Neither operating system is necessarily better than the other, as they both have areas where they excel and areas where they have some shortcomings.
The question of which one is better is mostly subjective and depends entirely on the user’s needs and preferences.
The smartphone scene had been quite tumultuous over the past decade when the now-commonplace pocket computers suddenly took the world by storm. Following the release of the original iPhone in 2007, the market was simply a mess – countless companies trying out different approaches, multiple operating systems vying for dominance, and the customers not knowing what is what and how to choose.
So, how do these two differ, and what do they have in common? And more importantly, which one should you pick in 2021?
Let’s find out!
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iOS vs Android – The Basics
At first glance, these two operating systems seem quite similar, as far as the GUI is concerned. And while the roots of both can be traced back to Unix, iOS and Android are very different in one key respect.
iOS is Apple’s proprietary mobile operating system that we see used primarily in iPhones and iPads. Although variants of iOS are also used in other products such as Apple TV and the Apple Watch. iOS is always optimized and fine-tuned to make the most out of a device’s hardware, and Apple keeps a close watch on any third-party software developed for their mobile operating system.
In contrast, Android OS may be developed primarily by Google, but it is an open-source OS based on the Linux kernel. What this means is that anyone is free to improve, change, and adapt it as they see fit, leading to Android being much more widespread and implemented in a wide variety of different devices. However, this flexibility comes at the cost of optimization and security that iOS is known for.
It is not uncommon to see someone claiming that iPhones have “bad hardware.” And at face value, that does seem true: lower-resolution screens, smaller amounts of RAM than competing Android models… So what’s the deal with that?
One word: optimization. iOS doesn’t need humongous amounts of RAM as it can keep over a dozen apps loaded and ready with only 2GB. And while the resolution of some models (looking at you, Xr) may seem low, the pixel density remains more than adequate, all the while the lower resolution means less work for the GPU and, thus, lower battery drain.
Furthermore, Apple’s CPUs have also seemed fairly weak over the years. the A12 Bionic chip is the first one to boast eight cores, the preceding A11 and A10 chips having six and four cores, respectively. Meanwhile, even mid-range Android phones have had octa-core CPUs for years now. However, the same still stands: due to superb operating system optimization, Apple’s CPUs have been consistently outperforming the competition for a long time. As a matter of fact, even older-generation iPhones tend to beat newer Android flagships in benchmarks.
All in all, while Android phones almost always have superior hardware specs on paper, iPhones offer better performance in the vast majority of cases.
The two most dominant technologies used in the manufacturing of mobile displays today are IPS LCD and OLED, with some older technologies such as TFT still being used in the more affordable low-end models.
The majority of modern phones, budget ones, and flagships alike, use IPS LCD. This includes all iPhones up until the iPhone 8, as well as the iPhone Xr, with the iPhones X, Xs, and Xs Max being the only OLED-equipped iPhones so far. As for Android phones, most OEMs choose IPS over OLED for the majority of their devices, except for Samsung.
Now, both IPS LCD and OLED have their own upsides and downsides. From a technical standpoint, OLED is the superior technology for three reasons:
- It is more power-efficient. With OLED displays, each pixel is lit individually, meaning that the display doesn’t need an active backlight to illuminate the entire screen when it is turned on.
- It has better viewing angles. Higher-quality IPS displays such as those seen in iPhones can almost match OLED in this regard, though the difference is still noticeable.
- It reflects less light. This is particularly important for people who spend a lot of time outside and do not want any glare sullying their viewing experience.
On the other hand, the primary advantage that IPS LCD has over OLED is that it is quite a bit cheaper, which is why it is still favored by so many smartphone manufacturers. As mentioned above, quality IPS panels can offer viewing angles and color reproduction just as good as that of an OLED screen. But keep in mind that you shouldn’t expect a lower-priced phone to offer the same display quality that a flagship does just because it uses the same technology!
As for who wins this time around, it would have to be a tie since both iPhones, and Android phones use OLED now.
Much like displays, the quality of a smartphone camera depends entirely on the OEM. In the case of Apple, iPhones have always had excellent cameras, although most high-end Android phones come with camera setups just as good, if not better.
The differences between flagship cameras are still fairly minor, both on paper and in practice. The only way to tell apart the cameras of, say, the iPhone Xs and the Google Pixel 3 is to put them side by side. And even then, the untrained eye is unlikely to notice any real difference.
As for the more affordable budget and mid-range Android phones, the camera quality varies greatly from OEM to OEM based on which area they decide to cut corners in. As such, there is no way to determine an obvious winner in this category either.
In Android’s infancy, iOS definitely had the upper hand when it came to the number of apps that were available on the App Store. Yet today, Google’s Play Store has 2.6 million apps available as of March 2018, placing it above the App Store’s 2.2 million.
This gap stems mainly from Android’s open-source nature and Google’s looser policies when it comes to what is accepted on the Play Store. Not only that, but Android phones also allow users to access third-party app stores, such as the Amazon Appstore. As if that weren’t enough variety, Android phones also allow the user to ‘side-load’ apps via manual insertion of .apk files.
Now, we all know that quantity does not equal quality. While Android may have a lead in the former category, Apple’s strict control of the apps available for its platform ensures that the apps function properly and that they are entirely safe and free of any malicious code.
And finally, there is the matter of pricing. The Play Store definitely does have more free apps than the App Store does, but this does come with some strings attached, and those strings are ads. Needless to say, nobody likes being interrupted by pesky advertisements when using apps or playing games, and if you want an ad-free experience, you will have to buy the app just as you would on the App Store. Nonetheless, being able to test out an app for free before buying it is a very welcome option.
In the end, we will give the win in this category to Android, as a greater variety of diverse apps is always welcome, not to mention that it has access to some types of apps that are simply not available on the App Store, such as console emulators.
For the past few generations, it has pretty much been the same deal with Apple. Each year, we would see a new phone with the same fundamental design. Things did change when the iPhone X was introduced, incorporating a screen with very thin bezels and heralding a new era in iPhone design, which is bound to remain mostly unchanged in the next few years. But considering that iPhones are only made by a single company that releases only a handful of models each year, a lack of variety is understandable.
On the other hand, there is no lack of variety with Android phones.
In contrast to Apple’s narrow selection, there are countless Android phones out there, with dozens of manufacturers pushing out dozens of models year after year. Admittedly, the phones aren’t as diverse as they used to be and look more alike than ever, but different OEMs almost always have something unique to offer, be it a hardware or a software feature.
So, who wins in this regard? Quite obviously, it is Android, as Android phones cover a much wider portion of the price spectrum and usually introduce some useful features years before they are implemented in iOS.
Needless to say, the iOS experience is highly stable but not at all customizable. iPhones all have the same streamlined design, and while this design is arguably the best one for a phone, a certain degree of customization is always welcome, and it’s an area where iOS is sorely lacking.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Android allows the user an immense degree of customization. Even though some OEMs like Huawei put their own rigid iOS-like skins on top of the operating system, the user can always download a more flexible launcher such as the Nova Launcher, bringing a stock Android experience to every phone. What’s more, a rooted Android phone will allow an even greater degree of customization, although it does carry the risk of destabilizing the system and potentially voiding the warranty as well.
As you can see, iOS and Android are two contrasting extremes in this regard. Apple adheres to an “if it is not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy and delivers a clean, homogenous experience on all devices. In contrast, Android’s open-source nature allows users and programmers an unprecedented degree of freedom. With that said, Android wins this round, but whether this sort of customizability matters is entirely up to the user.
There isn’t much to say in this regard, and it is fairly obvious from the get-go who the winner will be. Everyone knows that Apple devices are expensive, period. This goes not only for iPhones, but for everything else, too: MacBooks, iMacs, Apple Watches, and virtually every accessory you can name. The only way to get an affordable iPhone that is not the iPhone SE is to get an older-generation model, potentially even getting one second-hand. Even then, they are bound to be quite pricey due to how long iPhones are kept up-to-date.
Meanwhile, brand-new Android phones can be found for under $100, although the saying holds true: you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. The cheapest Android phones usually offer terrible performance, although a $300 mid-range Android phone might have all the features and performance that you’d need out of a smartphone.
As previously mentioned, Apple devices are known to be long-lasting, all the while, seeing virtually no performance drops along the way. The primary reason behind this longevity is that each iOS device receives about five years of OS updates following its initial release.
Conversely, new versions of Android are quite slow to roll out on most devices, especially those who use a more heavily-modified version of the OS. In such cases, updates can take months to get to every device. And even then, there is always the question of whether a device will be updated at all – and if it does, you still cannot be certain that the update will improve your experience or actually make the system unstable and slow the phone down.
In general, an Android flagship will receive two OS updates, while mid-range phones will usually get just one. As for the low-end phones, you will be stuck with the version of Android that they come with out of the box, although certain optimizations and security updates will likely still be distributed over time.
With all that said, it is fairly obvious that iOS wins this round.
Android phones may be cheaper and more numerous, but iPhones definitely present a better value. As a matter of fact, iPhones can actually be cheaper in the long run. This might seem like a ludicrous statement but bear with us.
As we’ve already established, iPhones are fast, not because of their hardware but because of OS optimization, and every iPhone receives consistent OS updates for roughly five years after its launch. This not only makes them more future-proof, but it also means that second-hand iPhones go for much higher than second-hand Android phones.
So, you can stick with an iPhone and see that there is virtually no decline in performance over the years (not counting the inevitable battery replacement somewhere along the way), or you can just sell it after a while and get a brand new one with a relatively minor additional investment. This generally makes iPhones a better choice if you’re unwilling to settle for anything that’s not a flagship and if you have a habit of getting a new phone regularly.
Of course, if you’re content with a mid-range or budget device and are not concerned with OS updates, an Android phone would still be a better choice. Nonetheless, if we’re talking flagships, we have to give the win in this category to iOS because of all the reasons mentioned above.
So, let’s see a recap of where each of these two operating systems excel, shall we?
As you can see, both operating systems and their hardware platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s all highly subjective in the end.
If we had to choose, we’d have to give the win to the iPhone if you’re going for a flagship, as they offer better performance, last longer, and are usually cheaper to replace. Meanwhile, Android is the obvious choice for those who are on a tighter budget since even a more modest $300 phone can offer most of the features that you’d need out of one such device, not to mention the immense degree of customization and the wider variety of apps available.