Phone operating system showdown
The biggest concern most consumers have when they purchase a smartphone is the price to performance ratio of their device. After all, “good for the money” trumps raw performance and quality for all but the most enthusiastic buyers. Thus, when it comes to which operating system your smartphone runs on, luxury takes a backseat to more practical concerns, like versatility, ease of use and graphical quality. In this realm, it looks like Android, Google’s open source operating system, seems to have an advantage compared to Apple’s iOS, but the results are much closer than they may seem.
To begin with, the fundamental difference between Android and Apple is a matter of practicality. Do you interpret that word to mean how hard it is to use it, or just what it is capable of? On one end, Apple’s supremely well designed user interface, which leaves most of the technical complications entirely hidden from the user, is incredibly easy to use. Intuitive and compact while definitely being easy on the eyes with a soft white-gray color palette backing nondescript app icons, iOS is so incredibly easy to use that most users will have figured out all the regular functions of it within a week of usage.
However, with simplicity comes the cost of lost functionality. Apple’s operating system is nowhere near as versatile as Android, which boasts a wide variety of customizability options in the form of presets and additional options, including the ability to switch the theme of the phone (app icons, background, menus, fonts, etc.) These options, although harder to find for new users, are easy enough to use once a user gets the hang of the platform.
Android is no slouch in terms of visuals either. Giving users the power to customize their own phone’s preset, although arguably superficial, gives users the feeling of control and familiarity that a simple mass-produced layout simply cannot. To add on to Android’s visual flexibility, it boasts an incredibly wide variety of different applications, through both the official Google Play store and unofficial app distributors. Android application packages, or APK files, are a powerful way for users to access apps that might not be available on official storefronts. Some of these APK files are especially useful because they provide features that are not usually accessible on stock phone apps, like a Google camera app that allows for better autofocusing capabilities on most Android smartphones.
Other applications, like free and open source video game console emulators, allow users to utilize the increasingly powerful processing capabilities of their phones to the fullest, playing games from last generation handheld consoles with little to no problem while retaining the functionality and convenience of a modern day smartphone.
Of course, iOS phones are capable of running emulators too, and it can be argued that most stock apps are already good enough for most users, but just the ability to download apps without any restriction or regulation from a central authority like the App Store is incredibly powerful. Apple’s quality moderation, while understandable as a way to keep up the company image of a maker of sleek electronics with an emphasis on style and quality, also keeps many of the more unpolished but powerful applications out.
Speaking of power, Android phones seem to have the upper hand when it comes with raw computing power, with many manufacturers of Android phones offering incredibly powerful displays and processors for phones priced extremely competitively.
iOS phones, on the other hand, have long been known to offer hardware that would have been top quality a year ago at almost unreasonably high prices. However, the reason Apple is able to carve out a niche in a market where hardware power is emphasized more each year is through the virtue of having lower power hardware that uses less electricity, allowing them to slim down batteries while retaining a long battery life. The excessively high definition screens that are on most major Android phones will not be utilized that often by regular consumers, and Apple knows this. Their use of seemingly low quality screens and processors actually comes with the benefit of having a more long lasting phone for casual use, which lets it retain its place as a brand that sells electronics for everyday use.
To conclude, the age old debate of iOS or Android can be approximated to a simple question. Do you want a smartphone that is easy to use and moderately powerful, or a smartphone that is harder to use but offers much more power to experienced users? For those who choose the former, iOS smartphones are the way to go, with an incredibly smooth and intuitive user interface. And for those who choose the latter, Android phones, with their myriad of powerful tools, offer a great alternative.
By Jason Wu, Opinion editor
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons