes to buying one of the best smartphones, the first choice can be the hardest: iPhone or Android. It’s not simple; both offer a lot of great features and they may seem basically the same other than brand and price.
Hardware: Choice vs. Polish
Only Apple makes iPhones, so it has extremely tight control over how the software and hardware work together. On the other hand, Google offers the Android software to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola. Because of that, Android phones vary widely in size, weight, features, and quality.
Premium-priced Android phones tend to be as good as the iPhone in terms of hardware quality, but cheaper Android options are more prone to problems. Of course iPhones can have hardware issues, too, but they’re generally higher quality.
If you’re buying an iPhone, you just need to pick a model. Because many companies make Android devices, you have to pick both a brand and a model, which can be a bit confusing.
Some may prefer the greater choice Android offers, but others appreciate Apple’s simplicity and quality.
OS Compatibility: A Waiting Game
To make sure you always have the latest and greatest version of your smartphone operating system, you have to get an iPhone.
While it’s to be expected that older phones will eventually lose support for the latest OS, Apple’s support for older phones is generally better than Android’s.
On the other hand, Android 8, codenamed Oreo, was running on just 0.2% of Android devices more than 8 weeks after its release. Even its predecessor, Android 7, was only running on about 18% of devices more than a year after its release. The makers of the phones — not users — control when the OS is released for their phones and, as stats shows, most companies are very slow to update.
So, if you want the latest and greatest as soon as it’s ready, you need an iPhone.
Apps: Selection vs. Control
The Apple App Store offers fewer apps than Google Play (around 2.1 million vs. 3.5 million, as of April 2018), but overall selection isn’t the most important factor.
Beyond that, some developers have complained about the difficulty of developing for so many different phones. Fragmentation — the large numbers of devices and OS versions to support — makes developing for Android expensive. For example, the developers of Temple Run reported that early in their Android experience nearly all of their support emails had to do with unsupported devices even though they support over 700 Android phones.
Combine development costs with the emphasis on free apps for Android, and it reduces the likelihood that developers can cover their costs. Key apps also almost always debut first on iOS, with Android versions coming later, if they come at all.
Gaming: A Mobile Powerhouse
Apple’s devices like the iPhone and iPod touch, are perhaps the dominant players in the mobile video game market, with tens of thousands of great games and tens of millions of players. The growth of the iPhone as a gaming platform, in fact, has led some observers to forecast that Apple will eclipse Nintendo and Sony as the leading mobile game platform (Nintendo has even started releasing games for the iPhone, like Super Mario Run).
The tight integration of Apple’s hardware and software mentioned above has led it to be able to create powerful gaming technologies using hardware and software that make its phones as fast as some laptops.
The general expectation that Android apps should be free has led game developers interested in making money to develop for iPhone first and Android second. In fact, due to problems with developing for Android, some game companies have stopped creating games for it all together.
While Android has its share of hit games, the iPhone has the clear advantage.
Integration with Other Devices: Continuity Guaranteed
Most people use a tablet, computer, or wearable in addition to their smartphone. For those people, Apple offers a more consistent and integrated experience.
Because Apple makes computers, tablets, and watches along with the iPhone, it offers things that Android (which mostly runs on smartphones, though there are tablets and wearables that use it) can’t.
Google’s services like Gmail, Maps, Google Now, etc., work across all Android devices, which is very useful. But unless your watch, tablet, phone, and computer are all made by the same company — and there aren’t too many companies other than Samsung that make products in all of those categories — there’s no unified experience.
Support: The Unmatched Apple Store
Both smartphone platforms generally work pretty well and, for day-to-day use, don’t usually malfunction. However, everything breaks down once in awhile, and when that happens, how you get support matters.
With Apple, you can simply take your device to your closest Apple Store, where a trained specialist can help solve your problem. (They’re busy, though, so it pays to make an appointment ahead of time.)
There’s no equivalent on the Android side. Sure, you can get support for Android devices from the phone company you bought your phone from, the manufacturer, or maybe even the retail store where you bought it, but which should you pick and can you be sure the people there are well trained?
Having a single source for expert support gives Apple the upper hand in this category.
Intelligent Assistant: Google Assistant Beats Siri
The next frontier of smartphone features and functionality will be driven by artificial intelligence and voice interfaces. On this front, Android has a clear lead.
Google Assistant, the most prominent artificial intelligence/intelligent assistant on Android, is extremely powerful. It uses everything Google knows about you and the world to make life easier for you. For instance, if your Google Calendar knows that you’re meeting someone at 5:30 and that traffic is terrible, Google Assistant can send you a notification telling you to leave early.
Battery Life: Consistent Improvement
The battery situation is more complex with Android, due to the large variety of hardware options. Some Android models have 7-inch screens and other features which burn through much more battery life.
But, thanks to the wide variety of Android models, there are also some that offer ultra-high capacity batteries. If you don’t mind the extra bulk, and really need a long-lasting battery, Android can deliver a device that works much longer than an iPhone on a single charge.
User Experience: Elegance vs. Customization
People who want the complete control to customize their phones will prefer Android thanks to its greater openness.
One downside of this openness is that each company that makes Android phones can customize them, sometimes replacing default Android apps with inferior tools developed by that company.
Apple, on the other hand, locks the iPhone down much more tightly. Customizations are more limited and you can’t change default apps. What you’re giving up in flexibility with an iPhone is balanced out by quality and attention to detail, a device that just looks and is well-integrated with other products.
If you want a phone that works well, delivers a high-quality experience, and is easy to use, Apple is the clear winner. On the other hand, if you value flexibility and choice enough to accept some potential issues, you’ll probably prefer Android.
Peripheral Compatibility: USB Is Everywhere
Owning a smartphone usually means owning some accessories for it, such as speakers, battery cases, or simply extra charging cables.
Android phones offer the widest choice of accessories. That’s because Android uses USB ports to connect to other devices, and USB ports are available practically everywhere.
Apple, on the other hand, uses its proprietary Lightning port to connect to accessories. There are some advantages to Lightning, like that it gives Apple more control over the quality of the accessories that work with the iPhone, but it’s less widely compatible.
Plus, if you need to charge your phone right now, people are more likely to have a USB cable handy.
Screen Size: The Tale of the Tape
If you’re looking for the biggest screens available on smartphones, Android is your choice.
There’s been a trend towards super-sized smartphone screens — so much so that a new word, phablet, has been coined to describe a hybrid phone and tablet device.
Android offered the first phablets and continues to offer the most and biggest options. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 has an 6.3-inch screen, for instance.
With the iPhone X, the top-of-the-line iPhone offers a 5.8-inch screen. Still, if size is at a premium for you, Android’s the choice.
Carriers: Tied at 4
When it comes to what phone company you use your smartphone with, there’s no difference between platforms. Both types of phone work on the U.S.’s four major phone carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon.
For years, the iPhone lagged behind Android’s carrier selection (in fact, when it debuted, the iPhone only worked on AT&T). When T-Mobile began offering the iPhone in 2013, though, all four carriers offered the iPhone and that difference was erased.
Both types of phone are also available through the many small, regional carriers in the U.S. Overseas, you’ll find more options and support for Android, which has a larger marketshare outside the U.S.
Cost: Is Free Always Best?
If you’re concerned most about what your phone costs, you’ll probably choose Android. That’s because there are many Android phones that can be had for cheap, or even free. Apple’s cheapest phone is the iPhone SE, which starts at $349.
For those on a very tight budget, that may be the end of the discussion. If you’ve got some money to spend on your phone, though, look a little deeper.
Free phones are usually free for a reason: they’re often less capable or dependable than their more-costly counterparts. Getting a free phone may be buying you more trouble than a paid phone.
The highest-priced phones on both platforms can easily cost close to – or sometimes over — $1000, but the average cost of an Android device is lower than an iPhone.
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