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Android OS and iPhone OS Side-by-Side Comparison Review

This review takes a close look at Android OS and iPhone OS compared side-by-side, one app at a time. We focus primarily on core apps, and look at the latest versions of Apple's venerable iPhone OS and Android OS. We also discuss some of the drawbacks of each at the end of the review.

Home Screen

Phone DesktopPhone Desktop

As you can see the home screens are quite similar, however a key difference is that the Android supports widgets on the home screen in addition to icons. Just as with the iPhone, the Android screen can be panned left and right.

Phone App

Phone AppsPhone Apps

On the left you can see the phone app from the Verizon Droid and on the right from the Apple iPhone. As you can see the apps are almost identical functionally and organizationally. One small differrence is that the Visual Voicemail feature in the iPhone is integrated into the phone app, whereas on the Droid it is a separate app which can be launched by clicking a button in the phone app from the Droid. As is the case in general, you can see that the iPhone icons are more colorful.

Web Browsers

Web BrowsersWeb Browsers

The browsers are quite similar and both now support pinch to zoom. Indeed, the address bar at the top scrolls with the page on both browsers as well. One difference is that the iPhone browser has an omnipresent toolbar at the bottom, whereas the Android OS requires you to press the physical menu button in order to bring up the toolbar.

Android Command MenuAndroid Command Menu

To get at additional commands in Android, the user must press the Menu button (a physical button on the bottom of the device) which pops up the menu. While this saves screen space, which on the iPhone is taken up by an always-visible toolbar, it does mean an extra interaction and it also means the user may forget some of these commands exist. Since the savings in screen space are quite modest -- the Apple toolbar takes up about 30-40 pixels vertically -- this may not be a necessary feature. However, all Android devices are required to function this way for backwards compatability purposes, so it remains to be seen whether this design can be changed.

Browser TabsBrowser Tabs

The two platforms differ in terms of their support for multiple browser tabs. Android provides a list while Apple provides a "zoom out" feature which shows the pages at a smaller scale for the user to flick through.

Keyboard

Keyboards and SMS Side-by-SideKeyboards and SMS Side-by-Side

When it comes to the keyboard, the two OSes are also quite similar, even down to the style of the delete icon (!) and the placement of keys. Both keyboards make use of "contact up" entry, that is if you miss the key you want, you can slide your finger around until you get the key you want and then release to choose it. Both keyboards show a small tooltip highlighting the key you are currently over, which helps with the fact that the keys are smaller than your finger.

One advantage of the iPhone is that it has aggressive spelling correction, and also enlarges the contact area of keys you are more likely to type next (no visual change), which makes it easier to type, say "bo" than "bx".

Email

EmailEmail

When it comes to email, the phones are a bit different. Android actually offers two separate email clients, one called "Email" and one called "Gmail". The iPhone supports both services but has a single mail client.

In general, the iPhone email client can sometimes crash and even occasionally fail to send an email. An alternative on the iPhone is to use the Gmail web app from the iPhone web browser.

The Android email client, on the other hand, does not show message previews when looking at the list of messages, and lacks some of the gestures for manipulating messages that the iPhone has.

Maps

MapsMaps

Since both mapping applications make use of the Google Maps service. Both phones also have a digital magnetometer, or compass, which can be used to show your current orientation relative to the map.

The Droid does go further, however, in having voice-activated turn-by-turn navigation. It remains to be seen whether Apple will offer this feature or rely on third party apps on the App Store to support this.

App Store

App Store / Marketplace ScreenshotsApp Store / Marketplace Screenshots

On the left you see the Android Marketplace and on the right you see the App Store. The App Store has a few more sections to it, and is organized a bit differrently, but as you can see they are strikingly similar here as well.

Facebook

Facebook AppFacebook App

The Droid is bundled with a Facebook app, whereas the iPhone offers a free Facebook app for download from the App Store. They are quite similar although not identical. Surprisingly, even the icons are slightly different.

Voice Search

Voice SearchVoice Search

The Android has more capable Cloud-based voice recognition than the iPhone does. While the iPhone has support for voice-activated dialing, it does not have voice-activated web search. It is possible that the rumored next release of the iPhone will support this feature, however. This feature does not work perfectly on the Android, however, and may take further development to perfect.

The Highest Form of Flattery


As you know doubt know, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery. It would be difficult to look at these comparison images and not see a likeness between the images, and since the iPhone is older, one might conclude that the Android has "borrowed" shall we say certain aspects of its design.

While it is clear that the Android was influenced by the iPhone, one might argue that there are only so many ways to design a smartphone OS. On the other hand, Windows Mobile 6/7 are quite different and so is the Blackberry operating system. Thus, I think it is safe to say that the Android has certainly been influenced by the iPhone, but ultimately feels pretty different when you are using it, and has distinct functionality as well. So are they the same? (Apple fans would certainly have us believe this is the case). No, but they are quite similar, which makes your buying (or switching) choice all the more interesting.

Final Comments


One surprising, and somewhat odd, aspect of the iPhone is that although Apple is competing with Google, the iPhone is primarily Google-based; it supports Gmail, Google Web Search, Google Maps, etc. Apple and Google have fought fairly publicly about various features and it remains surprising that the two companies would continue their partnership despite the public trading of barbs between Apple and Google.

Another upcoming feature for the Android platform is Flash support. It remains to be seen whether this is as bad as Steve Jobs has implied (after blocking the software from the iPhone), and whether it may deplete battery resources.

On the other hand, performance on the iPhone is smoother than the Droid. Although the iPhone seems to have longer app load times, and cannot multi-task, once the apps do load they take advantage of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and slide and animate very smoothly. Android, on the other hand, is somewhat more sluggish, with the framerate often seeming to fall in the 5-12 frames per second range, and is certainly noticeable.

The Android, on the hand, can of course multi-task and supports running multiple programs at the same time, which the iPhone currently does not. It is worth noting, however, that this is a planned feature in the next release of the iPhone operating system.

One other difference, the iPhone is limited to only AT&T in the United States, whereas the Droid runs on Verizon, which provides much snappier 3G service in our testing.

Thus, at the moment, while both OSes are remarkably similar, right down to the keyboard designs, they also have a number of key differences, and it ultimately those differences that will probably make the difference to a potential buyer or (gasp) switcher.

by Margaret Walker on Sat, 06/26/2010 - 17:24

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