iPhone vs Android

A friend who’s a long-time iPhone user just asked for my advice about whether to get a Samsung Galaxy S3, a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, or a iPhone 5.

Advantages for Android

I think that liberty should be the first consideration, I’ve previously written about how Android phones won’t necessarily give you as much freedom as you desire if you buy on the basis of price and features [1]. But even the least free Android options are way better than the iOS (iPhone and iPad) environment. This isn’t necessarily a big deal for my friend, like most of the population he usually just wants things to work – being able to hack them isn’t such an issue. However unlike most of the population he does make a reasonable portion of his income from software development and it could be that he will have a contract for developing an app on a mobile device – in which case the freedom to tinker on Android will help him. He could use an iPhone for his personal use and develop on an Android platform for his clients, but generally it’s more efficient if your personal use of technology is similar to that of your clients. The Nexus devices are very good for liberty and they also have nice hardware at a low price, I’ve just got a Nexus 4 for my wife and it’s very nice.

The next issue is that of hardware standards, I’ve previously written about the potential for developing a standard form factor for Android phones [2] although this doesn’t seem likely to be implemented in the near future. The wide range of Android hardware means that the range of cases etc on the market is rather small. But the advantage of the wide range is that with an Android phone you can have a device that’s bigger, smaller, cheaper, cuter, or faster than an iPhone. There are Android devices which have a higher resolution, more RAM, more storage (if you include SD storage), or has other benefits over an iPhone. For whatever reasonable range of specs appeal to you you can probably find a device to match. I’ve previously written about the way the ideal size for devices depends on your hand size and your preferred manner of gripping the device [3], so the lack of size range in Apple devices is not just a limitation on personal choice but also a failure to properly support people with different size hands. Depending on the preferred manner of gripping a phone the iPhone 5 is either too big for an average woman or too small for a tall man.

The Google Play store apparently has more applications than the iPhone/iPad App Market. This difference can be expected to increase now that the Samsung Galaxy S3 is outselling the iPhone 5. Comparing the number of unit sales of the iPhone vs Android phones is no longer interesting, comparing Samsung to Apple is the interesting thing.

Advantages for the iPhone

By all accounts it’s quite an easy process to backup and restore all iPhone settings. You can expect that after losing an iPhone you can just connect the new one to your PC and have it work in exactly the same way after all the data is transferred. Trying to do such things on Android is merely difficult if you have root access to your phone and the source and destination phones are of exactly the same make and model. But if you have different versions of the phone or if you don’t have root access then it may be impossible. I welcome comments from anyone who knows of good solutions to this problem.

The iPhone achieved a reasonable share of the smart-phone market before Android really started going well so there are a lot of people who are used to the iPhone. Simply by being unfamiliar Android will be a more difficult option for people who have used the iPhone – such as my friend. But it is possible to learn other systems. Generally I think that this may be a big issue for people who use Macs for all their other computing. But if the only Apple product you use is an iPhone then switching to Android shouldn’t be a big deal.


One feature of the iPhone that is very important to my friend is the ability to add arbitrary tags in the contacts. In addition to name, address, phone number, etc he wants to add arbitrary notes related to his business. While he could put that sort of thing into the “Notes” field in Android he would rather have several fields with his own names. Android 4.1.x definitely doesn’t have this and I can’t test Android 4.2.x at this time. Is there any way of doing such things on Android?


It seems to me that Android devices are better in every way apart from backup, restore, and general management. If I was about to buy 100 phones then I’d probably consider the iPhone (not necessarily buy but definitely consider). But for a single user I definitely recommend Android devices.

The Android devices which seem good at the moment are the Galaxy S3 (which I’m using now), the Nexus 4 (which is really good apart from being unable to change the battery or add more storage), and the Galaxy Note 2 (which is about the biggest phone available).

One of the things that my friend wants to do is to use a phone instead of a tablet or laptop. I think that the Galaxy Note 2 is the only option for him.

8 comments to iPhone vs Android

  • Giorgos

    I agree about Android’s sadly lacking local backup and restore capabilities. You’d expect only locked-down iAppliances to tie you to the “cloud” for something this fundamental, but here it’s clearly Google and its “open” OS.

  • Jon

    Anecdotally, the iPhone is *very* reliable. That’s one reason I still haven’t moved to Android, despite the new handsets and OS Jelly Bean and later being very nice – it’s just not reliable enough for me yet. I used a Samsung Galaxy S2 for a few weeks running ICS last year and it let me down badly when I needed it to make emergency calls and otherwise be in touch with people. The phone needed a hard reset of some sort to get it back to functioning and there was no clear reason why. I love the nexus 7 as a tablet but it also occasionally freaks out and needs a kick. The iPhone has been rock solid for four years.

  • Brice

    On my Android 4.0 my the MIUI ROM, I can backup/restore on the SD card very easily. Everytime I wipe the system and reinstall another release, I get pretty much all my settings back.

    You basically need to root the system for full backup to work on Android. It’s a pity that some vendors don’t offer a privileged backup app in their default ROM.

  • Laurent

    A major concern for Android phones is that manufacturers are responsible for providing OS updates, and, most of the time, fail to do so.

    As an example, an iPhone 3GS, released in 2009, can still run the latest iOS 6. The HTC Thunderbolt, released two years ago, just recently received the update for Ice Cream Sandwich, which is 15 months old. This is typical. Many phones will never receive an update, leaving security bugs unpatched. As a security-aware Linux user, I find this unacceptable (and it’s unreasonable to expect the average user to install CyanogenMod).

    In this respect, Google-branded phones are usually better and get timely updates (but not always — the 21 month old Nexus One was deemed “too old” for Ice Cream Sandwich).

  • While I realize this is probably not relevant to most users, I still have to mention it:
    iOS still has WAY BETTER accessibility then Android.
    While Google is TRYING to catch up, they have still some way to go until they reach the level of accessibility that Apple already provides since at least two years.

  • Oliver Gorwits

    One thing I’m still surprised and a little sad to see missing from Android is a decent configuration deployment system. Whilst this is most useful for enterprise, it can also be handy as a way of getting complex email, calendar, VPN, etc config onto the device without using the awkward user interface.

    Apple has an app for OS X and Windows(!) to generate the XML profiles with ease and send them to the device. I’d love to see this for Android, too. I suppose it’s the very openness and freedom of the platform (to use any app) which is hindering this.

    (Would love to hear if anyone knows of a solution.)

  • etbe

    The above page has an interesting list of benefits that Android offers over iOS.

  • Name, required

    There are (commercial) management solutions out there which manage your 100 phones in comparable ways, no matter whether they are iPhones or Androids. I therefore can’t agree with your point. For the contact issue, you may be able to find something in the market. If not, there are some apps that should come close, with developers who might want to implement your wishes. Look eg. at “DW contacts” (they also have an advanced dialer).