Friday, January 13, 2012

Apple vs Android: The War That Never Ends

The war between Apple and Android users is a tale as old as... well the iPhone.  Both sides are passionate about the devices they use.  The most extreme zealots have a plethora of reasons as to why the opposing OS is far superior to the one they prefer.  However, the keyword in that sentence being prefer which in short means choice.  What it ultimately comes down to is what makes the device the best fit for the user.  The needs of one person may vary greatly from the needs of the next.  A Minivan is great for a person with a large family or the need to transport large items regularly.  However, some one else may prefer a sportier ride that offers horsepower and excellent handling.  Does that make the person who requires the minivan any less of a driver and vice-versa?  Let's take a minute and describe the Android and Apple experience in an effort to enlighten and educate those who may not be familiar with this world as well as those who vehemently defend their choice in phone.

Apple iPhone

Without question, the iPhone defines the standard for what a modern age smartphone is, should be, or aspire to be.  Steve Jobs and Apple have created a device that has revolutionized the way we communicate and interface with the internet and in turn world around us.  Job's focus on creating zen like devices and graphic user interfaces (GUI)  is clearly evident in this phone.  These phones are simply gorgeous.  The devices are extremely sleek and futuristic in styling.  The iPhone just exudes confidence in it's simplicity.  With minimal physical buttons or boisterous case coloring, it puts its pride in it's GUI.

The interface is elegant, simple, and approachable.  It has large colorful buttons that allow the user access to it's core functionality along with the countless applications offered by the AppStore; all in one unified theme.  No matter where you are in the iPhone the experience is similar.  This allows the user to feel confident in their ability to move around the device without feeling overwhelmed by menu buttons and options.  Easy in and easy out.

In all it's simplicity, the iPhone pushes the boundaries of technology and innovation with every model upgrade.  Apple accomplishes all this while keeping their user's in mind.  Whether its a leading edge processor, screen technology and resolution, or personal concierge software, you can feel certain that you are carrying a device that is the latest and greatest in technology.

Google Android 

The first Android device, the T-Mobile HTC G1, was released in October 2008 and there has been no looking back.  The operating system (OS) has come a very long way since then.  While early sales of Android devices were slow, those familiar with mobile OS's new that the platform had potential.

Google, much like Microsoft, made the decision to make the software open and available to any manufacturer who committed to making a device for it.  Companies like HTC, Samsung, LG, and Motorola jumped on the opportunity. Each created devices that used Android at it's core while altering some aspects of the GUI to make it unique.  While hardware vendors were hard at work crafting devices, Google continually worked at improving it's product.  It released upgrade after upgrade named after tasty treats like Cupcake, Donut and Eclair.  Each upgrade provided new and exciting functionality while improving areas that needed improving.  Eventually, Android found commercial success with Verizon's Motorola Droid.  Google improved the OS even further releasing the Froyo, Gingerbread, and recently released Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades.  Manufactures continue producing world-class Android based smart-phones like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Motorola Droid Razr.  This allows for a wide variety of equipment that permits a user to select a device that meets their requirements.  Furthermore, Android devices have the flexibility to work with advanced hardware such as the new breed of high-speed cellular networks like LTE and Wi-Max far in advance of the competition.  

Android in a Nutshell:  Delicious but Tough to Crack

Android can easily be summed up using two words: powerful and functional.

Being as it is a Google product, it offers close integration with the ever expanding list of Google products like Gmail, Google Contacts, and Google Calendars.  This integration offers enterprise-level email, contact, and calendar management rivaling that of expensive corporate systems.  You can check email, schedule appointments, and backup of all your contacts to Google's servers (the cloud) directly from the device.  In the event that you upgrade or replace a device, all of this information easily transfers to a different Android phone with minimal effort.

Additionally, Android offers Google Maps and Navigation.  The maps application makes travelling a breeze.  A user can easily find information about local business such as a phone number, address, hours of operation, website, and customer reviews with one search.  This works closely with Google Navigation which is one of the most standout feature of the OS.  Google Navigation provides turn-by-directions to any address replacing expensive stand-alone GPS units.  It also has real-time access to traffic information which provides accurate arrival time estimates and alternate routes.    

Google continually provides advanced functionality and services.  Applications like Google Music, Google Voice, and Google+ continue to raise the bar higher and higher.  The best part... all of these services are generally included at no additional cost to the user.

While Google may be the bell of the ball, it still has a few blemishes it can't hide.  First and foremost,  the GUI traditionally has been unattractive and confusing to those who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology.  The overall appearance of the OS can leave something to be desired.  Each manufacturer has added their own twist to their phones in attempts to overcome this.  Features such as widgets and the notification bar are extremely useful.  However, they are often hidden behind menus that are counter-intuitive to those with less experience using smart phones.  The latest iteration of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, makes an effort to resolve these flaws and does an excellent job of it.

Android is both functional and powerful... to those with technological aptitude or the patience to figure it out and "crack the nut".

Apple iPhone:  The Truman Show with a Cellular Antenna

It would appear that innovation is as natural to Apple as breathing.  Modern technological history can be broken down into 2 eras:  B.I. (Before iPhone) and A.I. (After iPhone).  The iPhone took the smart phone to another level and shook a sleeping technology industry awake.  Smart Phones existed before the iPhone.  They were slow, bulky, unattractive, and complicated.  Apple produced a device that was not only beautiful and powerful, but extremely intuitive and easy to use.  It was these factors that made the iPhone a runaway train of success.

Apple's iOS was crafted from the ground up with the ease of use in mind.  The icons are large and easily visible.  Swiping from screen to screen is fun and simple.  Settings menus are easily manipulated and uncomplicated.  A user can perform complicated actions like setting up email or changing a ring tone with little effort or thought.  Browsing the internet and photo libraries is extremely intuitive.  A user can swipe the screen to move around a page or photo and can easily zoom in using a pinching motion.

Not only is it easy to use, but a user has access to the single largest app library in the market.  The sheer volume of applications is breath taking and far surpasses any competition.  It is not uncommon to see an application available to iPhone users way before Android users.  Furthermore, the apps are built using tools provided by Apple which means the theme of simplicity often applies to them as well.  There literally is an app for anything you may be interested in; ranging from news and weather all the way to the hundreds of virtual fart applications that exist.

While the iPhone is easy to use it too has its issues.  It's single biggest strength is also its biggest weakness.  Apple's iOS holds your hand through the entire experience.  That experience is very much in Apple's control and the only way to break that requires breaking into the phone or "jailbreaking" it.  There is no bigger show of Apple's desire to control the user experience than iTunes.  iTunes has been the main hub of the iPhone since it's inception.  Prior to the release of the iPhone 4S, backing up, syncing photos, music, video, and applications required a computer with iTunes on it.  A user also had to make sure that the video or picture was in the correct format to be viewed on the iPhone or iTunes simply would not accept it.  The very thought of losing  a computer with the "main" iTunes account on it would create anxiety in even the most tranquil person.  However, with the release of the iPhone 4S came the latest version of iOS which is iOS 5.  iOS 5 works closely with a new service called iCloud which allows you to back up your information to Apple server's and access it on any apple device.  

One other pain point is the lack of hardware options.  Currently, you either have the latest iPhone or an older version which may or may not support the latest iOS version.  Oh wait... correction... a user also has the choice of white or black phone as well.  If a user is interested in having a Qwerty keyboard or any other variation in form they are out of luck unless they are interested in adding a gaudy attachment.  The iPhone also locks it's internal components which means changing your battery out or upgrading to an extended life battery requires a visit to the Apple store or isn't possible without a bulky attachment.

The iPhone reminds me quite a bit of The Truman Show.  Should you choose to live inside the world that has been created for you, it is beautiful and simple.  However, their may be a few people that prefer to live outside the bubble.

Which Phone is Better?

This question is a difficult one to answer.  It is easy to see that each phone has it's high points and low points which can change in the span of a month.  Furthermore, the reasons listed above are just the tip of the iceberg.  Generally, not in all cases, the iPhone is a better fit for those who are not very comfortable with technology or have very little patience when it comes to learning new technology.  The iPhone offers an intuitive interface which may comfort those intimidated by smartphones.  It is more than possible that someone with vast amounts of experience will enjoy the iPhone as well.  The AppStore is loaded with apps which are only available to iPhone users.

Android requires a little more patience but offers power and functionality which is close to the iPhone is some aspects and superior in others.  Generally, those who enjoy technology also find themselves enjoying the Android OS.  Google Navigation quickly becomes a neccesity and is hard to live without. The wide range of hardware is also a plus.  Android offers devices that are entirely touch screen, touch screen with a slide out keyboard, touch screen with a Blackberry style keyboard, 5 Megapixel Camera, 8 Megapixel Camera, etc...  etc... etc...  There are so many options that picking the right one is extremely nerve wracking.  While those with technology experience tend to lean towards Android there are those with less experience who prefer the OS as well.

Regardless of the OS, innovation in this day and age moves at a relentless pace.  Today's powerhouse phones are obsolete 4 months later.  The best advice I can offer is to get into your carrier's store and play with every phone you can.  You can use this post as a guide to help you with your decision.  If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I'll do my best to help you out.