Let me start out by saying I don’t think there is a clear winner here and I don’t full stop recommend one over the other. So if you came here to confirm your bias one way or the other, I don’t think this is the blog post for you. Now, let’s start with my history with smartphones. I’ve used Android since version 2.1, I think. My first smartphone was the HTC Droid Incredible. That was such a great phone, I loved it for many reasons, but one of those reasons was because it ran Android. Back then Android definitely wasn’t mature (and neither was iOS to be fair) but even back then Android had some of the things that made me love Android. Mostly what it came down to was choice and customization. There were third party launchers, icon packs, widgets, and all that fun stuff that could make the phone really feel like it was yours, like something you could express yourself with. Also, there were custom ROMs. That’s where the fun really started and where you could greatly extend the life of your phone. I used to love to tinker with a lot of my tech and my phone was no different. This was something you just couldn’t do on iOS. This led me to getting into the Nexus line of phones. They provided the best “stock” experience to build on and the most support for custom ROMs.
But, as Android matured and so did I, and I found myself seeing less and less reasons to tinker. Android was getting better and better by default to the point that I really didn’t change much. Maybe a launcher, an icon pack, or something small, but I was past unlocking bootloaders and custom ROMs. I just didn’t find joy or value in it anymore and the reasons that drew me to the Nexus line began to change as well. Now, I was just more interested in the best “stock” software experience. When the Nexus line died, I took to Android One phones and then to the Pixel line of phones, just to keep that software experience. This is where I stayed for some time. (A few years) As Android has continued to mature, it became more and more tied to Google. This was something I wasn’t so happy with. As a privacy conscious person, I didn’t love that Google was getting more and more of my data. This led me to look elsewhere. Not that I trusted Apple, but more to the fact that I could spread out my digital life so no one company had everything.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve moved on from needing the customization that Android allows its users, but there is still one super valuable thing that Android has that iOS doesn’t really, choice. Android offers so much choice. If you don’t like a default app, you can change it. You can make the phone work the way you want. But more importantly, in my opinion, is hardware choice. There are thousands of different devices that run Android. These devices cover basically every market and, most importantly to me, every budget. I’ve never had a lot of money and have always had to work and save for the things I own. I just don’t have the budget for the latest flagship phones. With Android this has never been a problem because there is always a decent device at whatever my budget is. iOS is starting to make some progress in this area, on the software side, by now allowing you to change the default browser and mail apps. iOS has also made a strive on the hardware side with the iPhone SE. But, it’s still not as budget friendly as some Android Devices.
We’ve spent more time talking about my past phones than comparing my android to my iOS experience. However, this is where I start the comparisons. As far as the hardware goes I’m not going to say much and will only be comparing my Pixel 3 to the iPhone SE (2020) as it’s the closest in build quality, I paid roughly the same price for them, and they were my most current phones. Comparing these two phones, I am going to have to give the better build quality award to Apple. My iPhone SE feels amazingly well built. The fit and finish on it is just great. The Pixel 3 was a really nice feeling phone as well, but it was the high end Pixel phone and the SE is the low end iPhone. That said the Pixel 3 is an absolutely gorgeous phone with it’s mix of frosted and smooth glass back that makes it a more interesting phone. But for build quality alone, Apple is hard to beat.
The OS itself
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this whole thing. I’m going to start off with a little disclaimer here. I haven’t used in depth the totally gesture based navigation on either Android or iOS, so I don’t really have many thoughts on how they compare there. The short time I spent with Android’s gesture nav was not so good. the back gesture was a disaster competing with the established side drawer UI pattern. Also they didn’t work well on third-party launchers, so I disabled them pretty quickly in favor of the two button navigation. On the iOS side, I have the iPhone SE which still has the pseudo button, so I haven’t really used iOS’s gesture nav.
As for the rest of the OS, they feel similar in some ways and very different in others. The difference I probably noticed most is going back in apps. In android, with the two button nav, there is a dedicated back button that behaves pretty much exactly the same every time. However, in iOS you swipe from the left edge most the time, other times you swipe down, like to get out of an opened picture. Sometimes there’s a back button in the UI, and so far (only in Snapchat) you swipe from the right edge of the screen. Honestly, this has been the hardest thing to get used to and is kind of a confusing mess. The next difference I noticed is how notifications are handled. In android, all notification indicators/icons are up in the status/notification area at the top of the phone and stay there until given attention. They also show more detailed notification info in the notification shade. In iOS, they use notification dots on the app icons themselves, while also pushing more detailed notifications in the notification shade. The problem I see with how iOS handles this is that it’s easy to overlook a notification dot and there is nothing in the top bar to show you that you still have unread notifications in the shade. So, you basically have to periodically check the notification shade to see if you have anything. I don’t personally get enough notifications and even fewer time sensitive/important ones that I’ve noticed this being that big of a problem, but I could see an argument from someone who gets lots and lots of notifications.
So far it seems like I haven’t had much good to say about iOS, but here’s where that turns and why I’m not going straight back to Android. Consistency. Aside from the back nav thing, iOS feels super good and consistent. All the apps feel like they belong together and even most of the third-party apps feel more consistent with the OS. Everything is super snappy and fluid to use. On android, it seemed like lots of apps were competing. Some look like Samsung apps, some like Google apps, and some even look like iOS apps. This makes for a frustratingly inconsistent experience. Also it seems like companies put more thought and time into their iOS apps verses their Android counterparts. And really, that’s what makes a smartphone experience, the apps. Basically in the end, I was less concerned with which OS I was using and it all disappeared once I opened an app. In this regard they are both fine as long as you can use the apps you want on them, which I was able to do. I’m just a fan of how the apps feel more consistent on iOS.
Another disclaimer: I am not a privacy expert. I am, however, a privacy conscious person.
A big reason I left Android was that I felt Google was getting a little too much of my personal data. Let me be clear, I don’t trust Apple either. I feel like unless it’s open source and verifiable by a third-party, nothing and no one can be trusted. That said, I think I trust Apple a little more than Google. Google is an ad company. Their primary means of making money is with selling ads and collecting the data to make those ads effective. I think Google does a good job of hoarding that data for themselves, but I think they have more incentive to collect that data than Apple. Apple is a hardware and (more recently) a software company. Their primary means of making money is by selling hardware and software services. I just feel like they have less incentive to collect heaps and heaps of data. Also, just anecdotally, Apple feels less gross about the data they collect than Google. On Android I would frequently get notifications like “How was X restaurant? Leave a review.” from Google Maps when I was out with friends or things like that. That feels gross and really hammers home that our devices follows us everywhere. I have yet to get those kind of notifications on iOS. So if Apple is following me and gathering that data, they are at least more subtle about it.
I now have an Apple watch and my TVs use airplay. I don’t have a whole lot tied up in the Apple ecosystem, but so far the things I do have work so well together. This only gets better the more you get. When my wife switched to iPhone, it got better for me as well. Now we could share more things with each other, play games in iMessage, and in general be more connected. So, if all of your friends have an iPhone, you might have more fun getting one with them. As far as Google’s ecosystem goes, the story has gotten so much better for them in the last couple years with the Nest lineup. The Chromecast is an absolutely phenomenal device, RCS is a good, if not as secure, iMessage alternative, and, if you trust google, you can actually afford to put smart speakers in every room of the house. Google’s smart watch game is still pretty far behind, but it might get better in the future and you have much more choice of styles. I still feel like there’s less connectivity with other people in the google ecosystem, but the smart home game is strong.
As you can probably guess, seeing as how I spent the first half of the article talking about how I loved Android and the last half talking about how I love iOS, I don’t have a full stop recommendation on which one you should choose. I really think it depends. If you are someone who loves to tinker with your devices and loves customization then Android is probably for you. If you just don’t have the budget or don’t want to make the budget for Apple products, then Android is for you. There are no shortage of great low budget Android phones. If you don’t care about the phones at all and just want the best app experience then I would probably recommend iOS. If you want to get into an ecosystem, it’s hard to beat Apple’s. It all depends what you are looking for and what kind of person you are.