What I Miss About Android: Thoughts From an iOS User

January 29 was a sad day for me. It was the day that my faithful Galaxy S II was branded with the cruel term “beyond economical repair”, meaning that it is cheaper to replace the entire phone rather than put the effort in and repair it. It had been playing up for a while and seeing that I was a committed Android user, I had of course tinkered and messed around with it – wiping off all that nasty TouchWiz interface and replacing it with CyanogenMod 7. This meant that Samsung wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole under their warranty, so my only option to get another phone was to claim off my existing insurance company.

They offered me the choice of taking a significant downgrade (i.e. to an entry-level Android phone, not exactly a beast like the S II) or pay a slight supplement and get an iPhone 4S. Well, anybody in my position would do the latter and seeing as I had been forking out about £10 a month for the luxury of mobile phone insurance, I decided to cut my losses and convert to the “dark side”.

Two months on, I find myself in a bit of a pickle. I really love iOS as a mobile operating system and there are some things about it that I’ve always preferred over Android (the lack of fragmentation and the polished interface, for example) but after using it for a while now there are some features from Android that I just wish it had.

1. Customisation

I think this is probably the last shred of the Android user in me: I still have a burning desire to tinker with my iPhone and customise it. With iOS, unless you go and jailbreak it (simultaneously kissing goodbye to your warranty), you’ve got the option of changing the wallpaper and ringtone and that’s about it. I loved how on Android you could customise virtually every part of the operating system to suit your liking exactly.

lockscreens3

The range of customisation options on Android is pretty much limitless.

The lack of customisation possibilities with iOS also diminishes your app experience. Look at Sparrow, for example, which was a Mac mail app that has recently found a new home on the iPhone. Its interface and overall features trump the default iOS email program in pretty much every department. But, seeing as Apple takes a dim view on any app developer that tries to undermine its default software, it disabled push notifications for new events, which does really spoil the whole user experience.

Sparrow

Sparrow is a great alternative iPhone mail client but it is choked by Apple's app rules

2. Easier App Refunds

I think almost everyone has been in this situation: an app has caught your fancy so you’ve downloaded and paid for it. But the app doesn’t quite suit your tastes (or wasn’t exactly what you were expecting) so you decide to uninstall it and get a refund. On the Google Play Store, you’ve got a 15 minute refund window (which is easily visible on the app’s Store page), but getting a refund from the iOS App Store is a long and lengthy process involving filling out forms and giving exact reasons on why you want your 99 cents back. Give me that “Refund” button any day.

3. Quick Settings

On my S II, I loved the fact that when you pulled down your notifications, you had the option to easily turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and so on. Even on other Android phones, you can download widgets to help you do this as well. On iOS, you have to go through the laborious process of exiting the app you’re in, going into Settings and changing them from there. Yes, it only takes an extra five seconds, but for convenience, Android trumps iOS here.

4. True Multitasking

iOS 4 brought what most phones had had for quite a long time – multitasking – and although Apple made a big deal about it, it’s still not up to par with Android’s. Whereas Google have built in true multitasking into Android, iOS simply pauses apps when you switch to another one. If I start loading a website in Safari on my iPhone and switch to, say, my messages, then when I go back to Safari the website still won’t have loaded.

multitasking-android

Despite the fact iOS has had multitasking for some time now, in my opinion it still doesn't match up to that on Android

Some iOS apps do support true multitasking, but thanks to Apple’s strict coding policy most apps can’t take advantage of it.

5. Android Notifications

iOS 5 brought along what most iPhone and iPad users had wanted from day one: a better notifications system. Although you could argue till the cows come home who stole what from whom, iOS notifications still aren’t anywhere near as good as Android’s.

lampshade

Android notifications on Ice Cream Sandwich

I love the fact that with Android you can see all your individual notifications along the top of the screen, instead of having to scroll through all your screens looking for that “?” symbol next to the app. Granted, iOS notifications now don’t disappear once they’ve popped up, but I still think Android excels in this department and the new, improved notifications system on Ice Cream Sandwich looks far more polished than the nasty, matte grey one on iOS.

6. Widgets

Widgets on an iPhone? Dream on. Steve Jobs didn’t like them and it doesn’t seem like Apple are going to introduce them any time soon. The only hint of widgets on an iPhone are on iOS 5, where you’ve got the ability to pin the current weather and your stocks in the notification centre.

iOS Widgets

This is pretty much what passes for "widgets" on iOS

Although I didn’t like having every single screen on my S II cluttered up with widgets from every app (which consequently had a massive effect on overall system performance), there were a few I used pretty regularly (such as Twitter) and ones that I wish my iPhone had.

7. More Free Apps

Apple’s pricing of the iPhone towards the higher end of the market has meant that developers have followed suit, pricing their apps much higher than they would be on Android. I hate to use a clichéd example, but take Angry Birds for instance. Their iPhone app retails at £0.69, with the iPad app retailing at £1.99 and no free version – you’ve either got to cough up the dough or go without. Android has far more choice of free apps; around 60% of the apps on Android are free compared to only around 29% for the iPhone.

Free apps

The percentage of free apps on Android far surpasses that on iOS.

Seeing as Apple tightly controls the app purchase process (unless you’ve jailbroken your iPhone you can’t download apps from any other sources) and it is a nice little money spinner (Apple makes around $6 million a day from consumers buying apps), the incentive is a lot less on iOS devices.

8. More International App Support

For the choice of apps, I think Apple’s App Store does excel over Google Play, but I hate the fact that if you want to view apps from different countries, you have to change the App Store to that country (which involves changing all your billing information to one that is valid in that country). I am currently based in Germany, but I want to see apps from my home country, the UK, without having to switch between the German and British iTunes stores every time. It’s a small issue, yes, but one that constantly bugs me.

Am I Happy?

Yes and no. I think that both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and you could spend all day arguing about which one is better. I love iOS for its stylishness and ease of use but then again I hate it because of the points mentioned above. If Apple would tear its mindset off this strict clamping-down of its devices (the benefits of which are, of course, debatable), then it would appeal to both worlds: both the developer who wants to play around with his phone and the average user who just wants a phone that works. I am satisfied with my iPhone but there will always be that small part of me hankering after those Android features. And that hankering is hard to lose.


  • Paul Wilks

    Great article. I have a question though, just to throw down a gauntlet :) When you next upgrade, which direction do you think you’ll go? iOS or Android?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

      Thanks for the positive comment :)

      I’ll probably stay with iOS as I use a Mac (and there’s hardly anything you can do with Androids and Macs – even all the rooting guides are for Windows computers), but if a decent upgrade comes along, then I might go back to Android. All depends!

      • Christophe

        Lol…
        I use a Mac, Galaxy Nexus, and my iPod Touch.

        The Galaxy Nexus sync really better with my Mac as I have no wire to plug, iCal, Adress Book, etc sync immediatly with gMail.

        Also, when I go to work, friends, or family, I can use my GNex on any linux, PC, Mac that makes it really easier to share…

        That’s a point of view from a MacOSx // Android user!

  • Lek

    You don’t miss the back button? One of the things which i think i will miss on android the most is the back button. It’s much more intuitive to hit the back button which is always there at the same spot.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

      Sometimes but I do get used to the home button.

    • Ken

      The back button is one of the things I love about the android phones. It always frustrates me when I go to the ipad and the ‘back’ button is some software button an app may or may not choose to include. I don’t even like how honeycomb on android tablets changed the back button.

  • disL

    Awesome article in deed! I switched from android to iOS. And even though the iPhone does keep me satisfied, these are the main functions I miss about android. I don’t exactly enjoy the tyranny of Apple with the mentality “We know better than the consumer”. But the phone is good (oh it it is gooood). The build quality is solid to a rock. And by that I mean it feels very solid in hand. Glass is vulnerable, but it still feels good in hand. I haven’t come across an android device that feels as good as the iPhone.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

      Thanks for the comments and I’ll grant you that – I do like the build quality of my 4S. Although I had a S II, which was incredibly light, I hated the back (it felt cheap and tacky). That’s one thing that other companies still can’t get right – Apple products are extremely well designed.

  • Shawn

    Aside from getting used to the interface and the archaic tight controls by Apple, I think the physical features I’ll miss the most is the home, menu and back button. I liked that the search button is there and can be used to launch other apps but I suppose could live without it.

    But there’s no way I’ll be changing to an iPhone. I’ve got my android just the way I like it and the iPhone mentality of ‘just living with it’ or ‘well I didn’t need that anyway’ is now how I as a free-willed man should act.

  • Aaron

    Excellent article. It’s nice to read comparisons like this without having to deal with the usual fanboy hand wringing and ignorant screetching.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

      Thanks for the feedback and that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid!

  • Dioshy

    I do have an Android phone, but I am an iPad user… I can’t think of how people can manage iOS on a small device like an iPhone. My motto is: Android is for phones, iOS is for tablets. There are hundreds (thousands) of times that I see myself looking for the MENU or the BACK button on the iPad because I feel like that I need more things to do or the ability to just go back to my previous activity/screen; but IT’S NOT THERE! Well, so I calm down and think that on a big display I can tolerate not having those major Android goodies. I think that I will never get a phone running iOS because of this lack of power.

  • David

    I have Android because I wanted a real keyboard. If Apple made a phone with one when I switched to Android I probably would have gone with them. I like Android enough that I got an Android tablet. How has fragmentation been an issue for you?

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescull James Cull

      I hate the fact that when Google releases a new (or updated) version of Android, it is up to the individual device manufacturers (and sometimes networks) to release it to the consumers. I had a Motorola Xoom a while back which ran Android 3.0, which was, in a word, crap. It was rushed and full of bugs. So Google released Android 3.1 – which supposidly ironed out all the creases. It took 3 months for the update to be approved by Motorola US then a further 3 months for Motorola UK to approve it – meanwhile I was stuck with an old version of Android. Same with my S II. It didn’t start getting ICS till a month back.

      I can understand why Android is so fragmented due to the wide range of devices it’s on but I really like the fact that when Apple releases a software update, all devices (no matter what network) get it, apart from the devices that are unsupported…

      • David

        My experience is different. When I bought my phone it came with 2.2. 2.3 was released by Google, but I didn’t get it on my phone until about 6 months later. I had no problems with 2.2 and didn’t see many improvements in 2.3. My tablet came with 3.1 on it. After about 30 minutes of use my tablet notified me of an update. I installed it and had ICS. I can’t say one is better than the other because I used 3.1 so little. I think it is unrealistic to expect instant updates on Android like Apple does. There are more variables in the software ( Google, manufacturers, carriers ) for Android than there is for Apple. There are trade offs between the to os’s. Apple pushes updates to everyone at the same time. Android has more choices in hardware. For me the choice of hardware was more important than updates.

  • http://www.tazao.ie/oc Office Guy

    I’m never switching to iOS! Thanks for the article.
    What made me want to comment was the stock ticker widget. I really don’t get the fascination with stock tickers and why they always seem to be the first thing to appear in a new OS! Am I the only who doesn’t have my millions invested in stocks and who doesn’t care to follow how well AAPL, GOOG and MSFT are doing with my money? LOL someone explain!

  • Chris

    Great post! I recently got an iPhone 4 as a work phone. I’ve had the Galaxy Nexus since December and I’ll echo all of your thoughts above. A few other thoughts:

    >>Pro iPhone 4/iOS
    + Better battery life (chalk a lot of that up to the lack of an LTE radio)
    + Most “big name” apps are (or appear to be) designed for iOS first – if they even come to Android at all. Android fragmentation FTL.
    + Almost as good a camera as my GNex (which is really, very sad considering the 18 month release data gap)

    >>Anti iOS
    - Why in God’s name can’t I get rid of Newsstand (or at least put it in a folder post-5.1)!?
    - No app drawer – which means every app on my phone has to be on a home screen (or in a folder).
    - Forced auto-arrange of home screen icons.
    - Password required for EVERY app download from phone.
    - No internet market – have to use iTunes.

    All of that aside, I really like iOS and I can see why it appeals to a large number of users. However, the fact that this level of customization (http://goo.gl/Yqt8i) is possible – and basically free – on Android tips the scales for me.

  • Dan

    So untrue about Quick Settings! You just don’t need to turn off WiFi and GPS. If you don’t use them, they would not take your battery life! just forget about that mahogany like turning off things to make your phone live longer…
    About free Apps… i’ve seen a lot of android “free” apps, let be realistic, They are awful comparing to iOS free apps…

    • Jeff

      Turning off services running in the background without a doubt improves battery life. I have both an Android device and an iOS device and run free apps exclusively. The iOS apps may be more constant aesthetically, but from my experience, the stability of the apps are about the same, maybe even an edge to the Android apps.

  • Pete

    Interesting, and fair, read. I have a question/observation though.

    You say you like the consistency of the UI in iOS but don’t like the constraints put upon you by things being locked down.

    Would you not agree that it’s the very fact that things are controlled and restricted by Apple that leads to the consistent, and very good, UI? There’s a trade off between the ability to mangle every bit of your device and consistency of experience. If Apple had stuck an awful UI on the iPhone and locked it down it would be a problem and I doubt the iPhone would be half as successful as it is.

    Also you say you miss the customisation of an Android device. Yes, it’s true you can do more but you could do the same or similar by jailbreaking your phone. I understand you don’t want to do this (neither do I) as it would invalidate warranty etc but you were happy to wipe, and replace the default interface on your original phone – invalidating the warranty. What’s the difference here?

    • jaamgans

      You don’t have to root/jailbrake your android phone to do 95% of the customisation he was referring to.

      My phone uses a different launcher, lockscreen and numerous other bits and pieces without being rooted. In fact it often gets mistaken for the galaxy nexus running ICS, even though its an HTC running gingerbread, and that is purely due to non-rooted customisation. And that is the difference between Android and iOS.

      My home screen has my to do list and my agenda calender on the front screen. I could have this on my lock screen if I wanted, however I just have weather across the top, with battery percentage and date in the middle. But I could have latest e-mails/twiter etc what ever I wanted. And that is without rooting my phone. Would be great if I could set up an iPhone so that it worked for me rather than the other way.

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  • AJ

    Pete; no – ANdroid customisation is leaps and bounds ahead of iOS.

    The only thing Android needs to do, is exactly what ehy’re doing now – which is heading to a more streamlined interface (ICS) but still keeping it open to manufacturers and the community (XDA, rootzwiki) to do what consumers want; where manufacturers aren’t willing to do.

    iOS is great if you’re not really into tech. I know many techies use it, but most of their justification is flat, and falls into the category of “i need to have this to be cool”. Rather than actual reasoned argumetns for its perceived technical ability.
    Don’t get me wrong, they’re great toys.

  • http://wyattlecadre.wordpress.com Wyatt

    AJ; Your statement about iOS users is just as unjustified so don’t throwing stones. I am geek at heart and rather enjoy iOS (iPhone 4S and iPad 3rd gen) and none of the people I hang with or ever met need it to be cool.

    Both OS have their strengths and weaknesses and while personally prefer iOS I only recommend phones that match the individual regardless of what OS it’s running.

    The thing about free apps is that they’re hard to do because not enough money can always be made from them. Angry Birds might be and exception but it’s still a bigger hit on iOS and Android at the 99¢ price tag than the free version. Most people can only put up with ads but for so long.

  • Andrea

    A great write up, and quite pleasantly impartial to both devices. However, one point confounds me.

    You willingly “tinkered and messed around with” your Android device, thereby resulting in “Samsung wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole under their warranty”. Then you went on to talk about things you missed from Android that you presumably wish were present on the iPhone, of which “1. Customisation, 3. Quick Settings, 4. True Multitasking and 6. Widgets” can be made present on your iPhone via jailbreaking (in other words “tinkering and messing around with”), but you’re reluctant to tinker and mess around with your iPhone because you would be “kissing goodbye to your warranty”.

    You kissed goodbye to your Samsung warranty, why not your Apple warranty? You should only need to make use of your warranty when your iPhone is screwed, in which case it wouldn’t matter if you restored your phone to factory settings and thereby restoring your warranty if you were jailbroken.

    I’m not supporting one platform over the other, I’m just addressing the contradictory nature of your willingness and reluctance when it comes to different devices. If in reverse you started off with a jailbroken iPhone and had to switch to an Android which you were unwilling to tinker with, I’ll find that very contradictory as well. Although, of course, there is much less reason to tinker with an Android since many features are already present on stock Android.

    • DJ

      Andrea, I have jailbroken my iPhone. I also have an Android (Galaxy Nexus). I know what I am talking about on both platforms. The first thing to point out is that even if he wanted to jailbreak his iPhone, he might not be able to, depending on whether he’s upgraded to iOS 5.1 (or if his phone is new enough to have come with 5.1), because there is currently no public jailbreak for iOS 5.1 on iPhone 4S. It’s not like on Android phones where, at least with some phones like the Galaxy Nexus, you can always root the phone no matter what.

      In addition, even if you jailbreak your iPhone, I think it’s safe to say that there are no tweaks possible that can make the iPhone match Android in either of the four areas you cited. The best the iPhone can do is come closer. iOS does not support home screen widgets at all, even if you jailbreak. (The only widgets available are for the notification screen.) True multitasking on jailbroken iPhones is possible via Backgrounder, but if you’ve ever used this heavily with a wide variety of apps you’ll know right away that it’s nowhere near as robust, stable, or simple as Android’s built-in multitasking, which just works all the time everywhere no matter what. Quick settings in a jailbroken iPhone are, again, only available on a separate settings pane which needs to be swiped open, and cannot be placed directly on the home screen like in Android. These are direct, functional, and factual comparisons of the two platforms with no bias or partisanship involved. So I think your accusation is a little unfair. Jailbreaking would not fully solve any of the problems that he listed.

  • chris s.

    Dont forget 1 of the BIGGEST issues with iphone…
    If you have an app, and you need to update it… you can ONLY update it when you have funds available on the card in your itunes account.
    Even if you PAID for the app, the ONLY way to update is to have money on your card!
    What a joke!!! I had purchased the MLB @Bat 12 app, then there was an update… i couldnt use the app for a whole week because i didnt get paid until the next week….
    Complete lollipops Apple!!
    Way to punish the user!!!
    This is why ANDROID is FAR MORE SUPERIOR THAT APPLE!

    • Turtle

      simply not true. I can update apps even without any credit card or bank information. Every update is free so why shouldn’t it be denied to update?
      And its technically not possible as you describe it. To know that your have no funds would require Apple to ask your bank for your account balance. Aside from the enormous traffic and latency they would need your handwritten approval to do that.
      Maybe your account was disabled in case of attempted fraud or your disk space was simply full. But your explanation can’t be true because I downloaded and updated many times without any complications (again no card is deposited!).

  • Jason N

    Good article. One thing I would add, that I wonder if it bothers you too, is when you purchase an App on iOS it leaves the App store and goes to the screen where that app is getting installed. If you want to buy another app you have to go back into App Store manually. I like Android’s way of staying inside the store so I can continue shopping if I want.

  • Jeba

    and the File System ?
    Multitasking is a joke in IOS
    and the flash ?

    Honestly speaking I feel apps on androids to be more practical.. you can’t even run a 3rd party alarm in the background!! FFS.. are you kidding me Apple..

    and how Apple controls the market.. Why no Firefox for ios ?

    I feel so dumb using IOS.. Seriously!

  • http://www.ghuj.com Jeba

    and apps like tasker.. IOS users can only dream about..

    http://tasker.wikidot.com/profile-index

  • Artad

    Aaaand you forgot the usb support. I cannot do anything without itunes….brrrrrr.
    Nuff said.

  • Navneet
  • Marcus

    definitely iOS i agree, android phones are left in the mud when an update comes out. iPhones are better quality for the money too and last longer. i think you needed to highlight the sheer number of apps for iphone that simply not out for android. Plus the graphics quality of apps is SO much better for iOS. Even basic games like Fruit Ninja look awful on SII, android can dream on for Infinity blade! but that does allow apple to make some annoying restrictions. Overall, I see a brighter future for iOS than android.

    • Jeba

      Dumb users are dumb..
      Games like Infinity blade are there because 3rd party developers developed it for iOS.. Someday it will come to Android too lol.. iOS users were so proud of their instagram.. what happened ? lol..

      Android is Opensource unlike iOS where people at Apple Inc. are scared of allowing browsers like Firefox because it will surely replace their stupid Safari browser..

      From technical point of view iOS is a crippled OS.. accept it!!

      and why so many developers are there for iOS because high percentage of Apple product users are dumb when it comes to technical aspects..
      On an android phone you can pretty much do everything..
      1) Full multitasking
      2) Overclock your processor
      3) Full fledged file manager
      4) Flash support
      5) Apps like taskers, which are practically not possible on iOS.
      6) You can change every default app in android from looks to everything.. the most customizable thing you can do on iOS without jail breaking is change it’s wallpaper.. are you kidding me ?
      7) Full USB support

      but I do agree apps on iOS looks better.. iOS users are mostly designers so it’s pretty obvious.. but Android is getting there.. B-)

      • Pier Luigi

        Wow, you’re redefining the definition of “Fanboy”!!!

        “From technical point of view” fragmentation it’s a reality, and affects the user experience in all android devices…”accept it!!”

  • Matt

    This very much reminds me of many discussions I have read on whether a Mac is better than a Windows PC or Linux strain (or vice versa).

    In my personal opinion we are entering a new era of “personal computing” and thus are faced with new choices.

    Will there be a winner?

    No, why should there be. I am an experienced mobile device user and can gladly give my point of view to any willing to listen, but what it essentially boils down personal preference.

    I am happy about the fact that there is a choice, but in the same breath feel that if I choose one of another I will be loosing out, either now or in the future.

    The rate at which technology is developing, the same question will raise itself again a few years down the line. So my advice is to choose something that fits your requirements now and not to put hopes in receiving and update which give you what you need.

    • checkus

      I have a Android Phone (2.3 root), a iPad 2 (iOS 5.1 jailbreak), a laptop using Windows 8 and I still have a server under Debian squeeze.

      I will never have a iPhone for phone, in the same time I think that I will never have a tablet using Android and never have a computer using linux (I tried many times, but always the same frustration after some weeks)

      I use all my device for some specific stuff. iOS will never have the same power as android for phone (with some app like tasker for example), and I think that android will never be good on a tablet (windows 8 is coming too fast and is much better)

      I use google mail, and google drive. I can easily switch with my device. For my music I use subsonic with my debian server ( like your own google music ) ( there is some app for all platform ).

      I’m happy to have a lot of choice, and I use it all because they are all good in some specific need.

      “So my advice is to choose something that fits your requirements now and not to put hopes in receiving and update which give you what you need.” from Matt

      I really think the same, If i buy somethings I buy it for what i can do NOW.

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  • sam

    It amazes me to see yet another review on iPhone/Android that warns “jailbreaking will void your warranty.” It’s like a false obstacle. Any, ANY, jailbreaker will explain to you if you jailbreak and need to take it back to the apple store restore your phone to stock. Warranty no longer expired. Unbelievable. In my opinion (I use both Android and iOS) a jailbroken iphone is a much cleaner, smoother, device and is the best of both worlds.

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      Interesting… good to know, thanks!

  • Debian M

    A new iPhone convert (unhappy, though) here… late to the conversation. But I think it’s important to add that many of the criticisms often cited by critics of Android were true before ICS. But with Android 4.0 Google jumped ahead of Apple -even iOS6- in both features and UX. I remember my first use of ICS, thinking to myself “finally someone at Google put money and time into user experience design!”

    There’s no question that fragmentation, crappy hardware and un-needed manufacturer customizations still plague a large number of Android models. And in terms of hardware design and build quality, the iPhone is still the BEST you can buy. But if you pick the right Android model you’ll can get a phone with better features AND better UI and UX, with hardware that’s good enough to make the whole package better than an iPhone.

    With Google Now on Jellybean (Android 4.1) coming soon, the balance swings even further to Android’s side. If you haven’t seen or tried (via a custom ROM) Jellybean, take a look. It has that killer-app feel to it. I honestly think it will be turning point in the Apple vs Android competition.

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