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Android Versus iPhone

Which is better: Android or iPhone? Looking at the latest sales figures which show Android based smartphones outselling every other platform and Apple staying fairly steady at around 25% (poor old RIM is the main victim of Android’s success) you might be tempted to say that Android is clearly superior. But I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to hear that I don’t agree.

Maybe it depends on how you define the word “better”. If you mean the biggest selling phone is best then clearly Android wins. Of course Android is an operating system which runs on many phones, so that further complicates the discussion. But not many people would claim that simple popularity means quality in the wider sense. The problem is that all measures of quality are essentially subjective.

But whatever your views on quality how can the success of Android be explained? Allow me to offer an anecdote. In our house we have three smartphones. I have an iPhone 4 and two other members of my family have Android phones (one is made by Samsung and the other is branded Vodafone). Let’s have a look at how these phones are used…

The iPhone has pages of extra apps installed but the Android phones have nothing extra at all. All of the functions of the iPhone are regularly used but many of the Android phone basic features are never used. I love my iPhone but the Android users are constantly making comments like “I hate this phone” and “how do you make it do this?”

To be fair the Android phones aren’t the most expensive. They are considerably cheaper than both the iPhone and the top phones running other operating systems so the comparison is a bit unfair. But I think a lot of that large market share Android phones have comes from phones just like these. So most likely the vast majority of that share is for cheaper phones which are slow and hard to use and which the owners don’t use to anything like their full potential and actually don’t even enjoy using.

Even the top Android phones which I have used (admittedly for only short periods of time) have looked good on the surface but have fallen short of the great iPhone experience. And that is an opinion which has quite wide acceptance.

Of course Android does have some advantages. First, it is a more open platform so it isn’t susceptible to the possibly arbitrary rules and restrictions Apple puts on the much more closed environment of the iPhone. On the other hand the closed Apple environment does result in a very well integrated environment and one which is far less likely to be affected by substandard programs and malware.

Another Android advantage is the variety of hardware it runs on. If you want a phone with a physical keyboard for example, you can do that with Android but not iPhone. That is a real issue although I think most people would learn to like the iPhone’s virtual keyboard if they just gave it a chance.

Maybe the biggest Android advantage is price. The problem is that the cheaper phones tend to be slow and clunky and the phones where the hardware is of similar quality to an iPhone are often just about as expensive anyway. So what’s the point?

Android is a younger system than iOS so maybe it needs another year or two to mature. But the fragmentation of the design of the user interface on Android devices and the poor experience many people have with them means that while they will probably continue to be the biggest selling platform they aren’t likely to be a challenge to Apple for being the best.

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