The two big players in the smartphone industry at present are the iPhone and Google’s Android. Both are fairly young in terms of the overall mobile phone industry, but have succeeded in knocking the likes of Nokia, Microsoft and BlackBerry off the center stage.
The iPhone is produced exclusively by Apple and to date there are only a few different models to choose from. In contrast, Google’s Android is merely a piece of software, an operating system, but one that is used by an increasingly large number of smartphone manufacturers. These include HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson (soon to be just Sony), Acer, LG and many others.
Seeing as Android is not a phone in itself, and Android phones differ greatly in the hardware that they use (from cheaper Android phones like the HTC Wildfire, all the way up to the cutting edge devices like the Samsung Galaxy S2), it is only fair to compare Android with the software features of the iPhone and not its hardware specifications. There are many Android phones that equally compete against or outperform the iPhone in the hardware stakes, but how does Android compete in terms of software features?
Apple will make no end of claiming that Android is a copy of the iPhone’s iOS interface, and if there is any inkling of truth to this claim then you would expect there to be a lot of similar features. The majority of smartphone features found on the iPhone are also found on most Android phones, although there are some things that each have exclusively.
One of the greatest things about smartphones, and the main thing that makes them so much more enjoyable to use than older ‘dumb-phones’, is the presence of app stores. With an app store you can download any number of apps and games to customize your phone or add additional functionality.
The iPhone comes with the Apple App Store and likewise Android has its own Android Market. Both are fairly similar in the way that they operate. You can browse or search for apps, read reviews and download either free or paid for apps to enjoy on your phone.
As the Apple App Store is older it makes sense that there are far more apps available here than on Android Market. Even so, both have more than several hundred thousand apps available with more and more being added each day. The point is, both have more apps than you could possibly ever use and so the question of which store has the most apps is largely irrelevant.
It is particularly irrelevant if most of those apps are useless, or content that you would never consider downloading. Perhaps the iPhone fares better here, as all apps released onto the App Store need to first be checked by Apple to ensure quality, while anyone can add anything they like to Android Market with much less scrutiny.
But while the lower standards of Android Market may result in a lot of pointless apps, it does provide Android users with greater freedom when it comes to installing apps on their phone. With Android, you can also install apps that have not been acquired from Android Market. Perhaps they have come from a third party website, or copied from a friend’s phone.
But with this greater freedom also comes greater risk. Android is far more susceptible to malicious content than the iPhone with Android frequently being bombarded with Trojans and spyware disguised as reputable apps or games. Android does have antivirus software available, but many of these are not as effective as their desktop counterparts.
When it comes to multimedia both systems are fairly evenly matched. Both allow you to listen to music or watch videos, although again Android offers a little bit more freedom. The iPhone will require you to copy all of your music and video to your phone via the iTunes software on your home computer, while Android phones will typically allow you to copy anything over via USB, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The Android method is certainly quicker and simpler, and much more flexible.
While the iPhone supports the most popular music and video formats, there are many that it does not support. This is fine if your music has been purchased from iTunes, as it will be in the correct format anyway, but music obtained from other sources may be in formats not recognized by the iPhone, and will need to be converted.
Android on the other hand will typically support many music and video formats that the iPhone does not recognize, like wmv and wma as an example. Because of this, and the easier USB data transfers, it can be a much simpler affair to get personal media up and running on an Android phone.
But in this day and age, people are moving away from having files cluttering up their computers and smartphones, and moving more towards streaming content and cloud storage. The most popular video streaming service that we all know and love is YouTube. The iPhone is notorious for not supporting Adobe Flash, and previously this had been a problem as YouTube videos ran on Flash.
More modern YouTube apps use HTML5 instead, and streaming video content from YouTube is available for both iPhone and Android. YouTube is not the only video service on the internet however, and many other websites that still rely on Flash are inaccessible to iPhone users. This is likely to change in the coming years, but for the time being can be quite a setback in terms of enjoying media on the web.
One way that Apple does make up for it though is with its iCloud service, recently introduced on the iPhone 4S. iCloud has the potential to change the way that people listen to music on their smartphones. Rather than storing all of your music on your phone, and having to go through the rigmarole of transferring it from your home computer, you can simply stream your music collection from the online cloud music library.
This essentially works the same way as Spotify, but unlike Spotify iCloud allows you access to the music you own, without adverts. The benefit here is that with iCloud the amount of storage space on a smartphone becomes largely irrelevant, as you can store all of your music collection in the cloud and not have to worry about swapping albums from computer to phone when you feel like a change. The only drawback is that using iCloud’s music features requires an internet connection in order to stream the music. No internet, no music.
Siri and Android Beam
With the new iPhone 4S and the launch of Android Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus, Apple and Google have been keen to differentiate their mobile operating systems by adding in new features that the other doesn’t possess.
Apple achieved this with Siri, the much talked about personal voice assistant. Although many of the features of the latest iOS 5 update are available for older iPhones, Siri is a feature that is restricted to just the iPhone 4S.
Voice controls have been around on phones for a while, but what makes Siri different is its ability to understand natural language. In other words, you can talk to Siri as if you were talking to a human being, and Siri will (usually) understand what you are saying. This differs from earlier voice control systems that require people to use a strict set of syntactical commands that are often hard to memorize.
Prior to being launched on the iPhones 4S though, Siri was available as an app on the App Store, with plans for it to be launched on Android Market and BlackBerry App World. One thing that many have pointed out is that similar apps exist on Android, and have done for some time. Services like SpeakToIt and Vlingo are not exactly the same, and do not offer many of Siri’s witty responses, but do offer much of the same functionality.
For Ice Cream Sandwich, Google have tried to expand on earlier Near Field Communication technology (NFC). This has previously been used in mobile payments systems, like the London Oyster Card scheme and Google Wallet. Now Google have transformed it into a new method of easily sharing content with other phones, with Android Beam.
Android Beam can allow you to share virtually anything on your phone, from music and video, web pages, contact details, ring tones or apps. All you have to do is tap your Ice Cream Sandwich phone against another phone, and then press and onscreen button. Whatever you are doing will be shared with the other device. This is essentially a more modern version of Bluetooth, and could potentially revolutionize the way people interact with each other via their smartphones.
Both systems are fairly similar in what they have to offer: apps to customize your phone, excellent multimedia features and great web browsing. Perhaps Android offers a little bit more freedom, but it also offers more potential for your phone to become compromised by malicious apps. With the most recent updates though it is
probably Android that is the most revolutionary. Android Beam might not be getting as much press coverage as Siri, but it has a usefulness in real world situations that leaves Siri feeling a little bit like a gimmick.