(Please note that this comparison is between the two smartphone versions of the respective operating systems, not the tablet versions. The Android 4.0 features and functions presented will be those found on the Galaxy Nexus. Also, this article will cover the three main aspects in which they compete; home screens, multitasking, and notifications.)
It’s been a rough, head-to-head battle between Android and iOS. Both were been created with different standards and intentions, but also are made for different types of smartphone / tablet users. Android is the more feature-packed, customizable to the max, but less secure due to it’s open-source characteristics, leaving it vulnerable to malware.
iOS on the other hand, although not marginally, lacks when compared to Android, but makes up for it with it’s superb developer support, and it’s fast, intuitive, and reliable software. In recent years, iOS has been making strides towards Android, especially with the addition of Notification Center, which was actually pioneered by Google in the very first version of Android. Google wanted users to have a more open-source system allowing them to do virtually anything they want, aside from accessing the root folders of the phone. Apple is the complete opposite, with the extent of customization being the lock screen and home screen wallpapers and being able to rearrange applications.
Although these two operating systems are different when you delve deep into them, they share most of their features in common. This article will be mainly about the software side of things as the main hardware running these two systems have already been covered in their respect reviews. Both have lots going for them so keep reading to check them out a bit more.
Both operating systems have very different and unique home screens. On iOS, you get 11 home screens to organize your applications on – that gives you the ability to have 176 apps visible on your home screen, with the home screen being a 4 by 4 grid of applications. In addition you get 4 applications on your dock that are visible on each page of applications. Also, iOS offers folders, allowing for 12 applications in each folder. The folder function allows for a maximum of 2112 applications on your home screen, plus 48 if you include 4 folders on the dock – that is if each of your 11 screens was filled with a folder containing 12 applications. Folders can be put on the dock, but not created on the dock. You make a folder by dragging one icon on top of the other, where you have the ability to rename it and so forth. Swiping to the left past your first page of applications brings up your Spotlight search, allowing you to search your apps, contacts, messages, Wikipedia, and the web. The extent, unfortunately, of home screen customization is changing your wallpaper and how icons are arranged.
Android is a very different story – it’s customization galore. On Android, you get 5 home screens, which is lower than the 11 found on iOS. Android’s folder system is very similar to that of iOS and allows for the same drag and drop technique. Android folders will hold 12 icons max. The amount of folders on a screen varies because of the wide array of Android smartphones, but using the Galaxy Nexus as a reference device, you can fit 16 folders on one page, each containing 12 icons, just like iOS. In addition, you get a 5 icon dock, one of those being an icon which leads to your application drawer, containing ALL of your applications, while your home screen only displays the icons you choose. Android 4.0 also has it’s search bar for Google plastered to the top of the screen and it can also be used for the same things as Spotlight.
Android also features widgets, something Apple has, for some reason, neglected to offer. Widgets are items you can add to your Android home screen which provides information for an application without actually entering the application. For example, a weather widget would display weather information without going into the actual weather app itself. Widgets take up most of your screen real estate and can consume battery if not managed properly, but can be very useful while also providing useful information. As expected, you can also change your wallpaper, icon arrangement, and even the home screen theme with alternative launchers. Live wallpapers are also an option, which allow you to set a moving wallpaper, instead of just a regular image. Although they look nice, ones with too much movement can slow down home screen performance, as well as decrease battery life.
Android has had multitasking for awhile now, but iOS has just gained the feature in iOS 4 in 2010. Both work in a very similar fashion but with different interfaces. On iOS, double-tap your home button and up will pop your multitasking bar, giving you access to your most recently used applications. This stirred up a controversy upon it’s launcher. Most users were beginning to think that the multitasking bar showed a list of all open and running applications, causing them to be more conscious of apps that they thought were running, when the bar is essentially a list of apps you’ve recently opened (click here for a more technical and advanced overview of how iOS multitasking really works). Closing apps is simple too, although iOS will automatically purge apps if it is warranted by the system. With the multitasking bar open, hold down on an icon within it till it begins to shake. Click the red delete circle and the app is cleared from the list of apps you recently opened. This is technically only necessary if an app has gone rogue and you wish to end it’s processes. In addition, swiping to the left will give you a button you lock the screen from rotating, some music controls, and swiping once more gives you a volume control. The multitasking interface is accessible from any place you are on throughout the device, aside from the lock screen.
Android has a very similar approach to multitasking and the interface is accessed by clicking the multitasking button at the bottom of the screen (the icon with one square overlapping the other). On a non-Galaxy Nexus device running Android 4.0, hold down your home button and it will pop up. You’ll get a vertical list of the thumbnails of recently used apps, just like iOS. Clicking one will bring you right where you left off in that app. While in the multitasking interface, you can swipe an app off the screen to remove it from the list, or hold down on it to access the App Info screen.
Since the iOS 5 update, notifications are nearly identical between Android and iOS 5. On the iPhone, as explained thoroughly in the iOS 5 review, notifications are now presented in the notification center which is identical to the notification pull down on Android. Since the announcement of this in iOS 5, the enthusiasts and consumers have contemplated on whether or not Apple copied the feature directly from Android and made it their own. In addition, notifications also roll down from the top of the screen, just like Android. One difference is that iOS has a weather widget and stocks widget pre-added to the notifications center, whereas on Android, you’d need to download an application of some sort to have information like weather displayed. Another difference would be when clear notifications. On Android, you can either delete them all at once, or choose single notifications you want to clear. On iOS, you can only delete sections of them. Meaning if you have a text message notification you want to delete and you have more than one there, you’d have to either delete all your Messages notifications at once or none at all, which is a little inconvenient. The Android status bar also has icons for apps when there is a notification, which is missing from iOS, preventing you from knowing whether you have unread notifications without checking.
It’s become quite evident that Apple’s App Store is the most popular mobile application store with over 10 billion app downloads and over 500,000 applications. Android has over 300,000 applications, but does suffer from malware due to it’s open-source characteristics. Developers usually test the market with paid apps on iOS then release their app on the Android Market for free.
Apple’s camera application definitely lacks when compared to the new and improved Android 4.0 camera features. On iOS, things such as panorama pictures, image effects, and advanced editing and image sharing cannot be achieved without 3rd party camera applications like Instagram or Camera+.
The Android browser is leaps ahead of mobile Safari on iOS. Missing from iOS is a desktop mode option for defaulting to the desktop version of sites, syncing with Google Chrome, and flash support, although the latter will soon cease to exist on all mobile devices that currently support it.
Stay tuned for a review of the Galaxy Nexus and a review of Siri, Apple’s personal assistant on the iPhone 4S.