Keep Android and iOS in Sync, Part 4: Limitations and Caveats

During the month of May, we’ve looked at various ways to keep Android and iOS in sync. We started with the essentials, by exploring ways to sync your emails, contacts and calendar. We then looked at media and various solutions to replicate your photos, videos and music across both platforms, and a selection of useful apps to sync daily content such as news, articles, tasks, notes, financials, passwords and documents, using third party cloud-based services.

However, even though the first three parts were great ways of keeping both devices in sync, using iOS and Android together has limitations. In this last part, we’ll look at the various elements that prevent proper sync between the two platforms, lead to frustration due to differences in user experience or problems resulting from the application stores respective to each platform.

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Applications

Given both Android’s and iOS’ notoriety, most major application are available on both platforms — at least today, it wasn’t the case when I started using Android! However, even when you get over the hurdle of availability and use an app that exists on both platforms, that doesn’t mean the applications will offer the same features or user experience.

Stores and App Availability

This won’t come as a surprise, but what’s most frustrating when switching from Android to iOS is the differences between the applications available on the various stores. Not all developers make applications for both platforms, and you can quickly be disappointed when you realize your favorite iOS app doesn’t exist on Android. In some other cases, you can find alternatives that work well, but won’t sync with the app you are used to, which is why you need to assess what platforms are supported before using an application if you plan to keep it sync’ed across your devices.

Paper by FiftyThree, one of the most popular iPad sketching apps, is nowhere to be found on the Play Store.

Paper by FiftyThree, one of the most popular iPad sketching apps, is nowhere to be found on the Play Store.

Another important element you need to consider is paid applications. Indeed, when you buy applications on Google Play, you can download them on all of the devices you have. However, if you purchase an app on an Android device, you will have to buy it again for your iOS device, as the two ecosystems use different distribution platforms.

Features

To illustrate the first case, we can look at Path (iOS, Android), which offers a relatively similar user experience on both platforms, but with slightly different features. Indeed, while the iOS version lets you upload videos, this feature is missing from Android. I’ve personally told them about their “omission” more than 6 months ago, but it appears this isn’t their priority… This is simply an example, and there are many apps that offer less features, either because the app has been around longer on iOS — it used to be the case for Facebook for a very long time, or because the feature is harder to implement. In any case, I am deliberately excluding system limitations, as these are independent from the developers.

User Experience

Skype: iOS on the left – Android on the right

Skype: iOS on the left – Android on the right

When it comes to the user experience, applications such as Skype (iOS, Android) and WhatsApp (iOS, Android) offer the same features on both platforms, but look very different. In some cases, developers prefer to respect the operating system’s look and feel and adapt their user experience to it, which is exactly what WhatsApp did. The result is great and I truly admire their move to provide an authentic experience on Android with a Holo look and feel, but the different interface may be confusing if you keep switching platforms.

WhatsApp: iOS on the left – Android on the right

WhatsApp: iOS on the left – Android on the right

In other instances, an app can look better on another OS because it’s been developed by a another team, at a different time or even by two distinct suppliers. A surprising example is Google’s very own GMail (iOS, Android) application, which has a very distinct look and feel on iOS and doesn’t resemble its Android counterpart. Because the app was developed by a separate team, at a different date and without the same guidelines, the two look very different.

GMail: iOS on the left – Android on the right

GMail: iOS on the left – Android on the right

Notifications

Besides applications looking or acting differently depending on the platform, they don’t notify you the same way. Apps in Android will always use the notification drop-down and can even be sync’ed with other Android devices to be cleared everywhere at once. On iOS, however, notifications are displayed in various methods and the same application won’t alert you the same way, depending on the platform.

This can be very confusing if you’re used to the Android way of being notified, as iOS is less visual with notifications after they appear — i.e. it won’t display an icon in the status bar. In addition to being displayed differently, notifications can’t be synchronized across platforms, so a dismissed notification on your iPad will still show on your Android phone and vice versa.

Apple and Google Services

Using platform-specific apps means you won’t be able to sync them with other devices, as they’re limited to specific devices. Apple devices are the ones with the most proprietary apps that can only work with other Apple products — iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac. For instance, iMessage and iCloud content can’t be sync’ed with Android as these are specific to Apple products.

Android also comes with a bunch of built-in apps, but Google’s approach being more permissive, the apps can be used on other platforms. For instance, most Android devices have built-in sync support for Google Picasa Albums and integrate them in the system’s photo gallery. Even though iOS doesn’t natively support it, there are apps to make Picasa content easily available on iOS, even though the service won’t be integrated with the system’s gallery.

Web Albums HD lets your view, manage and edit your Picasa and Google+ photos on the iPad.

Web Albums HD lets your view, manage and edit your Picasa and Google+ photos on the iPad.

Operating System-Related Issues

System Functions

Android and iOS recognize the user thanks to their Google account or Apple ID. They can therefore remember and sync settings, such as WiFi Passwords, wallpapers, homepage setup etc. However, because the two operating systems don’t use any common synchronization platform for this data, there is no way to replicate it across devices.

System Limitations

Lastly, a major annoying factor when trying to sync content from a platform to another is the restrictions the system has. The most relevant one is iOS’ policy when it comes to background tasks, which are extremely limited, therefore preventing any application from properly sync’ing content without being prompted by the user. Not only do these limitations prevent the end user form benefiting from a high level of automation, they can also force developers to build apps with missing features because an OS won’t allow or support them.

Conclusion

We’ve now told you everything these is to know about staying synchronized across iOS and Android. Thanks to this series of articles, you’ll be able to keep most of your content, data and email updated between different devices and platforms. You also know what you can’t sync, why some apps look different and others lack features depending on the platform, and should be able to pick the right solution based on your needs.

Don’t hesitate to let us know how you sync content between Android and iOS and what difficulties and barriers you face during this process.


  • Sandeep Roy

    Informative & well written. Thanks !

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