iOS and Android Compared

I’ve had some time with iOS on my iPad and Android on my Evo 4G. Obviously there are a lot of differences and I figure I might as well record some of them.

I know there is a lot of debate on whether Android is open or not. Personally I’ve complained several times about how locked down Android is on most phones. After working with iOS for a while I can say for a fact that iOS is a veritable prison compared to Android. Although Android can’t do a lot on a phone that hasn’t been rooted it isn’t tied to a desktop computer.

Generally I don’t have to connect my Evo to my computer unless I need to get some files off of my desktop. I can download most files onto my phone from my phone. The iPad is far different in that it requires all files be downloaded through iTunes. You can’t do a damned thing on an iOS device without a desktop running iTunes. That’s pretty restrictive if I do say so myself.

A big part of this problem comes from the lack of a universal file storage area on iOS devices. On Android devices any files stored on an external media (think SD card) are readable by any application. This means if you use the browser to download a file onto an SD card you can open said file with another program. This can’t be done on an iOS device. If you want to download a file and open it in another program you must download that file on your desktop and transfer the file to your iOS device via iTunes. This is probably the largest limitation in iOS devices.

Another thing that keeps the iOS platform locked down is the inability to install application from a source outside of iTunes. If apple doesn’t approve an application you simply can’t install it. On most Android devices you can side load applications. This means you’re not at Google’s mercy when it comes to applications you can install. Once against this is a pretty severe restriction to place on a device.

One thing that Android has that if find lacking in iOS are widgets. I never thought I’d like widgets so damned much but honestly they are very nice to have. My home screen on my Evo displays the time, weather, upcoming appointments, and my todo list. To see these I just have to turn my phone on. On my iPad I’d have to open a weather application, the calendar application, and a todo application one after another. Widgets make getting specific information quickly easy.

The final mistake made in iOS was the notification system. When an application sends a notification a dialog box pops up and must be dealt with before returning to whatever you were doing before being interrupted. Android has a much nicer system where an icon appears in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and you can read the notification but running your finger from the top of the screen down. Doing this brings down the notification area with a list of all current notifications that haven’t been dealt with. Neither is as intuitive as WebOS’s notification system though.

Now that I’ve bitched about iOS let me focus on the things it does well. The mos notable difference between iOS and Android is the interface. Apple has a long tradition of having consistent and easy to use interfaces. That tradition holds true on iOS. All the included applications have intuitive interfaces which are easy to navigate. Navigation is done consistently in the included applications as well. For instance if I open and application, flip to a new form, and want to flip back I can rest assured that the button to return me to my previous screen will be in the upper left-hand corner of the new form.

Android is the opposite of this. The user interface in Android is inconsistent at best although it has been improving over the various versions. Hell there isn’t even a unified e-mail application included in Android. If you use GMail then you can use Google’s GMail application otherwise you are stuck with the other stock Android e-mail application. These two applications don’t even work in similar manners. For example GMail has a threaded interface with the controls for replying at the top of the e-mail header. The other e-mail application has no conversation threading and replying is done via two buttons at the bottom of the screen. I haven’t a clue what Google was thinking with this but it’s not done properly.

Although it hasn’t been released for the iPad yet I’ve played with iOS’s multitasking via emulators and devices at the Apple store. I’ve mentioned that the back end mechanism for doing multitasking in iOS is poorly implemented but the interface for switching between running applications is better than the standard Android mechanism. In iOS tapping the home screen twice brings up a list of “running” applications (application still in memory but not using CPU time). Every application that’s still in memory will be listed and can be selected by tapping on the application’s icon. Android’s mechanism is… inconsistent. Holding down the home button will bring up a list of the last eight used applications which is tedious (it’s roughly a one second button hold which doesn’t sound long until you’re trying to quickly navigate between three applications). Some applications are good enough to place an icon in the notification bar which makes navigating back to that applications as easy as opening the notification area and tapping on said icon. One again neither are as intuitive and quick as WebOS but this post isn’t about how to do an interface correctly.

If there is one thing Apple is good at it’s polish. I can’t never say that enough because it’s honestly very true. Most things under iOS just scream polish job. The interface is consistent, animations always run smoothly, and shit happens when it’s supposed to (when I rotate my iPad the screen rotates instantly, sometimes my Evo requires a few violent shakes to get the screen to notice I changed the device’s orientation). Everything on iOS is kept simple and uncluttered which I really appreciated on a mobile device.

The bottom line is you have a choice; a very pretty and well run prison or a village to roam where little was planned in accordance with other parts. Frankly Android still wins in my book because I can actually have a device that doesn’t need to be tethered to my computer at any time. On the other hand using iOS is a very pleasant experience and I can know with some matter of certainly what will happen when I do something.