Part 1: Operating System / User Experience
This is really the core of discussion. Android and iOS are two very different systems that take differing approaches. In general iOS is a closed operating system, with the only manufacturer releasing products being Apple. The user experience is very locked down and is intended to be used as Apple intends it. This means the only place to download apps is the app store, and that changing your ringtone, and downloading media must be done through Apple’s approved channels, primarily iTunes. While many Android enthusiasts will say that the strict nature of iOS is overly restrictive, the direct result is that it’s simply easier to ensure that the majority of iPhones are on the same version of iOS. In Fenruary 2017 it was estimated that 79% of devices were on Apple’s newest build iOS 10. Looking at the flip side of the coin, Android is developed by Google to be an open source experience that is essentially able to be used by any manufacturer. As a result you have multiple hardware manufacturers in the space of creating android devices. Each of them typically makes changes to the operating system so that your experience will fit in with their ecosystem. Sometimes these changes are minimal, and other times they are substantial overhauls. Additionally each user has the option to download third party media, skins, and launchers to essentially customize and dramatically change their own experience (for better or worse.) While this means plenty of options for the consumer, it also means that before an update can be pushed through to a device it has to pass through the hands of the hardware manufacturer, and carrier, therefore delaying the update cycle. As of May 2017 the newest version of Android (Nougat) is only running on about 7% of devices. Older versions of Android from 2015 and 2014 account for about 62%, and older versions of Android fill up the remainder. While many hardware manufacturers are working to improve their update schedule, the reality is that there will probably always be greater fragmentation of the Android platform then we find on iOS. What that really means for you as consumer will vary. Those who purchase their hardware directly from Google (via the Pixel or Nexus brand) are generally guaranteed about 2 years of updates, where as others may not ever get those updates. In my opinion the biggest drawback of this fragmentation is seen in the development of apps. We’ll discuss that in a later article in this series. (Stay tuned!)
Now let’s compare the two devices in hand. Samsung’s old user interface (Touchwiz) has a deservedly bad reputation for being full of useless bells and whistles. Over the last few years Samsung has been working to cut back the bloat, and finally replaced Touchwiz with Grace UX aka The Samsung Experience which is a lot more intuitive, faster and has less bloat. It is a big improvement that in my opinion finally has Samsung devices running at comparative speeds to the iPhone. Your mileage will obviously vary based on the applications you’re using.
With regards to user experience the three most difficult things for me to always adjust to when switching back and forth between operating systems are the app layout, notifications, and widgets. While every Android developer has their own way of storing apps, the majority still use an App Drawer, wherein all programs can be found. You can also choose to place certain apps and folders on your home screen in whatever position you like for completely unique layout. On the other hand Apple places all the apps on your home screen which you can in turn place into folders, which must adhere to a very specific grid. Apple’s decision is a somewhat simple approach, one that people either love or hate. I wouldn’t mind not having an app drawer, if there was more flexibility in placing the apps and folders on the grid. IOS 10 gave some additional controls to it's users, allowing you to uninstall some of those useless apps, and nest the others into folders.
Notifications are also quite different on each platform. Apple gives you a wealth of different ways to customize how notifications are displayed (all of which are on by default). This means you will be notified by a popup banner, icon badges and in the notification tray. I find the customization options to be abit tedious to sift through but the end result is a lot of flexibility. If you have the patience to customize each app individually the way you like it, it’s easy to have them set up just right. It would be nice to have a simple way to make all the apps follow the same guidelines but that is a minor complaint. I still somehow always seem to misplace and forget messages on iOS. Android uses very similar notification customization options, but a big difference is that the notification shade (or dropdown) is a crucial part of the Android experience. By default, reminders of your notifications live in this shade, and display a small icon that is always visible until you clear those notifications. It may seem like a subtle difference, but the notification shade serves so many purposes in Android that it makes it easier to keep track of notifications. In Android the notification shade (accessed by dragging down from the top of your screen) gives you access to your notifications, quick toggles for settings, and media controls. In iOS swiping down from the top only shows you notifications, and gives you quick access to your search but is essentially not used for anything else. Quick access to settings and media controls are accessed by swiping up from the bottom of your screen. Side note.. I find this particularly frustrating when trying to access these settings while inside an app. Often instead of getting access to the settings the app will scroll down instead, meaning that I have to exit the app to open those quick settings. A harder press seems to help with that abit, but I never got used to it.
Lastly let’s also take a moment to discuss widgets. For those unfamiliar with them, widgets are essentially a customizable part of the interface that gives you quick access to a service or app without having to open it. I typically use widgets for things like my agenda, weather, or alarms. Widget’s have been a staple since the earliest days of Android and are something I can’t live without. My schedule is constantly changing, so keeping my agenda on hand was something I did even before I had a smart phone, usually by writing on my hand or by keeping a list in my pocket. Prior to iOS 10 (June 2016) widgets simply did not exist on Apple devices. Sure you could keep your agenda in a memo, but you would have to remember to open up your memos. It was an absolute deal breaker for me in the past, and I am truly glad to see it on iOS now. On iOS 10 widgets live on your home screen when you scroll all the way to the left, I believe you can also enter them into your notification shade if you prefer, but in my opinion that kind of defeats the purpose of keeping them in front of you. I look forward to seeing how Apple will continue to improve it’s development and implementation of widgets.. as right now they are relatively weak and difficult to configure. Third party developers have made some great iOS widgets for use on your device, but the ones Apple provides still fall somewhat short.
That about wraps up our first segment, stay tuned.. in the next part of this series we’ll discuss some of the hardware comparisons between the iPhone 7 and Galaxy s7.