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.


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 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.


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.


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.