The smartphone market is an odd one: Android sells more phones, but Apple makes most of the money. The ongoing rivalry is good for fans of both platforms, but which one is better? We put them to the test in our iPhone vs Android comparison.
iPhone vs Android comparison: hardware
The iPhone has been around since 2007, but Apple’s iOS operating system doesn’t support the iPhone 4 or its predecessors: iOS only runs on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. That isn’t likely to change with the release of iOS 9 this fall.
Where Apple effectively offers five different iPhones, Android phones suffer from no such limitations: the latest version of Android, Lollipop, ships on smartphones from Samsung, Sony, HTC, LG, Motorola, Acer, ZTE, Huawei, OnePlus… you get the idea. What that means in practice is that you’re much more likely to find an Android device that fits your particular needs, because the choice is much greater.
iPhone vs Android comparison: software
The current version of iOS, iOS 8, is about to be replaced with iOS 9, but it's more of a maintenance release than a massive update. The emphasis is on performance and battery improvements for the iPhone. In many respects it appears to be playing catch-up with Android.
There’s a new Google Now-esque feature called Proactive, and the same kind of battery optimization that Google introduced in Lollipop. The traffic isn’t one way - for example, the imminent Android M has visual voicemail, a feature that Apple introduced nearly a decade ago - but it does mean that Android and iOS are more similar than they’ve ever been.
The next Android, Android M, will also ship this fall. The biggest feature is Google Now on Tap, which extends Google Now into third-party apps, and there’s a massively improved permissions system to give you control over what data and features your apps can access. Under the hood there’s more optimization for power usage and a new feature, Doze, to improve standby time through the use of motion detectors - so your phone will know if you’re not using it and power down accordingly.
This, combined with the App Standby feature - which lowers apps' background activity when your phone's in standby mode - drastically improves battery life, according to early tests. There’s also USB-C support for much faster charging.
iPhone vs Android comparison: apps
On paper, Android is ahead of the iPhone when it comes to apps: as of May 2015 there were 1.5 million apps available for Android and 1.4 million for the iPhone. However, as Android owners are all too aware, that figure includes an awful lot of very poor quality apps, shameless rip-offs and the odd bit of malware too.
You’ll find the big-name apps on both platforms, but there are some notable differences. For example iOS is much better served for music apps, and developers of paid-for apps tend to develop for iOS first. That’s for the simple reason that iPhone users are more likely to pay for apps than Android users are.
iPhone vs Android comparison: mobile payments
Despite Google entering the mobile payment market first, Android is playing catch-up with Apple. Apple Pay, which is only available on the Apple Watch and the iPhone 5S/6/6 Plus, is getting far more attention than Google Wallet ever did. Time for a relaunch, then: Google Wallet will soon be rebranded as Android Pay.
Like its predecessor, Android Pay will use NFC to let customers make mobile payments initially in 700,000 locations around the US (we think it's no coincidence that Apple said Apple Pay was available in 700,000 locations back in March). We’ve got a detailed Android Pay vs Apple Pay comparison right here.
iPhone vs Android comparison: wearable computing and home automation
Apple has the Apple Watch, but Android has Android Wear - so as with phones, you have a choice of a few models of the same Apple product or an entire world of choice from Android firms. The Watch is probably nicer than many Android Wear devices, but it’s also a lot more expensive - and if we’re honest, neither platform has really become a must-have just yet.
Both the iPhone and Android are compatible with many other wearables, such as Pebble watches, fitness and health trackers and so on. They’re also increasingly connecting to home automation devices such as smart thermostats (Google bought Nest, the firm responsible for the best such device), security cameras and so on. In most cases you’ll find that such devices work with both platforms.
iPhone vs Android comparison: which is best?
We can’t answer that, because the answer depends entirely on what matters to you. Build quality? iPhone. Openness? Android. Ease of use? iPhone. Customization? Android. Apps? iPhone, mainly. Affordability? Android, mainly. You get the idea.
What’s interesting, though, is how similar the platforms are becoming. Android firms are doing a pretty good job of matching Apple’s design smarts, while Apple has clearly noticed how much people like Google Now. The platforms may be bitter rivals, but their battle is driving big improvements in both iPhones and Android devices - and that means everybody’s a winner.
What do you think? Are there areas where Apple is beaten soundly with an Android stick? Are there a few Apple tricks Google should nick? Let us know in the comments.