February 3, 2014
Usability practitioners know that there is no such thing as a system that is designed for everyone to use, and that is just fine. We don’t all need the same things. An experience should be targeted at a certain group of users and facilitate the common tasks they perform in a manner that enables them to succeed quickly.
This means that there is no such thing as an objectively superior operating system. But, in my life there is a clear winner: iOS.
This comes from personal experience. For two years, I carried an iPhone and an Android phone for personal and professional reasons. When the time came to renew my contract for the Android phone, I let it lapse – I was not using it. Here’s why:
Though I work in the technology industry, I am a typical user. I forget things. I make mistakes. I have a hard time figuring out what is going on. I appreciate devices that are easy to pick up and use. iOS can be learned and used quite quickly. I had a harder time finding information and successfully making phone calls, taking pictures, and composing email on my Android phone. I also live with a young daughter. Before she was two, she could make a phone call and get music to play on my iPhone unassisted. Even though my Android phone offered these same options, she was never able to complete those tasks using it.
For the technically savvy who like to tinker with their devices, the Android is perfect. For the rest of us, it is preferable to be able to turn on and start using phones. In minutes, I was able to start using my iPhone for fairly complex tasks. I, like many users, do not care to invest time in tailoring my experience.
This remains the key difference between systems that have become more similar. The refusal of the Apple design team to integrate more flexibility reflects a mindset that reminds me of how some restaurants work; there is no salt and pepper on the table as dishes should be enjoyed as executed by the chef. Imposing standardization based on a rigid system of guidelines has enabled Apple to maintain a high level of quality while keeping the interface simple and accessible to the majority of users.
These days, both operating systems provide equal access to content and apps. At the time I was using both devices, there were fewer apps for Android. Also, less content was available on my Android devices through apps as well as marketplaces.
I purchased both phones at the same time. I was able to use my iPhone for much longer periods of time before recharging than my Android phone. This was a problem because the whole point of a mobile device is to be able to use it anytime, anywhere.
I found a few smaller details that were problematic. The Android phone required more steps to access contact information, so whenever I made a phone call, I had to tap more times than when I used my iPhone.
I make typographical errors on the iPhone frequently. I use the hunt and peck system with a single finger because I can see what I’m tapping. I purchased the Android device because I heard that text messaging was easier because of the physical keyboards and because there is the backup of the onscreen keyboard. I made even more typographical errors on my Android device using the physical as well as touchscreen keyboards and the screen was overly sensitive – I pocket-dialed people more frequently. The keys on the physical keyboard were too small.
The camera was not great. When I printed 4x6 pictures from the Android phone, they didn’t look as good as the ones from my iPhone. The pictures looked great on the crisp screen; if I hadn’t gotten prints, I never would have known.
I prefer the iPhone because it targets people who need a device that is complex enough to function as a communications center, stereo, television, and camera without a lot of training or setup who can afford to (or have decided to be able to ) pay a premium. Those who want more flexibility or a cheaper device will be able to find something that works just fine – for them.
Lija Hogan is the Manager of Usability Services at ForeSee. She has over 10 years of experience in the design, maintenance, and evaluation of websites, mobile sites, and software across a number of industries including Financial Services, Retail, Health Care, Technology, Telecommunications, Government, B2B, as well as News and Information with a primary focus on optimizing the user experience. She has Master’s degree in Information Science from the University of Michigan and is currently teaching a Usability Methods course there.
Around three years ago, the answer to the now common-place question ‘what’s better, iPhone or Android?’ would have had a simple answer: the iPhone. The iPhone had the sleekest design, the most reliability, the loudest mainstream attention, and the widest selection of applications. Now, however, Google’s Android operating system is giving Apple’s iPhone a run for its money. While many love the iPhone and buy one for its ease-of-use, fantastic camera integration, and powerful applications, Android has become a welcome and equal alternative for many customers.
While the iPhone’s software (iOS) only runs on Apple-built phones, Google’s Android operating system is available on hundreds of different phones. While the iPhone is available in just a couple of varieties, Android phones come in all shapes and sizes. The screen sizes of Android phones have begun to largely eclipse the size of the iPhone’s screen, making tasks such as those related to both productivity and entertainment simpler to conduct. With its smaller screen, some may find the iPhone more difficult to use for replacing tasks that normally require full-fledged laptops.
Android is also much more accessible than the iPhone. In addition to being available on more hardware, Android is available from far more carriers than the iPhone and at lower price- points. While a high-end iPhone costs between $500 and $700 without a contract, many Android phones are available between $100-$300 without a contract, and they sometimes feature just as impressive camera lenses and battery life. The average college student is already tied up with enough expenses, so adding charges north of $500 (plus service bills) on a phone could be an unnecessary burden.
The iPhone, while able to be loaded up with over a million applications from the App Store, is known for its “closed” approval process by Apple. While Apple carefully (and sometimes slowly) reviews every piece of software before it could be loaded up on an iPhone, Google essentially has no regulation process. This means that Android users may be able to install the latest and greatest apps before iPhone users. Android applications can also integrate more deeply into the system and allow for more customization than the iPhone is capable of.
Compared to Apple, Google also develops its software at a more rapid pace. While Apple will add new features to the iPhone approximately every fall Google issues several Android updates each year. This means that the phone you once paid for will be able to gain neat new features for free with a simple software update.
While the iPhone connects quickly and integrates well with Apple’s other products (like iPads and Macs), Android works beyond smartphones and tablets. For example, there is an entire market of appliances from thermostats to cars to TVs to refrigerators that run on the Android operating system. This means that if you have an Android phone, you could be able to expand its functionality to work with other products in your room, kitchen, or parking garage.
While the benefits of accessibility, hardware options, and integration with other products are great reasons to choose an Android phone over an iPhone, the more important differentiators come down to internet-based services. With iTunes and the App Store, Apple became the leader in online services. But over the past couple of years, Google’s services have begun to pass Apple’s in terms of reliability and capability.
While the iPhone Siri functionality has a realistic voice and the iPhone’s mapping software has remarkable 3D views, Google’s services are well regarded as more reliable and useful. Google’s Siri-competitor, Google Now, is faster, more accurate in understanding voices, and more capable. For instance, if you show up at an airport for your flight, Google Now will know to bring up your boarding pass. While Apple Maps can be unreliable at times, Google Maps has over a decade of work at its foundation. Google Drive, Gmail, and other applications are also deeply embedded within Android, making that operating system ideal for anyone who relies on Google’s services (like all University of Michigan students) to get work done.
Both the iPhone and Android phones are great choices for anyone looking to use a new smartphone. You won’t go wrong with either. The iPhone is updated on a consistent schedule, has more premium hardware, and more capable camera software. However, with better pricing, more accessibility, bigger screens, and better native software, Android is inching ahead of the iPhone in the modern smartphone marketplace.
Mark is a sophomore at UofM pursuing technology- related elds. He is also an award-winning journalist who has been reporting technology-related news for over four years. Mark’s work has been cited or featured in The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg News, The New York Times and many other publications.