Considered as a whole, today's smartphones--whichever platform they run--are amazing devices. They've long outgrown the simple ability to place calls and send text messages. Professionals and consumers alike use smartphones to manage their daily lives; to keep in touch with colleagues, family, and friends; to explore the world around them; and to serve as entertainment devices.
While you'll find a half-dozen smartphone platforms operating in the market, there are two clear frontrunners: Google's Android and Apple's iOS. These two platforms have seen explosive growth at the expense of the old guard smartphone platforms: BlackBerry OS, Symbian, and Windows Mobile. Not only have Android and iOS taken the lead, but also, they continue to set the pace with significant updates and improvements each year.
That's why it is so exciting to see Google and Apple go head-to-head this month with major system revisions. Google announced Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on October 19, and Apple released iOS 5 on October 12. Let's look at what these two new platforms (the platforms themselves, not third parties) bring to the table in their latest iterations.
Ease of Use:
Android 4.0: Google took major steps towards unifying the look and feel of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. By introducing a new system font, adding the ability to create folders on the home screen, and giving the platform a new look, Android is as attractive as ever. But it still suffers from complexity. Android devices (we're talking stock, not skinned) have deep settings menus that aren't always intuitive to figure out.
[ Take a look at our comparison of the two hottest new Android 4.0 phones, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and Motorola's RAZR. ]
The trade-off, however, is a much greater degree of customization. Android devices have a sky's-the-limit appeal for tinkerers who have the time and skill to adjust their devices. Custom ROMs (think Cyanogen Mod) abound and can be used to take any Android device to the next level (though security often takes a hit). Android's appeal is far and wide in this respect and outclasses iOS 5.
iOS 5: iOS 5 grows more complicated with each revision, but is still the easier of the two when it comes to basic usability. Apple has not changed the general look and feel of iOS since it was first launched. This has pros and cons. The home screens are easy to navigate and adjust, but the settings menu grows deeper and deeper each year. Still, it is easier to make adjustments to the iOS system settings than on a typical Android device.
Here, the trade-off is that iOS 5 devices have a lesser degree of customization (OK, they have almost no customization). iOS 5 is the ultimate locked-down system. The only way to get under its skin, so to speak, is to jailbreak it. Once jailbroken, custom software can be added, but at significant risk.
Android 4.0: Android of course integrates natively with all of Google's services. That means it speaks fluent Gmail, Google Contacts, Calendar, Documents, Maps, Search, Google+, Google Voice, and the like. If you're invested in Google's services as a consumer--or Google Apps as a business--Android destroys iOS with respect to Google integration (as it should). Android also supports Exchange and POP3/IMAP4 email, and can import the contacts, calendar, and email info from those systems. Android's Gmail/email app far outclasses the iOS email application when it comes to supporting secondary features, such as folders, labels, archiving, and so on.
iOS 5: iOS 5 supports Exchange, Gmail, and most POP3/IMAP4 email systems. It, too, will integrate contacts, email, and calendar info via Exchange. If you're a Google services user, however, the integration requires work-arounds. For example, though I use Gmail, I have it set up as an Exchange account on my iOS devices in order to sync email, calendar, and contacts. The email program has inexplicably remained a weak link in iOS 5's armor. While it is serviceable, it doesn't offer the wide array of controls that are available via Android 4.0.
Android 4.0: Android leapfrogged iOS early on with respect to social skills. By using its own APIs and taking advantage of the APIs offered by Facebook and Twitter, it has built social networking into the platform itself. Facebook integration, in particular, is extremely strong with Android. By sprinkling features and functions of Facebook throughout the operating system, Android makes it a breeze to connect to and share with social networks. For example, the way Android integrates Facebook contacts into the native contacts application is brilliant.
iOS 5: iOS 5 continue to lack deep social skills. Apple did add some respectable and appreciated support for Twitter into iOS 5, but even that falls short. In iOS 5, it is possible to share pictures, web sites, and other content to Twitter without first launching the Twitter application, but that's about as far as it goes. For iOS 5 device users, third-party applications are necessary to complete the social networking picture. Facebook and Twitter for iOS are great applications, to be sure, but they offer a siloed approach to social networking and not one that's integrated into the platform to the same degree it is in Android.
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