Much hullabaloo has been made of Google Android’s catch up to Apple in its latest versions, alongside the explosive growth of its app store offering (Google Play) ‘ no longer is Android an afterthought that gets the B version of an app ‘ nor does it get its version six months later.
We are even now starting to see exclusive Android apps developed before Apple’s (if Apple versions are developed at all).
We took 10 of the most commonly used smartphone apps and put them through the wringer ‘ which is better, Android or Apple?
The apps are almost identical. The main difference between the two is swiping ‘ on Apple’s version of Facebook swiping to the right pulls out the chat windows, swiping to the left brings up the menu. On Android, these are just buttons at the top right and top left of the screen (which Facebook iOS also has). Google also allows you to access settings, log out and to refresh via a button at the bottom of the screen.
While swiping is ostensibly a minor difference, once you’ve been using Apple’s version for a while, it comes second nature and Android just seems slower and cumbersome.
Winner: Apple (just)
Again, the apps are for the most part identical and perfectly functional. Where the Apple version has the advantage is the fact that the Home, Connect, Discover and Me buttons are all permanent at the bottom of the screen. Android has them on the main screens at the top, but not when you’re viewing individual tweets. This means you have to tap the ‘triple dot’ button at the bottom and press home, or press Android back key. Slower, and more cumbersome.
The tradeoff is that the ‘triple dot’ key can also take you straight to settings on Android, while Apple requires you to go to your profile page and click settings ‘ similarly cumbersome. Overall, Apple’s is just simpler and quicker ‘ which is what Twitter is all about.
Winner: Apple (just)
The default setting for Apple and Google users (we won’t even mention Apple Maps) the iOS version of Google Maps probably saved iOS 6.0 from wrecking the Apple brand (and the iPhone 5 launch). It is a simple clean app that does the basics right: directions, street view, traffic are all there, as well as integration with Google Earth.
However, using Google Maps on the latest Android devices is at another level entirely. As you’d expect from Google, this is the ‘full noise’ version ‘ including satellite images, terrain, cycling tracks and integration with Wikipedia, Google Local (to find pubs, restaurants etc.) – it also gives directions for cyclists and integrates with Google’s Navigation (for driving) beta. It also can save maps offline ‘ very handy if you’re heading out of cell phone reception.
Night and day really.
Winner: Android (not even close)
Apple fanboys held this one as a talisman of awesomeness for years before it finally made its Android launch last year (which bizarrely caused a load of fanboy consternation). The apps are almost identical, other than minor cosmetics (i.e. a search icon that needs to be clicked rather than a search box).
When shooting, the iPhone offers a 3×3 grid button, and the bottom right button offers a scale and crop editing option within your image gallery. Android does this in a more roundabout way, you’ll need to go into the gallery, open an image, then you’ll get a full screen cropping option. It comes down to personal preference.
Some interesting differences here. Firstly, the Apple version of Foursquare uses Apple Maps. So be prepared for that level of uselessness (namely, suburbs with the wrong names, sports stadiums missing etc.) – otherwise all the restaurants and pubs remain in the ‘correct’ place.
Apple keeps the friends, explore and profile tabs, which are easy enough to navigate, but Android has gone a bit AWOL here in the latest update ‘ so much so I’d have to say don’t update. The Android version has condensed all these pages into a single feed, similar to Facebook’s newsfeed. This mashes together your posts and your friends, with a small map and search box at the top. You can check in from here (and it has a history of your visits), but Foursquare is obviously trying to set itself up as a social network. It won’t just give you good recommendations around you without you entering the search page. It is a bit counterintuitive.
It’s now a pain as a food/bar hunting tool, and requires more ‘active’ engagement (using the search box). The weird thing is, all these ‘new’ features are already available in the old Android (and current Apple) version ‘ just presented much more simply. There was no good reason for making this change.
Winner: Apple (comfortably).
SKYPE (free version)
The difference here is quite stark. Skype on Android loads to a nice home menu where you can set your status, and choose from your contacts, recent, call phones and your profile. Apple doesn’t have this main home screen, instead going to whichever page you were last on. Apple is also filled with ads ‘ a big no-no.
Winner: Android (comfortably)
The Apple version is long in need of an update ‘ much of its presentation is pragmatic, but hardly visual. The Android version has a much simpler layout (despite having near identical main menus), and a far more visual one. For example, on Apple, searching for a friend (or a song) simply produces a text list. On Android this has groupings, thumbnails and profile shots ‘ much easier to navigate.
The differences here feel similar to the differences in Twitter ‘ Apple has permanent buttons along the bottom (dropbox, photos, favourites and settings), Android at the top. Apple has a text search box, Android an icon. Apple breaks its folder organisation up by letter, Android simply lists them in a pile. Both allow automatic uploads from your smartphone camera, and all the other main features.
Another app where the two versions are near identical ‘ again the menu buttons at the top for Android, down low for Apple. The main difference here is that the Apple version has ad banners all over it ‘ wasting screen real estate. Has Apple become the home of apps that need to scrounge for money?
Winner: Android ‘ just (only due to Apple’s ads)
Again, this will mostly come down to user preference. Apple’s menu system conveniently has TV, radio, favourites, downloads and ‘more’ tabs running across the bottom of the screen permanently. Android puts radio, TV and ‘more’ across the top (with favourites and downloads under the more tab). Displaying the results of a search (or sections such as ‘most popular’), Android goes for a two column thumbnail layout, Apple a single ‘ which wastes quite a bit of space.
The times they are a changing. In the few apps where Apple was better, the difference was minimal. App developers for the most part aren’t giving the company favouritism anymore, and for the most part Android’s apps offer a near-par experience. The tie breaker between the two, is, of course, Google Maps ‘ which you’d expect to be better on an Android device anyhow.
Android 4, Apple 3, 2 draws.
Note: These were for smartphone versions only, tablets were not included. All apps were current versions as at 20/3/13.