Wisconsin Lawyer: Technology iOS vs. Android: Does It Still Matter?:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In
    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer

News & Pubs Search

Advanced

    Technology
    iOS vs. Android: Does It Still Matter?

    The differences between the big two mobile operating systems, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, are fewer than their similarities, but if the distinctions matter to you, read about them here.

    Tison H. Rhine

    Share This:
    iOS vs. Android

    In the beginning (2007), there was only one mobile operating system (OS) worth mentioning: Apple’s iPhone OS, which later became known simply as iOS. Shortly thereafter, in 2008, Google introduced its own mobile OS, called Android. Unlike Apple’s mobile software, which was (and still is) only available on Apple devices, Android was openly made available to other manufacturers and quickly made its way into numerous devices made by numerous companies.

    The first Android devices may have lacked the polished hardware and predictably smooth operation of Apple’s new iPhone, but they were more affordable, more open to customization, and more widely available, especially in lower-income and emerging markets. Over the next few years, these traits made Android an attractive alternative to Apple, and as the worldwide mobile device market skyrocketed, so did Android. Nevertheless, Apple managed to build on its early successes by continuing to focus on ease of use and design, by leveraging its early app-store dominance (once apps became a thing), and by adding well-marketed features such as Siri. Mobile devices were relatively new, and each OS offered something different. And, although their markets certainly overlapped, each OS seemed to be targeting slightly different sets of consumers.

    Throughout this time, however, consumers, app developers, and the designers at Apple, Google, and the many Android hardware partners were all learning – from each other, from friends and competitors, and through their own experiences – about what people really want out of their mobile devices and about what is even possible. With each new device and OS release, consumers and designers conversed in a language of purchasing decisions and design choices, and whether intended or not, this process has had the distinct effect of pushing Android and iOS devices ever closer in terms of what really matters: functionality.

    Now, in 2017 (almost 10 years since the first iPhone was sold), and despite some remaining differences in philosophical approach and marketing, we find ourselves in an interesting moment of feature convergence. Many old generalizations – such as “Android devices are cheaper, but not designed as well,” or “I can’t do anything with an iPhone unless I buy into Apple’s entire system” – no longer ring so true. Furthermore, hardware and software features that were once exclusive to (or much better on) one OS or the other – such as app folders, notifications, multitasking, widgets, video calling, voice assistants, fingerprint scanning, high-resolution displays, large displays, optical image stabilization, mobile payments, and so on – are now available and largely comparable on both platforms.

    In short, both ecosystems can now, more than ever, get you where you need to go. This begs the question: At this point, does it really even matter which mobile OS you choose?

    Similarities and Differences

    Spoiler: the short answer to the above question is: “Right now, no, not really.” The long answer, of course, is a bit more complicated and will largely depend on how one views the differences that do remain between the two operating systems, as well as how accurately one can predict the future.

    Tison Rhineorg trhine wisbar Tison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by org trhine wisbar email.

    Market Comparisons, Market Differences. Let’s start with this: The current number of mobile operating systems that are market relevant is exactly two. I won’t try and stop the few of you who continue to love your Windows Phones from doing so, nor will I claim that Microsoft won’t have an important role to play in the future of mobile devices, but Microsoft’s mobile OS attempt, at least, is dead. According to research firms such as Gartner and IDC, worldwide smartphone OS market share for Windows Phone has now dipped below one-half percent, and there is absolutely no reason at this point to expect things to turn around. So, by all means enjoy your current Windows Phone, but for the love of Marbury v. Madison, please don’t buy one today.

    That out of the way, I should also warn those of you who live in a world where almost everyone you know uses iPhones that a brief glance at world smartphone OS market-share data shows a level of Android dominance that may come as a bit of a shock. Android, for example, accounted for 87.6 percent of the world mobile market during the second quarter of 2016, whereas iOS’s market share was 11.7 percent, according to IDC. But, before you begin to worry that iOS may be heading the way of Windows Phone (or even worse, Blackberry OS), know that, when it comes to Apple, such numbers don’t tell a complete story about the health of its mobile ecosystem.

    First of all, numbers like those referenced above have, over the past several years, gone through regular and fairly predictable fluctuations. Android’s market share typically cycles between 79 percent and 87 percent and iOS’s between 11 percent and 20 percent. These fluctuations generally coincide with release dates for flagship devices. So, given that Apple usually releases new iPhones and iOS versions in or around September, one can expect iOS to have a relatively lower market share in second and third quarters when compared to its typically much more impressive fourth quarters (as they just had). Meanwhile, Android’s market peaks and valleys are roughly the inverse, coinciding with major device releases in late winter and early spring.

    Another reason for the above numbers, fluctuations notwithstanding, is that Android continues to completely dominate in low-income and other emerging markets. In fact, Android is poised for even more domination. This is because mobile-device market growth overall has slowed substantially in the past year (it is still growing, but at a much slower rate than in the recent past), especially for larger vendors such as Apple and Samsung as they reach regional saturation.

    Pretty much everybody in higher tech nations has big-name phones by now. There are still market growth opportunities to be had, especially in remote and budget-friendly markets, but despite the success of lower cost Apple devices such as the iPhone SE, it is the surging Chinese brands (such as Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Oppo) that are making the most progress in these areas. And, not being Apple, these companies of course make Android devices.

    Finally, note that the numbers discussed above involve unit sales by OS usage. They do not show device sales or account for the mounds of cash derived from apps and other ecosystem peripherals and tie-ins. Apple, as the sole maker of iOS devices, has for the moment narrowly reclaimed its throne as the top mobile device manufacturer in the world from Samsung, helped not only by strong Q4 2016 iPhone 7 sales but also by Samsung’s fiery Note 7 debacle. Apple’s highly controlled App Store is also the only place to get iOS apps (without altering your device), and Apple’s Developer Program was shrewdly designed to rake in loads of revenue within that system.

    Suffice it to say that both Android and iOS are doing fine, and the prospect of their longevity and continued support should not at this time factor into your mobile device buying decisions. There, it turns out you could have skipped this section.

    Philosophical Marketing, Functional Features

    Philosophy and Marketing. Despite the trending feature convergence of iOS and Android devices, some noteworthy physical and functional differences do still remain. Many of these feature differences are representative of the two tech giants’ philosophical tendencies with regard to the concepts of openness versus control, content versus creativity, and data versus design.

    The two competitors are aware of these philosophical differences, of course, but they are also aware of how consumers perceive them. Needing to differentiate themselves somehow (but finding it harder and harder), many of their marketing efforts actually play on the differing philosophies quite deliberately, tapping into our human desire to identify with a philosophy we can share, so that we may feel that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

    It may seem a bit obvious, but it is particularly easy to get caught up in marketing hype surrounding mobile devices given our constant connection to them and reliance on them. Emotional attachment is high. It also doesn’t hurt that the marketing itself is generally entertaining and sometimes surprisingly moving. Why am I discussing this? Because, although it’s okay to enjoy the hype show, it is important to maintain our self-awareness, and sometimes we need a reminder.

    So, after reading this article, take the time to consider your personal, actual use scenarios (are you really going to shoot time-lapse of penguins in Antarctica?) and make a thoughtful determination about whether any of these differences do – when it really comes down to it – matter to you.

    Both Android and iOS are doing fine, and the prospect of their longevity and continued support should not at this time factor into your mobile device buying decisions.

    Functional Differences Owing to Software Fragmentation. Before highlighting some of the ways that the differing Android and iOS philosophies are still manifesting themselves in terms of functionality, let’s first look at how (and how fast) new functionality is actually made available on each platform.

    For Apple’s iOS, major version updates have come once a year in September or October since 2011 (earlier releases usually fell around June). These major updates (iOS 7.0, iOS 8.0, and so on) are accompanied throughout the year by a number of minor updates (iOS 6.1.1, iOS 6.1.2, and so on). We are now on iOS 10 (10.3 at the time of publication, actually).

    The release schedule for new Android versions, on the other hand, is a little less predictable. Each major release has a fun, dessert-themed code name (for example, Ice Cream Sandwich, KitKat, Nougat), but these releases historically did not necessarily correspond to predictable changes in primary version number; for example, Jelly Bean had version numbers running from 4.1 to 4.3.1, and KitKat, rather than starting with 5.0, ran from 4.4 to 4.4.4. This had meaning to many Android users, as it helped them predict how much change to expect from a new release, but it likely confused the average consumer, and so the last three releases (Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat) have coincided with versions 5.0 to 5.1.1, 6.0 to 6.0.1, and 7.0 to 7.1, respectively.

    This is all very fascinating, you may be thinking, but who cares? Well, as you can see, OS releases come fairly often, and one of the major differences between iOS and Android is that iOS updates are available to Apple users all at the same time, and those users tend to upgrade to new versions very rapidly. This is possible for Apple because there are only a handful of devices at a given time on which it needs to test and support new software.

    Meanwhile, there are literally tens of thousands of unique Android devices, each with its own technical specifications. To complicate things further, the many different Android device manufacturers also like to add their own software bloat beautiful skins to the stock Android OS in an attempt to stand out in a crowded marketplace. (The results, by the way, are almost always worse than stock Android.) As you can imagine, there is a lot of testing to be done to make sure all the software plays nicely together on a given piece of hardware, and consequently, new Android OS versions roll out over long periods of time on a device-by-device basis.

    All this results in a couple of realities for Android users: 1) Unless you use a Nexus or Google Pixel Android device (more on those below), you may have to wait a long, long time before your phone can actually support new features, and you may even end up being a couple of updates behind; and 2) because at any given time there are so many Android versions being used in significant numbers, app developers sometimes take longer to get cross-platform apps onto Android (although, to be fair, this is improving).

    All Roads Lead to Rome. The above issues have been present for Google from the beginning, leading many to question over the years why Google didn’t just release its own phone – one that would be guaranteed to always have the latest software. Google answered these questions – halfway, at least – by releasing the Nexus One in 2010. The Nexus One would be the first of a line of phones that didn’t carry the Google name but were designed and manufactured by other companies (such as HTC, LG, and Motorola) with (varying levels of) Google’s involvement and always had the latest stock Android software. The first Nexus phones were admittedly not very good hardware-wise, at least when compared to the best from companies like Samsung. However, consumers did like starting with a stock Android OS and receiving timely updates, and so Google kept at it. Eventually, starting around the Nexus 4 (late 2012), Nexus hardware had largely caught up to the competition, and after several other decent offerings, the line culminated in 2015 with the excellent Nexus 6P, a Huawei-manufactured phone that was overseen directly by Google.

    What did it all lead to? Well, it led to the Google Pixel and Pixel XL in 2016. Finally, Google-branded phones. And, what did they bring? Well, they look a lot like iPhones, and iPhones look a lot like them. Their new “Google Assistant” is more coherently integrated into an overarching software ecosystem than are other Android phones, much like Apple’s Siri. They also have excellent cameras, mobile payments, and fingerprint sensors – just like the new iPhones.

    In short, although there are some differences between them (the Pixel lacks the iPhones’ optical image stabilization and water resistance, but is VR compatible and has greater pixel density), Pixels and iPhones are remarkably similar. I’m not complaining, though. On the contrary, the people have been reaching out with their preferences and Google has listened. And, if these are the types of devices that feature convergence can bring, then that’s okay by me.

    Although it would be foolish to think that iOS devices don’t get infected with viruses and other malware, the reality is that there really is much more malware written for Android than for iOS.

    Feature Differences. Where were we? Oh yes – feature differences. Some of note still exist, and let’s start with the built-in headphone jack. The newest iPhones don’t have them. Instead, they rely on Apple’s proprietary Lightning cable, a clumsy Lighting-to-3.5 mm adapter, or Bluetooth. This isn’t nearly the call for despair that some would have you heed, and there may be some actual advantages to such a removal for consumers (reduced weight, more space for other features, better waterproofing), but it sure is hard to swallow when the removal of such an often-used physical function is touted as a “feature.”

    In fairness, some Android device manufacturers (such as Motorola and HTC) also have phones without headphone jacks available or in the works, and there likely will be more to follow. For now, however, if you want one of the newest phones available but want a built-in headphone jack, you will need to go with Android.

    There are also some differences when it comes to security. Although it would be foolish to think that iOS devices don’t get infected with viruses and other malware, the reality is that there really is much more malware written for Android than for iOS. This is partly owing to the fact that there are more Android users to target (providing cybercriminals a greater return on investment when they code for Android), partly owing to the fact that apps can be easily downloaded from stores other than Google Play (and not going through Google’s vetting process may be dangerous), and partly owing to the above-discussed fact that Android users are less likely to be running the latest versions of the OS with the latest security patches.

    There is also a difference in boot and unlock security. iOS devices since the iPhone 5s have included something Apple calls Secure Enclave: a small, separate section of the CPU with encrypted memory and a random-number generator that has its own secure boot process and is dedicated to storing and processing things such as fingerprint data from an Apple device’s Touch ID sensor. Apple hasn’t released a lot of info on this feature, but theoretically Apple itself couldn’t break into a passcode-protected device. Android devices have been comparatively weak when it comes to unlock security.

    That said, it would be an overstatement to characterize iOS as much more secure than Android. If Android users are smart about their security (for example, by only purchasing apps from Google Play), the security gap between iOS and Android can be reduced. And if Android users are more technically skilled (and willing to forgo tinkering that requires them to unlock their bootloader), the gap can be reduced further. Still, for most people, iOS devices will be somewhat more secure than those running Android.

    Most other differences between iOS and Android can reasonably be described, quite simply, as similar features being implemented in slightly different ways. There is, however, one more major difference – perhaps the biggest of any – that deserves continued discussion, and that is the level of customizability.

    Recently, Apple has made some movement toward being less controlling; for example, Siri can now work with some types of third-party apps. Still, Apple’s desire to keep things user friendly, predictable, and reliable continues to limit the ability of iOS users to not only modify the general look of their user interfaces (you can’t place widgets on the home screen or place app locations any way you want) but also to do things like change default apps. I do not think that Apple is doing this just to be mean, though. The company genuinely appears to believe that providing a controlled environment with limited headaches gives its users the best experience.

    Android, in comparison, is highly customizable. Actually, Android customization starts with your device purchase, as many devices have their own skins and some have different physical peripherals (such as the stylus of the Samsung Note or one of the many add-ons of the Moto Z). Once you get an Android device, you can change the look of the stock launcher (the interface app responsible for the home screen and how other apps are launched) in many more ways than you can make changes to iOS. You can definitely install widgets and place app shortcuts anywhere, but there is also a wide, wild world of alternative launchers available that allow Android users even more customization options.

    Do you want to modify the number of apps that can appear on the home screen? Done. What about adding an animated weather widget? Sure. How about having a camera app icon that opens two different camera apps depending on the number of taps? That’s fine, too. You can even get a theme that makes your Android device look remarkably similar to an iPhone (if you want to).

    This high level of customization can lead to some truly unique user experiences, but it is worth noting that many of the Android devices that receive the most positive response from reviewers and consumers – like the 6P and Pixel – are those that are natively designed with the least amount of alteration from stock Android. It’s good to have options, but it turns out that a well-tuned, slightly more controlled Android experience may be the best after all.

    In Conclusion, the Future

    Despite some differences, iOS and Android are now more alike than unalike. This feature convergence, however, does not mean that the battle for our mobile device dollars will stop. Smart people work at Apple and Google (and at their many source hardware, design, and manufacturing partners), and they will continue to come up with new features, new devices, and new applications for those devices. And, although it is hard to (accurately) predict the future, we do have clues.

    Google, for instance, with its incredible access to data as operator of the world’s leading search engine, will likely continue to bring cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) to the front. Meanwhile Apple, with its penchant for control and design, has a preference for computing to be done directly within the actual devices that users can touch and hold. And although Apple won’t be able to completely shy away from the cloud, its “walled garden” approach may allow it to push mobile device security as an increasingly important differentiating feature going forward.

    Finally, to those attorneys who began reading this article with the simple hope of being told which phone or tablet to buy (or of being reassured that the device they already bought was the right one): First of all, let me offer my apologies. I did warn you, though. Second, and more important, all you really need to know is that both Android and iOS will provide you with the features you need to do your job. So, yes, whatever device you just bought, it was the right one.

    That’s a Fine Idea!

    What’s it Take to Be a Wisconsin Legal Innovator?

    2016 Wisconsin Legal Innovators

    Are you a Wisconsin Legal Innovator? Know one? Last year’s Wisconsin Legal Innovators, from left, William Caraher, Rebecca Scheller, Sam Owens, Mary Turke, and Colleen Ball, put new ideas to work to solve problems facing their clients and communities. 

    Last year’s Lifetime Legal Innovator, Colleen Ball, is described as always in motion, looking for the next good idea. She thinks like a startup. She has energy, vision, and the wisdom to recognize someone else’s great idea.

    Ball, a state Public Defender appellate attorney, channels her passion for access to justice into helping pro se parties navigate the appeals process and finding ways to make appellate practice more efficient for lawyers.

    She encourages lawyers to “pause from time to time and think about how we work, how we deliver legal services.”

    “No matter our area of practice, there are ways to deliver better services more efficiently,” says Ball. “We can discover those ways by spending time outside of our own work environments, observing how others (not just lawyers) deliver services, and thinking about how to adapt those strategies to our own practices.”

    Know a Legal Innovator? Nominate by June 30

    Through the “That’s a Fine Idea: Legal Innovation Wisconsin” initiative, the State Bar of Wisconsin is asking the legal community to help it tell the story of legal innovation.

    Tell us about the people and ideas that are changing Wisconsin’s legal landscape. Nominate a Wisconsin Legal Innovator who breaks with tradition to do it better. The Wisconsin Lawyer will feature the people behind the best examples of legal innovation in November.

    Innovation can come in many forms. It could mean:

    • New ways to use technology to improve client service or serve a new market
    • Best practices for promoting workplace diversity
    • New marketing/business development strategies
    • New ways of providing pro bono or reduced-cost services
    • Changes in internal operations that result in greater efficiency

    Learn more or find the nomination form at ThatsaFineIdea.com. The deadline for nominations is June 30, 2017.