When it comes to buying one of the best smartphones, the first choice can be the hardest: iPhone or Android. It’s not simple; both offer a lot of great features and they may seem basically the same other than brand and price.
However, a closer look shows that there are some key differences. Read on for a closer at look at some of these differences to help you decide whether an iPhone or Android smartphone is right for you.
Hardware: Choice vs. Polish
image credit: Apple Inc.
Hardware is the first place where the differences between the iPhone and Android become clear.
Only Apple makes iPhones, so it has extremely tight control over how the software and hardware work together. On the other hand, Google offers the Android software to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola. Because of that, Android phones vary widely in size, weight, features, and quality.
Premium-priced Android phones tend to be as good as the iPhone in terms of hardware quality, but cheaper Android options are more prone to problems. Of course iPhones can have hardware issues, too, but they’re generally higher quality.
If you’re buying an iPhone, you just need to pick a model. Because many companies make Android devices, you have to pick both a brand and a model, which can be a bit confusing.
Some may prefer the greater choice Android offers, but others appreciate Apple’s simplicity and quality.
OS Compatibility: A Waiting Game
To make sure you always have the latest and greatest version of your smartphone operating system, you have to get an iPhone.
That’s because some Android makers are slow at updating their phones to the latest version of the Android OS version, and sometimes don’t update their phones at all.
While it’s to be expected that older phones will eventually lose support for the latest OS, Apple’s support for older phones is generally better than Android’s.
Take iOS 11 as an example. It includes full support for the iPhone 5S, which was released in 2013. Thanks to support for such an old device, and full availability for all other models, iOS 11 was installed on about 66% of compatible models within 6 weeks of its release.
On the other hand, Android 8, codenamed Oreo, was running on just 0.2% of Android devices more than 8 weeks after its release. Even its predecessor, Android 7, was only running on about 18% of devices more than a year after its release. The makers of the phones — not users — control when the OS is released for their phones and, as stats shows, most companies are very slow to update.
So, if you want the latest and greatest as soon as it’s ready, you need an iPhone.
Apps: Selection vs. Control
The Apple App Store offers fewer apps than Google Play (around 2.1 million vs. 3.5 million, as of April 2018), but overall selection isn’t the most important factor.
Apple is famously strict (some would say too strict) about what apps it allows, while Google’s standards for Android are lax. While Apple’s control may seem too tight, it also prevents situations like the one where a fake version of WhatsApp was published on Google Play and downloaded by 1 million people before it was removed. That’s a major potential security threat.
Beyond that, some developers have complained about the difficulty of developing for so many different phones. Fragmentation — the large numbers of devices and OS versions to support — makes developing for Android expensive. For example, the developers of Temple Run reported that early in their Android experience nearly all of their support emails had to do with unsupported devices even though they support over 700 Android phones.
Combine development costs with the emphasis on free apps for Android, and it reduces the likelihood that developers can cover their costs. Key apps also almost always debut first on iOS, with Android versions coming later, if they come at all.
Gaming: A Mobile Powerhouse
There was a time when mobile video gaming was dominated by Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Playstation Vita. The iPhone changed that.
Apple’s devices like the iPhone and iPod touch, are perhaps the dominant players in the mobile video game market, with tens of thousands of great games and tens of millions of players. The growth of the iPhone as a gaming platform, in fact, has led some observers to forecast that Apple will eclipse Nintendo and Sony as the leading mobile game platform (Nintendo has even started releasing games for the iPhone, like Super Mario Run).
The tight integration of Apple’s hardware and software mentioned above has led it to be able to create powerful gaming technologies using hardware and software that make its phones as fast as some laptops.
The general expectation that Android apps should be free has led game developers interested in making money to develop for iPhone first and Android second. In fact, due to problems with developing for Android, some game companies have stopped creating games for it all together.
While Android has its share of hit games, the iPhone has the clear advantage.
Integration with Other Devices: Continuity Guaranteed
Most people use a tablet, computer, or wearable in addition to their smartphone. For those people, Apple offers a more consistent and integrated experience.
Because Apple makes computers, tablets, and watches along with the iPhone, it offers things that Android (which mostly runs on smartphones, though there are tablets and wearables that use it) can’t.
Apple’s Continuity features let you unlock your Mac using an Apple Watch, start writing an email on your iPhone while you’re walking and finish it on your Mac at home, or have all of your devices receive any call coming into your iPhone.
Google’s services like Gmail, Maps, Google Now, etc., work across all Android devices, which is very useful. But unless your watch, tablet, phone, and computer are all made by the same company — and there aren’t too many companies other than Samsung that make products in all of those categories — there’s no unified experience.
Support: The Unmatched Apple Store
Both smartphone platforms generally work pretty well and, for day-to-day use, don’t usually malfunction. However, everything breaks down once in awhile, and when that happens, how you get support matters.
With Apple, you can simply take your device to your closest Apple Store, where a trained specialist can help solve your problem. (They’re busy, though, so it pays to make an appointment ahead of time.)
There’s no equivalent on the Android side. Sure, you can get support for Android devices from the phone company you bought your phone from, the manufacturer, or maybe even the retail store where you bought it, but which should you pick and can you be sure the people there are well trained?
Having a single source for expert support gives Apple the upper hand in this category.
Intelligent Assistant: Google Assistant Beats Siri
The next frontier of smartphone features and functionality will be driven by artificial intelligence and voice interfaces. On this front, Android has a clear lead.
Google Assistant, the most prominent artificial intelligence/intelligent assistant on Android, is extremely powerful. It uses everything Google knows about you and the world to make life easier for you. For instance, if your Google Calendar knows that you’re meeting someone at 5:30 and that traffic is terrible, Google Assistant can send you a notification telling you to leave early.
Siri is Apple’s answer to Google Assistant for artificial intelligence. It’s improving all the time with each new iOS release. That said, it’s still limited to fairly simple tasks and doesn’t offer the advanced smarts of Google Assistant (Google Assistant is also available for the iPhone).
Battery Life: Consistent Improvement
Early iPhones needed to recharge their batteries every day. More recent models can go days without a charge, though new versions of the operating system tend to cut battery life until they’re optimized in later releases.
The battery situation is more complex with Android, due to the large variety of hardware options. Some Android models have 7-inch screens and other features which burn through much more battery life.
But, thanks to the wide variety of Android models, there are also some that offer ultra-high capacity batteries. If you don’t mind the extra bulk, and really need a long-lasting battery, Android can deliver a device that works much longer than an iPhone on a single charge.
User Experience: Elegance vs. Customization
People who want the complete control to customize their phones will prefer Android thanks to its greater openness.
One downside of this openness is that each company that makes Android phones can customize them, sometimes replacing default Android apps with inferior tools developed by that company.
Apple, on the other hand, locks the iPhone down much more tightly. Customizations are more limited and you can’t change default apps. What you’re giving up in flexibility with an iPhone is balanced out by quality and attention to detail, a device that just looks and is well-integrated with other products.
If you want a phone that works well, delivers a high-quality experience, and is easy to use, Apple is the clear winner. On the other hand, if you value flexibility and choice enough to accept some potential issues, you’ll probably prefer Android.
Pure Experience: Avoid Junk Apps
The last item mentioned that Android’s openness means that sometimes manufacturers install their own apps in place of higher-quality standard apps.
This is compounded by phone companies also installing their own apps. As a result, it can be hard to know what apps will come on your Android device and whether they’ll be any good.
You don’t have to worry about that with the iPhone. Apple is the only company that pre-installs apps on the iPhone, so every phone comes with the same, mostly high-quality apps.
User Maintenance: Storage and Battery
Apple emphasizes elegance and simplicity in the iPhone above all else. That’s a major reason that users can’t upgrade the storage or replace the batteries on their iPhones (it’s possible to get replacement iPhone batteries, but they have to be installed by a skilled repair person).
Android, on the other hand, lets users change the phone’s battery and expand its storage capacity.
The trade-off is that Android is a bit more complex and a bit less elegant, but that may be worth it compared to running out of memory or avoiding paying for an expensive battery replacement.
Peripheral Compatibility: USB Is Everywhere
Owning a smartphone usually means owning some accessories for it, such as speakers, battery cases, or simply extra charging cables.
Android phones offer the widest choice of accessories. That’s because Android uses USB ports to connect to other devices, and USB ports are available practically everywhere.
Apple, on the other hand, uses its proprietary Lightning port to connect to accessories. There are some advantages to Lightning, like that it gives Apple more control over the quality of the accessories that work with the iPhone, but it’s less widely compatible.
Plus, if you need to charge your phone right now, people are more likely to have a USB cable handy.
Security: No Question About It
If you care about the security of your smartphone, there’s only one choice: iPhone.
The reasons for this are myriad and too long to completely go into here. For the short version, consider these two facts:
- In one study, 97% of all malware, viruses, worms, etc., were for Android. In that study, 0% attacked the iPhone.
- Even the head of Google’s Android team admits that “We can not guarantee that Android is designed to be safe… If I had a company dedicated to malware, I should also be addressing my attacks on Android.”
That says it all. However, it’s important to note that these stats don’t mean iPhone is immune to malware. It is not. It’s just less likely to be targeted and Android-based phones.
Screen Size: The Tale of the Tape
If you’re looking for the biggest screens available on smartphones, Android is your choice.
There’s been a trend towards super-sized smartphone screens — so much so that a new word, phablet, has been coined to describe a hybrid phone and tablet device.
Android offered the first phablets and continues to offer the most and biggest options. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 has an 6.3-inch screen, for instance.
With the iPhone X, the top-of-the-line iPhone offers a 5.8-inch screen. Still, if size is at a premium for you, Android’s the choice.
GPS Navigation: Free Wins For Everyone
As long as you’ve got access to the internet and a smartphone, you never have to get lost again thanks to the built-in GPS and maps apps on both the iPhone and Android.
Both platforms support third-party GPS apps that can give drivers turn-by-turn directions. Apple Maps is exclusive to iOS, and while that app had some famous problems when it debuted, it’s getting steadily better all the time. It’s a strong alternative to Google Maps for many users.
Even if you don’t want to try Apple Maps, Google Maps is available on both platforms (generally pre-loaded on Android), so the experience is roughly identical.
Networking: Tied in 4G
For the fastest wireless internet experience, you need access to 4G LTE networks. When 4G LTE was beginning to roll out across the country, Android phones were the first to offer it.
It’s been years since Android was the only place to go for blazing-fast internet, though.
Apple introduced 4G LTE on the iPhone 5 in 2012, and all subsequent models offer it. With the wireless networking hardware roughly equivalent on both platforms, the major factor in determining wireless data speed is now just which phone company network the phone is connected to.
Carriers: Tied at 4
When it comes to what phone company you use your smartphone with, there’s no difference between platforms. Both types of phone work on the U.S.’s four major phone carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon.
For years, the iPhone lagged behind Android’s carrier selection (in fact, when it debuted, the iPhone only worked on AT&T). When T-Mobile began offering the iPhone in 2013, though, all four carriers offered the iPhone and that difference was erased.
Both types of phone are also available through the many small, regional carriers in the U.S. Overseas, you’ll find more options and support for Android, which has a larger marketshare outside the U.S.
Cost: Is Free Always Best?
If you’re concerned most about what your phone costs, you’ll probably choose Android. That’s because there are many Android phones that can be had for cheap, or even free. Apple’s cheapest phone is the iPhone SE, which starts at $349.
For those on a very tight budget, that may be the end of the discussion. If you’ve got some money to spend on your phone, though, look a little deeper.
Free phones are usually free for a reason: they’re often less capable or dependable than their more-costly counterparts. Getting a free phone may be buying you more trouble than a paid phone.
The highest-priced phones on both platforms can easily cost close to – or sometimes over — $1000, but the average cost of an Android device is lower than an iPhone.
Resale Value: iPhone Keeps Its Worth
With new smartphones being released so often, people tend to upgrade quickly. When you do that, you want to be sure that you can resell your old model for the most money to put towards the new one.
Apple wins on that front. Old iPhones fetch more money at resale than old Androids.
Here are a few examples, using prices from the smartphone resale company Gazelle:
- 64GB iPhone 6 in good condition, unlocked: $170
- 32GB iPhone 7 Plus in good condition, unlocked: $349
- 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7 in good condition, unlocked: $200
- 32GB Google Pixel in good condition, unlocked: $180
The decision of whether to buy an iPhone or Android phone isn’t as simple as tallying up the winners above and choosing the phone that won more categories (but for those counting, it’s 8-6 for the iPhone, plus 5 ties).
Different categories count for different amounts to different people. Some people will value hardware choice more, while others will care more about battery life or mobile gaming.
Both platforms offer are good choices for different people. You’ll need to decide what factors are most important to you and then choose the phone that best meets your needs.