Android vs iOS: It’s About the Apps

The Mac vs PC argument is long-standing and has evolved over the years. However, recent times have introduced a second major battle in the technology industry: Apple vs Google. The platform war has become mobile with most arguments coming down to Android vs iOS.

However, most of the core points on the Android side centre around the OS rather than the applications. Some argue that Android’s open nature is an advantage, while the iPhone defenders mainly look at apps, and how many there are. Both are valid arguments but in the average consumer’s mind, the need for quality applications is a big one.

App Delivery, Pricing and Quantity

These three points are vital. They regard the logistics of an application’s purchase and so, technically, the first contact you have with one. Joe Casabona looked at the Android Market vs the iTunes App Store in detail but I’d like to touch on a few of these points again.

Firstly, the actual shopping experience of browsing and discovering mobile software differs much from the traditional experience of buying PC applications. Everything is purchased as a direct download and, therefore, the experience of buying should be pleasant as you don’t have to run to a store or wait until the UPS guy comes in a couple of days time.

The Android Market has many advantages over Apple’s App Store. I’m not passing judgement right away on which is better, but want to note the multiple benefits of this particular store including its untethered, off-device purchasing, and the fewer store restrictions.

Additionally, recent numbers show that Android has approximately double the percentage of free applications so you’re more likely to pay less if you come onto the Android side. Now, I’m a long term (and primary) iOS user who loves both his iPhone and iPad. For some reason, the buying experience is also a little more impulsive on iOS – in my opinion – meaning that the more expensive applications can be easier to buy.

However, although Android has a higher proportion of free applications, Apple’s store has more apps overall. There’s a much wider choice of applications for iPhone than there is for Android and this gap is even bigger when you look at tablet-optimised applications only. From a consumer’s perspective, Android isn’t becoming such an amazing choice.

Yet, if, on Android, you do decide that an application is not for you, there’s a fortunate refund window (albeit short) too that lets you get a full refund on your paid applications.

App Design

This is a category that, I must admit, is better on iOS. If you’ve ever used Android alongside iOS, as I have, it’ll become apparent that most – if not all – applications look better on Apple’s platform. I don’t know why this is, but Apple’s standard set of UI controls, which help form a coherent style, probably contributes to the feeling.

Let’s take at look at one specific application: an instant messaging app called Meebo.

Meebo on iPhone (left) vs Meebo on Android (right)

You can see, from a design perspective, that the iPhone application is far superior in terms of both aesthetics and user friendliness. There’s no real competition here. I was specifically directed to the Meebo example from a post at Android Gripes, so let me quote part of their analysis.

The one on Android pretty much looks like a programming class project. The contact items are too narrow and thus hard to click. […] The conversation interface is like a geeky IRC client. […] On the other hand, the interface on iPhone looks much much more polished.

This is not an isolated incident. Whilst there are some great looking Android apps, most do not compare well with their iPhone counterparts. My personal (and somewhat controversial) opinion is that this has something to do with the various metrics that indicate a higher potential earning on the iOS platform, but we can’t be sure.

App Functionality and Stability

Many applications have crashed on my iPad. Many applications have crashed on my HTC device running Android. I’m willing to accept this, but sometimes the functionality lost can be a lot greater on iOS. Why? It probably comes down to this unknown reason that I mentioned before. I can’t be sure why, but iPhone apps just seem to have a lot more effort put into them.

Developers have started to realise Android’s growing popularity and the opportunity to make some money from that, but some applications still lack functions that their Cupertino-powered brothers have, which can be a disappointment.

It’s not just a couple of features missing either. In some cases, I come across application promo sites that offer an iPhone application for immediate download, but state the Android one is “coming soon”. Developers seem to prioritise their platforms and normally prefer iOS as their launch pad. EA launched The Sims 3 alongside the US release of its PC edition on iPhone in June 2009, but not until December of 2010 on the Android Market. It had been available slightly earlier on specific phones, but only those by manufacturers who had agreements with EA, no doubt subsidising the launch the app.

Which Platform Has the Better Apps?

I honestly don’t want to pass too big of a judgement here, but, personally, i’d always opt for an iOS app. They seem a lot more polished, and the lack of fragmentation means they are optimised for my handset, not just ones that are powered by the same OS. Therefore, they run a lot smoother too.

This is an age-old debate and I’d love to hear your responses. Taking a side in any platform battle always leads to some opposition, so please vent your anger or agreement in the comments!