The never-ending dance between Android and Apple

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Samsung who? It’s Apple’s time. Bangyu Wang via Unsplash

Comparing the pros and cons brought forth by Apple and Android products

People seem to just love having debates. The only thing they love more than debates, are debates that they have reduced to exactly two options. Maybe it has something to do with the cognitive difficulty of comparing three or more things, or the fact that if you start allowing for nuance and finer distinctions, then the debate is a little more academic than visceral, and thus calls for more work. Whatever the reason, dichotomies seem to be all around us. We hear about Messi vs Ronaldo, DC vs Marvel, and the list goes on.

One such dichotomy that has been around over the last decade or so, is that of which smartphone operating system is superior. Put in more everyday terms, I refer to the Apple vs Android debate. As with most debates of this nature, the conversation tends to be extremely polarized. There are people who seriously doubt the intellect of anyone who buys an iPhone, and there are those who mourn the lack of refinement and taste of Android users.

Firstly, as a lifelong advocate against false dichotomies, I feel the need to point something out. While it makes some sense to cluster the entire range of iPhones offered in any given year under the same umbrella, this simply makes no sense when it comes to an Android phone. Every single iPhone, across the entire price range, is designed by Apple. They are manufactured under the supervision of Apple engineers, to run an operating system called the iOS, also designed by Apple. Contrast this with what we refer to as Android phones. This is at best an umbrella term that covers a wide range of physical devices, all of which run the Android Operating System designed by Google.

Other than the Pixel brand, Google does not make any of the other physical phones running their system. Anyone familiar with the challenges of designing software should immediately see the potential challenges here. When the team that builds the software is under the same company that builds the device to run it on, like they do at Apple, there is room for two-way communication at every phase of the process. The software team can tweak their product to work better with the screen size, while the device team can make design decisions based on how the exact software will look and run for the end user. This is an opportunity most Android device manufacturers do not get to the same extent. When designing their device, all they have for testing is the latest publicly released version of the operating system, and no guarantees how their product will do with the very next version.

Speaking of device manufacturers, this is a very wide spectrum for Android. There are of course the biggest names in that niche, like Samsung, LG, and Google themselves, as mentioned above. But most phones running Android are designed by smaller companies across the world. My first Android phone was manufactured by a company called Symphony, based out of China and in collaboration with Bangladesh. It costed me all of $180 CDN.

Surely one can see the futility of comparing that brand of Android with even the most basic iPhone. To be fair, when most people are making a comparison, they are thinking of Samsung, which is possibly the most premium brand of Android phones. But even then, the comparison is too simplistic and loses nuance. At the core of it, even the software design for these two competing products is based on widely divergent philosophies. Apple is trying to build the best product they can, subject to the constraint that one needs to be using their other products for other aspects of their life to get the most out of their offerings. Transferring files to and from your iPhone will work best if you also own a MacBook.

If you are using a PC, that experience will range anywhere between mildly infuriating to downright impossible to do without calling up your friend who is a Computer Science major. If you own an iPad and like to read on it before bed, you will also be able to pick up where you left off on your iPhone during a bus ride the next morning. If you are using a non-Apple reading app though, once again the world will seem like a much bleaker place. Not to mention that Android vendors, particularly Samsung, often pack in a lot of experimental features. Often this means their phones are less stable than the iPhone – but at the same time, wireless charging, fingerprint/face ID, and many other features came to Android phones a good two or three years before Apple catches on!

Then we come to the world of wearable technology, the two biggest ones being activity trackers and wireless earphones/headphones. Once again, Apple has a somewhat closed system. They design their own earphones and headphones, the Airpod and Airpod Pro Max. While these work with Android phones too, anecdotal evidence seems to be that using them with Apple devices is far more seamless and smooth. Even with the Beats headphones, Apple offers a much smoother experience than Android, possibly because Apple now owns Beats. On the other hand, I do have to concede that for most headphones/earphones, Android needs some vendor provided app to get the most out of the devices. However, this also means that regardless of which Android phone you have, the experience will be standard. In my many phone upgrades, this has often been a crucial factor. I want to be able to switch phones without worrying if all my other gadgets will work with them.

Which brings me to activity trackers, and my own phone choices over the last five years. In the activity tracker market, the two big names are Apple Watch and the company Fitbit, which offers a wide range of trackers with varying features and capabilities. For four out of the last five years, I have used iPhones. For the first one year, I owned a Fitbit. I needed the Fitbit app, but the transition from Android to iPhone was easy. Then my Fitbit broke, and I replaced it with an Apple Watch. Far superior product, but once again, it did cost nearly twice as much as the Fitbit!

Then when it was time for a phone upgrade, I realized with great dismay that unless I choose another iPhone, I would have to give up my Apple Watch. I bit the bullet and picked one. However, by the time I needed another upgrade, this “closed ecosystem” was bothering me; so, I moved back to Androids with a Samsung Note 20 Ultra, paired recently with a Fitbit Inspire 2. Having seen both sides of the issue, then, I am still unable to pick a favourite. I can say that for me, in 2022, Android makes the most sense. But I would be lying if I said I do not see why someone would ever get an iPhone…

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