This never ending battle between Apple and Google on the operating system front has reached new heights with the latest Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) Vs. iOS 4.2.1 match. This is until the next updates like iOS 4.3 and Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) arrive. Both OS are mostly meant as upgrades for the previous ones ( Android 2.2(Froyo) and iOS 4.2) but they do bring some long awaited improvements to the overall UI and to the underlying subsystems. At this time it is very hard to say which is the best OS among mobile phones and tablets but this review is meant to shed some light over the major differences between the two mobile operating systems.
First of all let’s start with some background information on the iOS 4.2.1. Although it is being marketed as iOS 4.2.1 you will see it in your Apple device as 4.2. The iOS functionality is identical on both the iPhone 4 and the iPad even with the latter one having just half the RAM of the iPhone 4, 256MB as opposed to 512MB. The iOS update is available for all Apple devices except the first generation of the iPhone and iPod Touch. This update has been released on November 22 2010 on the iPhone 4, and it was the last one to roll out this year.
On the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) side things stand a little bit different. It has only been officially released on the Google Nexus S but thanks to the enthusiastic developers the new OS is available on many other high end Android smartphones like the HTC Desire, Nexus One, and the HTC Evo 4. Most of the devices that currently run Android 2.2 (Froyo) should get an update to Gingerbread in the near future. Due to the larger number of devices running Android, the Android 2.3 update is expected to roll out with some delay depending on the manufacturer of the device. This update for Android was released on the 6th of December 2010 along with the Nexus S.
1. Android 2.3 Vs. iOS 4.2: Market Share
The first “field of battle” on the Android 2.3 vs iOS 4.2.1 comparison is the very important market share. The latest data tells us that iOS is found on about 37% of mobile phones in the US. On the other side Android is running on 22% of the whole lot of mobile phones in the US. As for the predictions, iOS is slowly losing market share while Android is reporting outstanding growth, mostly due to the 160 000 Android running devices being sold every day. It is very hard to say where these figures will stand a year from now , even harder now since Microsoft has joined the battle with Windows Phone 7. One thing is for sure, Android is gaining market share on behalf of its competitors so this battle goes to Android.
2. Android 2.3 Vs. iOS 4.2: User Interface
This is the part most of us look for when buying a new phone. If you like a simplistic approach you will surely go for iOS, but if you favor diversity you will go for Android. This statement has never been more true than for the iOS 4.2.1 and Android 2.3. While the 4.2.1 iOS version does not bring any visual changes it does fix some bugs and, as it being marketed under 4.2 it also brings the goodies from that version.
The most notable additions to the iOS 4.2 are Air Play and Air Print. Air play is a replacement of AirTunes, and it will offer streaming of video, music, and photos over Wi-Fi. Air Print allows wireless printing of photos or documents. Another useful but rudimentary feature is the ability to search for text on a web page in Safari. The Youtube player has also been updated along with a bug fix for the calendar which allows it to display Birthdays starting more than 77 Years ago and, as always, Apple has improved the battery performance.
On the other side, Android has suffered a revamp of the user interface with the 2.3 (Gingerbread) version. Many elements of the UI have been given a new looks: the status bar, the keyboard, and the menus. The keyboard has been improved even beyond the looks as it now adds new functionality for word suggestions, copy, paste, and selection along with improved multitouch support. The status bar has been redesigned with ever greener elements and system wide copy-paste has been implemented. Google also added support for extra-large screen sizes and resolutions (WXGA and higher).
Some other improvements include little orange bursts of color when reaching the end a long list, transparency in menus and new graphics to show the phone usage for the task manager. There is also a new shortcut to the task manager from the home screen menu, presumably because of the high demand for third party task managers.
Even though Google has made some improvements to the keyboard, it is still under the level of the Apple’s keyboard (which now comes in black variety), so in the texting department iOS 4.2 wins even though it didn’t get an update, it was just very good from the start.
Another important part of any modern UI is the notification area. This is a big minus for the iOS as it only supports serial notifications that cannot be grouped in one screen while Android can show all the notifications from a pull down drawer that is available almost all the time. Android 2.3 just brings us a new black colored notification bar in which you can see everything from Facebook, Twitter, SMS messages to battery status, task managers and missed calls. As you can see below the notifications in Android are less intrusive then their iOS counterparts. As far as notifications go, Android 2.3 is again in front of iOS 4.2.
If you own an Android smartphone you surely know the benefits of Widgets. They allow you to see more information with fewer clicks and improve the overall design of your home screen. iOS doesn’t allow widgets and you get stuck with just the application shortcuts on your screen. Both OS give you the option to group applications in folders for easier access. Only after using widgets you fully understand their potential and if you own an Android device you cannot even begin to think how your device would be without them.
Also, these widgets help customize your device to the point where it will not resemble the stock Android. Even the latest iOS doesn’t lift the customization restrictions and you end up with the same old and well known iPhone home screen.
The stock application launcher from the iOS 4.2 is still unchanged and it cannot be modified by third party software while Android 2.3 already allows custom launchers such as Launcher Pro and ADW Launcher to modify the looks of the application dock. These options further extend the customization possibilities of the open source Android 2.3. Apple still remains restrictive regarding OS customization. Of course you can always jailbreak your Apple device to get more goodies and even improve the user interface but it still is a risky process. Android 2.3 has already been rooted and full scale customization of the UI is in progress. If you dare root your Android device you can even get an OS that looks like iOS.
Overall, the user interface of the new iOS 4.2.1 is still the classic iPhone simplistic look while the Android 2.3 allows a custom UI with many customizing possibilities. Again Apple’s conservative approach falls short of Google’s open source alternative. Apart from the better keyboard it is safe to say that Android’s user interface is better than Apple’s.
3. Android 2.3 Vs. iOS 4.2: Applications
Most of us take application availability very seriously when buying a new phone. After all why buy a new phone if you can’t play your favorite game or can’t open your email attachments on the go? In this area the Apple App Store is still king, with over 300 000 applications available. But the Android Market is not far behind with 200 000 apps just ready to be downloaded. While the number of apps is very important you may want to consider how many of them are free to download. The Apple App Store offers only 28% of its content for free while a staggering 57% of the Apps are free in the Android Market. This doesn’t mean that the Android Market is host to more low quality apps than the Apple counterpart.
The Android Market has just received a very welcomed facelift with the new Android 2.3 while the Apple App Store remains unchanged in iOS 4.2.1. The facelift also raises the maximum size of applications to 50MB, which can only benefit the mobile gaming industry. Along with the new market Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) also brings new video drivers for gaming and new APIs to further increase the gaming potential of the OS.
The bestselling applications on both operating systems remain the ever popular games. Not surprisingly, the game with the most downloads on iOS is Angry Birds. It has reached the 10 million downloads mark for the full (paid) and lite (free) versions together, and this in only 5 months after its launch. You can imagine the Android version of the game is rejoicing in the same success as 1 million copies were downloaded in the day of its launch. But this is just one game.
Overall, the Apple Store has more and better quality games than its Android rival, but let’s wait and see what happens with the games and application in the Android Market when Android 2.3 will be on most smartphones. The future is again in favor of Android. So, for now if you want games iOS 4.2.1 is the platform of choice but the future looks “greener” for Android 2.3 gaming.
Almost all modern smartphones have a GPS receiver. So, naturally, some apps were made to make use of it. Most of them are maps applications. While the Apple’s Maps application has barely changed since 2007 Google has been hard at work updating their Google Maps application for their Android OS. The latest version, Google Maps 5.0 is among the best navigation solutions available with free voice guided turn by turn navigation in USA. It also offers a new 3d view mode and the ability to use the maps offline. Even though the Apple App Store offers some alternatives to the built in Maps, they are expensive and require a lot of precious phone memory.
Have you ever considered speaking commands to the phone instead of typing them? If you have you will be pleased to hear that Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) brings an even greater integration of Google’s Voice Search technology. With Android 2.3 you can actually access every feature of the phone with just your voice. Imagine speaking text messages to your phone and just saying the recipient’s name and “voila”, the message has been sent. This feature is easily accessible from the search button present on every Android device. The iOS 4.2.1 offers some limited voice search integration via Google Voice Search but the downside is that it is not always easy to access.
Another thing you must take into consideration when you buy an iOS 4.2 device is that it does not offer Wi-Fi hotspot capability, without jailbreaking that is. The Android 2.3 OS offers a built in Wi-Fi hotspot application that is perfect for sharing the 3G or 4G connection with your laptop on the go.
Mobile browsing of the internet is not always a pleasant experience but with the new versions of iOS and Android, it reaches new heights. The multi touch zooming feature is present on both operating systems but it is dependent of the browser used. Stock browsers from both OS’s do a fine job of rendering internet pages but again Android has an advantage over iOS, the ability to play full Flash content. While the hardware of the Apple devices makes them more than capable of handling Flash web pages, Apple has clearly stated that Flash is too unstable to be used in their iOS. It seems to be integrating quite well with Android 2.3 in the default browser.
All in all it is hard to point out a winner in the application war between Android 2.3 and iOS 4.2.1 so it is better if we called it a tie.
4. Android 2.3 Vs. iOS 4.2: Hardware
What good is a modern mobile OS if you can’t find the phone you like that runs it? If you choose iOS you only have a choice between 3.5 inches displays with different resolutions (ranging from 320×480 to 960×640). On the Android side you can find devices of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the minute Xperia X10 Mini to the massive Dell Streak or HTC Desire HD. As expected the resolutions of Android the devices vary greatly, with a minimum of 240×320 and a maximum of 480×854. In the newer Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) this margin will be extended to WXGA and bigger resolutions.
And again, if you want diversity you should go for Android and if you want standardization you should choose iOS.
As a conclusion, I would like to point out there is no clear winner in the Android 2.3 vs iOS 4 battle, just two sides with completely different ideas about how a mobile OS should perform. While Apple with its iOS 4.2.1 has made a step into the wireless domain with Air Play and Air Print it is still a restricted OS. The best example of the strict control Apple exerts on its users is the inability to send photos and songs from one device to another. A different idea has been promoted by Google, instead of restricting the usage of the device they approached the problem with an open source OS which allows a far greater customization. So, if you are conservative and enjoy a stock OS with numerous available applications go for Apple’s iOS. If you are more into making your device unique and changing it until you see fit you should go for the Google Android OS which seems to be the choice of the future.
What do you guys think? Share us your thoughts below and state your winner.
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