iOS vs Android: Choosing between them has never been harder

Apple’s iOS 7 update has upset some traditionalists, but Damien McFerran thinks it makes picking a new phone harder than ever

Back in the old days when Apple was king and Android was the unruly upstart, it was relatively easy to decide which phone you wanted to purchase.

Desirability, attractive icons and loads of apps to download, but aren’t concerned with being locked down at all times? Choose Apple. Want deep customisation, freedom to tinker and robust multitasking, but don’t mind the odd catastrophic system crash or crippling lack of decent app support? Android’s the OS for you.

While some of those points still apply today, iOS and Android have never been more alike than they are right now. Apple has enhanced iOS to include multitasking, improved notifications and an all-new “colourful” appearance thanks to the iOS 7 update, while Google has made stock Android more visually appealing and stable, and developer support has grown.

The two rivals have now converged and the end result of this osmosis is that consumers have little to choose between them. Just comparing simple screenshots reveals how similar they are.

This in itself isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s good that both Apple and Google are able to appreciate what makes their respective software tick, and what elements of their rival’s output is ripe for replication. Google copied iOS way back in 2008, switching from the planned BlackBerry-style interface to a touch-screen, icon-based arrangement.

WWDC 2013 debrief:

In turn, Apple has lifted elements such as multitasking and pull-down notifications from Android, and has copied Google Now with the new “Today” feature, which outlines your schedule for the next 24 hours, as well as giving information on the weather, or the traffic on your journey to work.

The problem is that when you have two operating systems which essentially do the same thing the market suffers as a result. Companies which make software of this kind should be trying to offer something different - although Microsoft’s Windows Phone hasn’t succeeded in toppling either Apple or Google, you have to give it respect for at least trying to do its own thing.

BlackBerry appears to have taken the other route, and is now trying its hardest to replicate what iOS and Android are doing.

Predictably, someone has already created an iOS 7 skin for Android, but there really seems like little point in applying it when the two operating systems are almost indistinguishable. And that makes me feel a little sad. As someone who uses both on a regular basis, I kind of liked the fact that iOS and Android offer different experiences.

Now the two seem to blend into one, and the almost uncanny likeness only serves to accentuate each platform’s deficiencies - lack of control in iOS, lack of overall polish in Android. I hope that future updates will see the two erstwhile rivals diverge on different paths, because it would be a crying shame if they slavishly copied one another and ended up losing their uniqueness as a result.

What are your thoughts on this? If you’re a long-standing iOS supporter, do you dig the new look? Perhaps you’re an Android fan who has long taken issue with iOS’ skeuomorphic appearance, and you’re now wondering if it’s time to make the switch? Post a comment below to share your thoughts, and also let us know if you think we’re talking complete hogwash and that iOS and Android are still poles apart.


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