Smartphones

An Android phone or iPhone? A hard choice to make

You can’t put software on it except software from the iTunes store. You can’t develop iOS applications on iOS… you can develop Android applications on Android, or pretty much another other development environment.

To start with, the selection of phones. I wanted a smartphone with a replaceable battery, high quality audio, an SD card for carrying around music, and a design robust enough to not need a case. 

Apple doesn’t offer any of those options on any of their phones. LG does, or at least did in 2015 when I bought the V10, as shown here.

  • Many, Many Options of Android

You may have different requirements in a phone. And you still probably get a much, much closer match with an Android option than the 2 or, this year only, 3 iPhone models Apple introduces. Android phones have been technologically ahead of Apple for some years now (yes, Apple pretty much always has a faster CPU… they’re good at CPUs, behind on most other things): better screens, better cameras, better radios+antennas, more options, etc. This year, lots of smartphone companies have gone to make their phones “all-glass”, meaning glass covering both front and back. If you’re buying from Apple, that’s what you’re getting, iPhones 8 and X are all-glass. On Android, I can choose several very nice all-glass phones (LG V30, Samsung S8 or Note8), or some excellent devices that are not all glass… some even made from strong materials (the Essential Phone, for example, titanium and ceramic in addition to the normal Gorilla Glass screen). Maybe you want a real pen interface, like Samsung’s Note… that’s based on real Wacom tablet technology, not a hack most other phone/tablet pens. Maybe you only want to spend $100 or $200 on a new phone — also possible with Android. You have many, many options.

  • Software, Closed or Open

Next, it’s the operating system. Apple OS’s seem logical, I suppose, if you’ve grown up on them and don’t use anything else. Or maybe if you’re just not technically oriented. But they drive me insane… they’re just so wrong in so many ways. So that was a killer even without the hardware discussion.
And then there’s the openness. Apple seems to believe they own your device. You can’t put software on it except software from the iTunes store. You can’t develop iOS applications on iOS… you can develop Android applications on Android, or pretty much another other development environment. If you want it, you can download the whole basic Android OS and rebuild it your way. I kept one Android phone alive and happy for an extra year after support was dropped (ironically, it was a Google phone) by using community builds of Android for my phone.

  • That Whole Updating Thing

It is true that Apple generally (but not always) supports a device for at least three years from the date of availability… which could be much less for you, depending on when you buy it. But they have to, and that’s actually the problem. When there’s a new version of iOS, it largely breaks compatibility with the previous version. “But,” you say, “you get a free update of the new OS”. Correct… until you don’t. When they cut you phone off, you’re cut off. New apps and new versions of old apps get compiled for the new OS, and before long, you can’t get anything new for your exisiting device. This is how Apple keeps older devices from lingering the market too long and taking sales away from new devices.

It’s entirely different on Android. Yes, it’s up to each hardware provider to decide if they’re supporting a new phone with the latest OS or not. But Google has cleverly made that mostly a non-issue. Sure, it’s fun to have the latest and greatest software, until it drags your phone down. But applications are largely compatible going way, way back. New applications don’t immediately lock out old version of the OS. Many application services are provided by the Google Play Services library, and Google ports new versions of that library back to older versions of Android. Applications also request the Android level they actually need, and that can be optional. It may not make any sense, but it’s technically possible to release a new application today that runs on Android 1.x.

People think Apple has better compatibility simply because they don’t understand the differences between operating systems and applications and how iOS and Android support each. Apple looks better to the novice, but in practice, Android works much better in long-term support.
No Other Real Choices

Android is currently the most popular operating system on the planet, year by year. There are about 350 million copies of Windows, 200 million iOS devices, and 1.5 billion Android devices shipped in any given year. For mobile, Windows is practically non-existent. That makes any real choice in a mobile device between Android and iOS. Why? Major applications largely only exist for these two operating systems. Sure, Microsoft paid some developers to port to Windows Phone, but they only did the port because of that payment, and that actually discouraged other developers who weren’t getting paid.

But also, it’s the millions of tiny, useful apps that exist for mobile devices are only developed for Android and iOS. If I go to an Engineering conference, there’s a conference app… but only for Android and iOS. Every year I go to the Firefly Music Festival, same deal, only for Android and iOS. And I like Android, the way it works, the logic, the capabilities, etc. and I can’t stand iOS. So for me, the choice was pretty easy.

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