January 2018

The number of mobile phone users continues to increase rapidly, and is estimated to reach 5.7 billion worldwide by 2020. The vast majority of those devices are smartphones, which have more than 80 percent of the U.S. mobile device market. Whether you are looking to become a new smartphone user, or you’re a smartphone veteran looking for your next device, choosing the smartphone which is right for you can seem like a difficult task. However, you can simplify your decision quite a bit just by learning about smartphone operating systems (OS). After all, given the numerous devices available, it’s not hard to find a phone with the speed, memory, connectivity, screen size, or keyboard you are looking for. The difficult part is often finding the software that will make the most out of your smartphone experience; the mobile OS is the foundation for all mobile software.

Operating System Market Share - The Big Two

There are currently two major players in the U.S. smartphone OS market: iOS (Apple) and Android (Google), which between them control 99 percent of the market. Between 2007 and 2008, the smartphone OS marketplace was shaken up by the entry of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Since then, previous market leader Blackberry OS has been overtaken by the new mobile OS market leaders, with Apple holding 54 percent of the market and Android with 45 percent.  Blackberry stopped making mobile devices in late 2016. Windows Phone OS has shrunk to below one percent of the U.S. market, with Microsoft indicating it will no longer bring hardware and feature updates to Windows Phone.

While Android and iOS are in a fairly tight race for U.S. market share, it is by no means close on a global scale. Statcounter shows Android with nearly 73.5 percent of the world market compared to 19.9 percent of mobile iOS. This is effectively a duopoly. But the two OS utilize different business models. Apple controls both the iOS software and the smartphone hardware; it tends to have the market share lead in developed countries. Google's Android OS runs on devices produced by a variety of companies and tends to compete very well in developing countries.

User Interface

After Steve Jobs passed away, competitor Nokia’s CEO said that Jobs will be remembered for his simple, elegant designs. Apple's trademark simple elegance certainly rings true for iOS. Given this and the fact that all iOS apps must conform to the iOS user interface (UI) standards, the ease of use for iOS UI is unsurpassed. While Android’s UI might not be as elegant as iOS, Android does have its own advantages. Android’s UI is highly configurable. Take Android widgets, for example. To get interactive information out of an app in iOS, you have to load the app and view it. In Android, you may configure a widget and interact with that information in a dashboard like view.  The availability of mobile applications across iOS and Android has exploded.  The top 10 smartphone apps by users in the U.S. who are age 18 and above looks like this (June 2017, comScore Mobile Metrix):

 

Top Smartphone Apps 
#1 Facebook
#2 Youtube
#3 Facebook Messenger
#4 Google Search
#5 Google Maps
#6 Instagram
#7 Snapchat
#8 Google Play
#9 Gmail
#10 Pandora

 

While the UI may be the foundation of the smartphone experience, most users will spend the bulk of their time using their favorite apps. For sheer volume of apps, Android and iOS stand head and shoulders over all others. Apple’s App Store has more than 2.2  million apps available and the Android Market called Google Play has more than 2.8 million available as of March 2017.  Android users may also download apps outside of the Android market, which increases the number of potentially available apps.  However, the apps which a user may download can also be restricted by carriers, so be sure to check their policies before you assume the app you want will be available on your new smartphone. Apps for iOS generally have to be downloaded through Apple’s App Store. Some smartphone users will “jailbreak” or “root” their phone in order to circumvent these restrictions, but this practice can carry consequences like voiding manufacturers' warranties and violating carrier service agreements.

For security and quality control, Apple’s App Store is the strictest, as all applications are manually reviewed for security, conformance with Apple’s standards for functionality, and adherence to the iOS user interface. In this way, Apple is able to maintain a secure, seamless, consistent user experience for iOS users. Of course, the flip side of this is that some iOS users complain about Apple’s censorship of apps which might compete with Apple’s products.

Google Play has an automatic review process which is more permissive than the App Store, which is one reason the growth in the number of Android applications is greater than for iOS. Many Android users enjoy the “freedom of choice” they have, but this comes with a flip side as well. Android applications have less consistency in terms of their user interfaces and are more prone to security risk. Google will, of course, remove any known malicious apps from the Google Play store and will also remotely remove them from user mobile devices. Android users may also choose from a broad range of mobile security apps to help mitigate security threats.

Features

Some users are really looking for certain features and functionality in their smartphone. No one wants to take their shiny new smartphone out of the box for the first time, only to find out shortly thereafter it doesn’t do that one thing you really want it to do. Below is a comparison of the iOS and Android platforms based on the latest stable release for each:

  • Security and Privacy:
    • Google is making its security measures more prominent throughout Android Oreo with Google Play Protect, which is available on all Android devices in addition to Oreo Users. The feature provides a heads-up when scans are happening and that apps are safe.
    • While iOS does track phone usage and analyzes your e-mails to optimize Siri’s features, Apple emphasizes that the data it gathers is stored on your device, private and for your benefit. With iOS 11, Apple introduced an intelligent tracking prevention feature for the Safari browser to limit the way you are tracked through ads online.
  • Finger Print Scanning:
    • Android has made significant advances in native finger print scanning by taking control of that feature away from the device manufacturers. 
    • iOS has had native finger print scanning for some time. Emergency SOS is an iOS 11 feature that disables Touch ID, preventing a would-be thief or other person with malicious intent from accessing your device without entering your passcode. The feature allows quick and discreet placement of calls to emergency services.
  • Speed and Battery Life:
    • Android Oreo includes restrictions that keep certain apps from running down the battery and consuming memory. Overall, the Oreo update attempted to make the OS faster by creating a way to process complex tasks on the device, rather than in the cloud.
    • Apple heard from some owners of older iPhones that their devices ran slower, in order to extend battery life, following iOS 11 installation. The company apologized and offered a discounted battery replacement to people with phones affected by the software. An iOS 11 update will inform users when iPhone is automatically reducing its performance due to the battery. 
  • Mobile Payments:
    • Google Wallet allows users to send money through the app, in Gmail, on the web, or via text messages in the U.S. or U.K.
    • Apple Pay can be used at stores to pay for goods and services. This is a peer-to-peer payment system used with iPhone that acts essentially as a bank account on your phone.
    • It should be noted that only select Android phones and the iPhone 6/6 Plus/6s/6s Plus support NFC payments in accordance with the EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) payment standard.
  • Search Improvements:
    • Google Now adds intelligence based on what app is being used when conducting a voice search to provide context to your question.
    • iOS is using improved algorithms to utilize data on your phone and in your e-mail to provide increased context to your Siri searches.  Siri intelligence is also being used in more places to recommend stories in the News app, find related search queries in Safari and more.
  • Other User Experience Improvements:
    • Android Oreo has a feature which allows continuation of a video call, use of Google Maps navigation, or streaming a video from various supported apps with picture-in-picture mode. Google also now allows the Chrome auto-fill feature (for names, passwords and other online form information) to be used with the Oreo OS.
    • iOS updated the control center, unified the lock screen and notification center experience, introduced a 'Do Not Disturb' while driving feature, and updated the screenshots and screen capture video feature.

Under the Hood

For techies, selecting a mobile OS often goes beyond the user interface and available apps. They want to know what lies “under the hood”. Perhaps they want to write their own apps, modify and extend the functionality of the OS, install the OS on a new device or emulate it in their development environment. The following tables contain a list of specifications for Android and iOS:

 

Android Technical Specifications
Latest Version (October 2017) 8.0 (Oreo)
OS Type Linux
CPU Architecture ARM, MIPS, Power, x86
Programming Languages C, C++, Java
License Free & Open Source
SDK Platform(s) Linux, MacOS X, Windows

 

iOS Technical Specifications
Latest Version (Jan. 2018) 11.0
OS Type Mac OS/Unix
CPU Architecture ARM
Programming Languages C, C++, Objective-C, Swift
License Proprietary
SDK Platform(s) Mac OS X via iOS SDK

 

The Bottom Line

The smartphone market has been growing and evolving rapidly and shows no signs of stopping. Given the rapid change, choosing the right mobile OS may seem difficult, but after a bit of research most users can find the one which is right for them. If you’re new to smartphones or just looking for a simple, elegant user interface with numerous safe apps which integrate seamlessly with it, Apple’s iOS is probably for you. If you’re a power user or techie looking for maximum flexibility, possibly even the ability to experiment with the OS and the apps, Android is probably for you. However, every user’s needs are unique. Before purchasing a smartphone, try making a checklist of your most desired/required functionality and qualities. Then do a little research, browse Google Play and Apple’s App Store, check out your friends' and colleagues’ phones, and see how the available options stack up against your requirements.

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