How to Choose Between Android and the iPhone

When considering a choice between one mobile platform and another, there are a lot more factors to consider than your carrier will mention. Sure, they’ll tell you one platform is taking off and the other isn’t. They’ll try to lure you in with processor speeds and storage capacity and even bring you the latest batch of gibberish about screen size. These are important factors, but sometimes it’s what isn’t said that makes a difference.

When reading the points below, I’m sure more than a few Windows phone users will want to point out where that platform is better or worse. Fact is, I haven’t had the opportunity to try one of the new Windows mobile devices yet, so I’m sticking to what I know.

Do you like the OS as it is, or will you expect regular updates?
When the Samsung Galaxy S series came out, customers flocked to what appeared to be the most powerful and robust device on the Android platform, myself included. I purchased the Samsung Captivate which featured a 1ghz processor and a giant screen running on Android OS 2.1. At the time, Samsung and AT&T had both mentioned the phone would quickly be updated with the current version 2.2 OS as soon as it was ready. It’s been almost a year now and this update never came. Problems that linger from 2.1 are still an issue on this phone and I’m pretty much stuck with it for 2 years.

The iPhone, on the other hand, has updates immediately available to everyone across the board as long as they have a phone within the past few generations. In the realm of keeping the software up to date, the iPhone pulls out ahead.

Do you expect apps to run consistently no matter what hardware you purchased?
One thing about the Android platform that stunned me when I actually purchased one of these phones is how hard the software is to make compatible across different devices. In my day-to-day job, I occasionally have to conduct interviews where an audio recording can come in handy. Having purchased “the most powerful” Android device of its time, I expected just about any voice recorder app to work just fine. I purchased five of them, and not one of them was compatible with the Samsung Captivate. They work great on the EVO and Nexus One but apparently they don’t run so well on others. Not having the ability to upgrade my OS also causes severe problems when it comes to purchasing apps.

The iPhone has a particular set of hardware developers are able to work with so their code is expected to work across the board on their phones. One drawback, however, is that some of the more complex programs that take advantage of the 3Gs and the iPhone 4’s more powerful processor can choke on the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. Thankfully, you can see this issue clearly on the app’s summary page that lets you know which devices are compatible.

Do you want to completely customize your UI?
Probably the best feature on the Android platform for me was the ability to use widgets on your main screens. A Google search bar, Pandora player, Facebook summary, and Twitter all run side-by-side with shortcuts on the GUI. Within an hour of owning an Android phone I was easily over my loss of the iPhone based on this feature alone. For me, the user experience is about seeing data quickly and easily without having to search for and launch programs.

The iPhone has come with a lingering promise to make this possible down the line, and they’ve made a start with the media player controls on iOS 4 being  accessible with a double-tap of the home key and a swipe. Rumor has it that iOS 5 will step up the multitasking a bit and allow for widgets, but I wouldn’t base a purchasing decision on a rumor.

Do you run Windows, OSX, or Linux?
This question is never asked by the carrier rep when they’re attempting to pair you with a new phone. It’s a very legitimate question considering some phones don’t sync well with some operating systems. When I got my Android 2.1 phone home I was a little shocked to discover that it didn’t Sync with Mac OSX out of the box like it did with my Windows machine. There is a workaround that makes this possible, though in the world of user experience, having to do a workaround to make a mobile device sync with a desktop isn’t good.

The same applies to Linux users, though they tend to be a heartier crowd that gets a case of the giddies when faced with a compatibility obstacle. Sorry Linux lovers out there but I run Fedora 14 on my work laptop and nothing makes my IT guy happier than being able to show off his skills by debugging the kernel when the video card stops functioning.

The iPhone syncs where iTunes is present. Linux users have found workarounds and jail breaking tends to make life easier for them. While iTunes isn’t everyone’s favorite program, I’ve found it to be a lot more pleasant and easy to use then Samsung Keis, which only runs on Windows.

No matter what platform you choose for your mobile experience, it’s important to look at a lot more than just the screen size or processor clock speed. You need to make sure that your phone fits your expectations. For some, Android is a brilliant platform that gives users more choice. To others, the iPhone represents a solid user experience that is consistent across the board. Which platform works best for you?

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