Apple v. Samsung - Size Matters

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Yet another patent trial pitting Apple against Samsung, the biggest maker of Google’s Android phones, has come and gone. And the two leading smartphone makers are, as always, battling it out in advertising.

But the truth is that each of the top mobile operating systems — Android and Apple’s iOS — has some obvious features that the other is missing. And it would benefit consumers if each adopted its own version of these. For all you lawyers out there: I am not advocating patent violations. I frankly don’t know which, if any, of these features are patented, or otherwise unable to be emulated. But I do know that Apple and Google have each aped some of the others’ features in the past, apparently legally.

There are numerous differences between the two platforms, and, on the Android side, these differences are multiplied by the many variations of Google’s interface that handset makers create. I certainly don’t think that iOS and Android should be identical. I believe in competition.

However, there are a handful of key, core items that stand out as especially useful on one platform or the other. I picked these based on my use of Apple’s iOS 7.1.1 running on an iPhone 5s, and Google’s Android 4.4.2 running on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and a Google Nexus 5. I focused only on the built-in software, not hardware or third-party apps.

These are some things Apple and Google could learn from each other.

Email: Android typically comes with two email apps, one of which is strictly reserved for Google’s Gmail. If you have personal or work accounts that aren’t Gmail accounts, you have to use the second email app, which is usually somewhat stripped-down. This is ridiculous, in my view. The iPhone manages to handle Gmail and numerous other types of email accounts in just one solid email app, and includes a unified inbox for all of them.

On the other hand, Android’s main email app, the one for Gmail, allows you to attach any file to an email as you are composing it. The iOS Mail app only allows you to attach photos and videos while composing a message. To attach other file types, you have to compose the email by starting in an app that creates, edits or displays those kinds of files. That’s also ridiculous.

Screens: In both systems, the screens are mainly filled with icons that launch apps. But Android offers more creative options. For instance, you can add a variety of “widgets” that give you a peek at content — news, weather, media, your calendar and more — without launching apps. On iOS, there are no widgets. Another plus for Android: You can pin, right to the home screens, any contact in your address book for quick texting or dialing.

Quick Settings: Because wading through smartphone settings can be tedious, both platforms include a quick-settings feature — with a subset of common settings, like turning on airplane mode or adjusting brightness — that you access by simply swiping from the top or bottom of the screen. Android had this feature first, but I prefer Apple’s version, called the Control Center. It’s cleaner, more logically organized, and it isn’t commingled with notifications, as on many Android phones. It even includes quick access to other frequently used items, like music playback controls, a flashlight feature and the calculator.

iOS 7 Control Center

iOS 7 Control Center

Android Gmail Attach File

Android Gmail Attach File

By contrast, on the latest Samsung, the “quick” settings are so long you either have to swipe through a row of icons wider than the screen, or select an even more extensive list with 20 settings that includes marginal items. However, Android gets points for including an icon in its quick settings that takes you right to the full settings app. Apple doesn’t.

Privacy control: On iOS, there’s a special settings section for controlling privacy. It allows you to decide which apps can use your location, contacts, calendar, photos, microphone and more — all in one place. Some of these options are available on Android, but I couldn’t find any similar, detailed, unified privacy-control panel on the latest Samsung, Nexus or HTC models.

Android Widgets

Android Widgets

iOS Privacy Settings

iOS Privacy Settings

Customization: Apple doesn’t allow iPhone users to customize common features like the lock screen (beyond choosing a photo or design) and keyboard. You can’t even see the temperature by glancing at the iPhone’s lock screen, and if you don’t like Apple’s keyboard or auto-correct function, you’re out of luck.

By contrast, many Android phones do allow customization. For instance, on the latest Samsung Galaxy, you can choose among four different keyboards, and show not just the time and date on the lock screen, but also the weather, and even readings from the built-in pedometer.

Tablet apps: Apple boasts around half a million apps optimized for the iPad in its App Store. These apps make use of the larger tablet screen to add additional panels or other user interface features that aren’t available in iPhone versions. When you download an app, Apple’s App Store gives you the appropriate version for the device you’re using. On Android, there are some tablet-optimized apps (Google doesn’t say how many), but far fewer. In most cases, Android tablet users are stuck with stretched-out versions of phone apps. On iOS, stretched-out phone apps are a last resort, in cases where the developer hasn’t added a tablet version.

There are many more features that some users will see as pluses or minuses for each operating system, but I consider these to be things you’d expect from any mobile operating system. You may disagree.

But even the fiercest of competitors can learn from each other, and when they do, consumers are the better for it.




4 comments
peanutbuttershoes
peanutbuttershoes

I don't think Android is being properly represented in this article.


Don't like your quick settings? Use another one from the Play Store.

Want only one email app? Disable the ones you don't use.

Worried about permissions? Don't install apps you don't trust, this is the way an open OS works. The way Android currently handles permissions for applications makes toggling incredibly hard to implement. But that doesn't mean that won't be added in the future. Read more about that here: http://www.cnet.com/news/why-android-wont-be-getting-app-ops-anytime-soon/ 
In the meantime, don't give info you're not comfortable giving. If you log in with Facebook in an app vs. simply using an email login you're going to be exposing a lot more information to the application. Location tracking in an app usually requires GPS, which can be turned off in settings, limiting that aspect of an application. Etc, etc. Install Clueful or something to keep an eye on what app's using what information when. Be a diligent security-aware person if you're a diligent security-aware person or don't complain about things that you don't really care enough to do anything about.


4 keyboards on Android? You could install 50 keyboards on Android if you were crazy enough to do that.


I admittedly don't have an Android tablet but I know the tablet ecosystem is getting stronger all the time. Apps being designed/redesigned to be awesome on either tablets or phones. I've been looking into buying a Nexus 7 tablet and have double checked that all my current apps have a tablet version, at least the one's I'd want to use on a tablet anyway, and every single one does. <shrug> So no complaints from me on that front.


Android is a very workable OS. If you want something that just works the way you want it when you turn it on for the first time you're not going to find it, not with Android, not with iOS.


We might eventually see a OS that adapts itself in really noticeable ways as you use it to increase your productivity/usability right out of the box. (This hypothetical OS will probably have a million security issues but that's beside the point) For now, you just have to put in a little effort. As someone that enjoys tinkering, I have absolutely no problem with that.

EvilMonkey2
EvilMonkey2

The Android Email app handles Gmail just fine (just like the iOS app) and gives you the unified inbox (just like the iOS app).  Not sure what the author means by "stripped down" as the email app seems to be fine for me. Pretty generic comment with no supporting argument.  Also no mention of how crappy multiple attachments are on iOS.


It's just the Gmail app has more Gmail-specific features, such as labels and other things.


It's no different than using the email app on iOS and also using the dedicated Gmail app if you need all the Gmail advanced features.  It's just that Android has both apps pre-installed, but you certainly don't have to use both.  I only use the Email app, but have all my accounts in it (5 Gmail accounts, Exchange, Outlook.com, Yahoo, etc).


And the author really should have explained more on how Android apps work on tablets. They are not "Stretched out" but scale.  It's not the same as viewing an iPhone app on an iPad where it looks like crap.  It just scales appropriately.

David Grossman
David Grossman

 An additional comment on keyboards - Android shows upper and lower case letters on the keyboard, while the iOS keyboard is all upper case.  IMO the Android solution is more user friendly.

tomaevans
tomaevans

Interesting opinion Walt. I do fully agree with the backwardness of the Apple email client except video and photos. I do wonder however if this will change with iOS8 with Preview and TextEdit allowing for a unified app that deals with other media that can be attached via the email app.

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