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Android vs. Apple — enough already

By: 14 October 2011 19 Comments

There has been no shortage of news for those following the fight for market share between Apple and Google’s Android operating system over the past few weeks, has there?

The release of the iPhone 4S, the death of the iconic Steve Jobs and the arrival of iOS 5 have certainly kept Apple in the news. On the Android front, the release of the Amazon Kindle Fire has generated plenty of ink as of late. However, one problematic thing has reared its ugly head when it comes to reporting on both Apple and Android — misconceptions and bias seem to fuel the alleged reporting regarding developments on both fronts.

And, perhaps, I’m guilty of the same. I’ve been an Apple fan since I got an Apple IIe back in 1986 and used one Macintosh after another while working as a journalist in the 1990s. I carry an iPhone 4 (hate it), use a cheap Android tablet as an  eReader  (like it well enough) and will likely move to a Motorola Droid 3 (or something similar) in a few months.

What brought on all this musing? This article regarding the Kindle Fire in which the author never touches the tablet, yet gripes that the $199 device doesn’t have the features that are common to, say, an Apple iPad 2 that costs more than twice as much. Such technology reporting is, sadly, fairly common — review a product and then complain about how it is deficient compared to one the journalist clearly prefers.

What good does such an approach do consumers who might be trying to decide if a mobile device — whether made by Apple or running Android — is one worth considering? In the case of the aforementioned Kindle, there’s little point in comparing it to an iPad as the devices are aimed at separate markets. The Kindle might lack the power of an iPad, but could it be that there are a number of us out there who already have pretty good smartphones and want an inexpensive tablet that is a solid eReader that runs some of the more popular applications  available? Those users might fall into a different category than the iPad user who chose that device because of the hardware, selection of apps and the bells and whistles crammed into the machine. The “give me everything” user may be willing to shell out the cash for an iPad, but the “I want a good eBook” crowd might not.

And, it’s not just technology reporters who are showing bias. Consumers do that as well. What is distressing is that we often see broad generalizations tossed around to describe those individuals who dare use a product other than the one we like. That’s human nature, to an extent — it’s easier to bash a group if one picks out the least desirable characteristics of a few members and extends them to the group as a whole.

We see that regularly in politics — Republicans are racists, Democrats are Godless baby-killers, Republicans are war mongers, Democrats hate corporations, Republicans hate the environment, Democrats are socialists, Republicans are stupid, etc. While those characterizations rarely describe the majority of Democrats or Republicans, we see such nonsense pop up every election season.

The same dynamic plays out in the Android vs. Apple mania, so let’s take a look at a few of the more confounding claims and complaints.

* I hate my iPhone or iPad because Apple has too much control over it. That’s similar to joining the Catholic Church and then griping that the Pope has too much authority. Researching Apple products for about five minutes will reveal that the company does exercise a considerable amount of control over what hardware its operating system runs on, how it is used and what content is allowed. That’s just Apple being Apple and anyone with a passing familiarity should know what comes with anything the company makes.

And that’s not altogether bad. Uniform hardware and control over how that hardware works effectively guarantees my phone will run Angry Birds (or whatever) as well as yours will. Furthermore, you don’t wind up with the problems that come with varying screen sizes, different CPU/memory configurations and all those other things that are issues for Android. Let’s not forget that some standards over what will appear in Apple’s App Store will (in theory) cut down on garbage applications or some that could be downright harmful.

Everyone griping they can’t change the batteries in their iPhones or extend storage space through SD cards should stop complaining, too. They knew — or should have known — exactly what they were getting when they plunked down the cash for their iPhones.

Similarly, people who bought something running Android shouldn’t throw a fit if a desired application doesn’t work as well as they’d like (or at all). They knew what they were getting when they made the choice to avoid Apple and go with Android.

If you hate the device you have, that’s largely your fault. Stop wasting your time fussing about how some “evil corporation” ripped you off and do something productive like researching mobile devices so you can make an informed choice the next time around.

* Android is fragmented. Yeah, so what? While that can cause some compatibility issues, it also means that one can shop around and pick out a hardware configuration that is close to ideal. If, for example, you hate Apple’s virtual keyboard, that’s just too bad — you’re either stuck with it or a somewhat clumsy Bluetooth physical keyboard. On the other hand, there are no shortage of Android-powered phones that have great slider keyboards integrated into the devices. The same is true for those wanting a larger screen size than what Apple offers, want the 4G capability that Apple doesn’t offer, etc.

The downside to that, of course, is that anyone wanting an Android had better do some research if they don’t want to risk getting stuck with something that is downright awful. I’m speaking from experience here — the AT&T store here in town talked me into trying out a Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 as it was out of the iPhone 4 when I went to pick one up in July 2010. The phone was trash and I was glad to exchange it for an iPhone 4 as soon as the store had one available. I may dislike a lot of things about that iPhone 4, but I can live with it until my contract is up and it’s time to get something else. I would have either smashed the Xperia against a wall or skipped it across a pond months ago.

Purchasing an Apple iPhone or iPad is pretty easy — little variation in hardware means you don’t have a whole lot of choices in that regard, but you know you’ll have something that will work quite well. Yes, say what you want about Apple, but the company does live up to its reputation of releasing products built from quality components.

* The Apple just works. That’s obnoxious marketing hype falls just short of being a lie. It would be more accurate to say “it just works — usually” but that’s not nearly as effective.

Believe it or not, iPhones do have their share of troubles. Over the past year, I’ve had iOS updates stall on me twice, thus forcing me to restore my phone and try again. That’s a slow, aggravating process and one that seems unnecessary on a phone that hasn’t been jailbroken. After installing iOS 5 today, I had the fun of syncing my apps manually as the phone lost them and the same went for my contacts list.

While the iPhone or iPad may (or may not) fail less than a comparable Android device, Apple isn’t perfect. You will have problems with iOS and some of those annoyances are downright scary (updating to iOS 5 and seeing that my contacts were gone was cause for alarm). These are complex devices that fail from time to time. Apple isn’t immune from that truth.

* Apple fans demand easy-to-use devices because they aren’t technologically savvy enough to handle anything else. Nonsense. Some of the sharper technology cats I know swear by their iPhones or iPads. Why? They appreciate the hardware, the design and (more often than not) the ton of apps available.

Yes, some people may be feel uncomfortable with with something more complex than the simplistic iOS interface, but suggesting that all Apple fans couldn’t turn on a computer or deal with a software glitch is ridiculous. Frankly, I’d be surprised if there was a lot of correlation between a consumer’s technical skills and their mobile platform of choice. There are a lot of variables at work there.

* Apple fans view their purchases as status symbols. That may be true in some cases, but consider this — perhaps Apple has done so well with iOS because of the sheer number of applications for it. Believe it or not, there are people out there who get an iPhone because there are some things that run on them that simply aren’t available elsewhere. Furthermore, Apple has a reputation for releasing rock solid hardware that integrates flawlessly with iOS and the apps that run on it. There’s some merit to that.

Want to spot the Apple users who are primarily interested in the perceived status of owning an iPhone? They’ll be the ones complaining that the iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4 and can’t be bothered with the technical advancements of the new model.

* Getting an Apple means you have to upgrade every year. Some people might feel the pressure to get the latest mobile device from Apple, but is that typical? Consider this — a heck of a lot of us toting iPhones around got them on two-year contracts. If we update every time Apple releases a new model, that results in new hardware costs, penalties in a lot of cases, etc. The last I checked with AT&T, I would have paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 had I chosen to terminate my contract after a year, go to another carrier and pick up another phone.

Meanwhile, there are still people out there who are carrying iPhone 3s around and they work just fine. Why ditch something that works in favor of the latest thing when we all know that newest phone will become obsolete in a hurry, too?

* Android users are jealous because they can’t afford something from Apple. Hogwash. If we go back to the aforementioned Sony-Ericsson, getting that on a two-year contract cost about the same as the iPhone (it cost $1.49 more, in fact). If spending $200 to get an iPhone is a bit too steep, go for the $99 model that always seems to be around (the iPhone 3gs filled that role nicely when I got my iPhone 4, and now the iPhone 4 has become the low-dollar option).

If you want one of the better Android phones, you’re going to pay about as much as you would for an Apple if you go under contract with a carrier. Want proof? Have a look at this handy comparison chart from Verizon comparing the iPhone 4S and the Motorola Droid 3 while keeping in mind either of those phones can be had for $199 on a two-year contract. Heck, compare Android handsets to the iPhone 4S all day long and one thing becomes clear — there are plenty of top-of-the-line Android products out there and they are on par with Apple in terms of price.

Yes, there are some bottom-dollar phones and freebies available, but there are a lot of fast, expensive ones that offer specs that are often better than the latest generation iPhone (and, let’s not forget that the 3.5″ display Apple decided to stick with on the 4s looks dinky compared to some of the flashier Android offerings).

Here’s the point — some people just like the Android OS, just as there are consumers that prefer Apple iOS. Economics don’t necessarily figure into the equation in a lot of instances. People simply get what they want and pay for it.

* Android is open source. Open source = free garbage. You get what you pay for. Tell that to Apple itself, which stuffed a lot of open source Linux/Unix/Free BSD components in Mac OS X. Apple, however, built a lot of “closed source” components into Mac OSX, making it properly a proprietary OS with a lot of open source components.

Android has a similar lineage — anyone familiar with Linux will feel comfortable under the hood of the OS after “rooting” a device and getting direct access to the guts of the thing. Furthermore, there are some versions of Android which were developed in a way similar to how Apple developed OSX — making their versions of the operating system unique through some proprietary components. That’s the route, for example, Sony-Ericsson took and the one Amazon took with its Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble took with its Nook Color.

There is a reason, after all, why Android users have to wait to install the latest versions of the OS —  hardware versions have to release their own “flavors” of Android after dealing with their closed source components.

By the way, the Kindle Fire will be a fascinating one to watch simply because Amazon has chosen to lock it down so much. Amazon officials want users to utilize the company’s own Android store rather than Google’s to download apps and content and has effectively locked their systems down tight (one might say they’ve acted like Apple when it comes to controlling their hardware). Barnes & Noble tried some of that with the Nook, but people rooted those tablets and ran more “open” versions of Android, regardless. Will we see the same thing with the Kindle Fire? That may well be the case, but how many users will actually root the tablets? One can open up the iPhone by jailbreaking it, the people who exercise that option appear to be a small minority.

All in all, the whole iOS vs. Android bickering comes across as pointless and based on a lot of misconceptions. While I’ve come to prefer the Android platform, I’m well aware that Apple iOS does have its strengths and charms. Which OS is “better” is a highly subjective question that’s as impossible to answer as whether Linux, Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows is objectively better.

Besides, strong competition between Apple and Google in the mobile arena results in more innovation and better products for consumers from both camps. For that reason alone, I do hope both operating systems are around for a long time and their development teams keep trying to outdo each other.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

19 Comments »

  • Guest said:

    Well written article that hits the nail right on its head.

    Bravo

  • Ne0 said:

    …Well, as soon as Apple stops these frivolous lawsuit wars !

  • KlueMaster said:

    Great Article
    This is one of the most balanced articles I’ve read in this regard. Frankly I don’t care whether people trash a particular device or not. I don’t care what the device does, all that matters to me is what I can make it do.

    So, yeah for that matter my preference lies with Android. However, iPhone 4S with ‘siri’ looks good enough to give it a try, now that most developers port their applications on both platforms (android and iOS). However, I will still wait and watch as I’m expecting Google to one-up Apple here.

  • einc70 said:

    I think since the launch of Google + sparks, tech magazines has had considerable grip on users attention. Agreed with some here, a well written balanced article on the subject. I think Apple is having the same woe with mobile devices it had with the PC war with Microsoft in the 90’s. I think that woe engraved in their genes. I still prefer Android myself. just don’t want to be locked up on someone else’s world. I want to build my world. This I find accessible with Android. I want to mimic iOS platform more power to me (nobody else’s care…) but why should I? Proprietary components who cares? Its available by the Open Source community at large (thanks to xdas). Plus there are more independent engineers coming out with custom roms derived from the popular ones such as cyanogen and what not… Honestly I can’t ask for more. This is what’s compelling to me compared to iOS. I see more of this for casual users use? ok fine… I like the freedom of Android way more appealing.. plus it’s a community project and not commercial hashbound … “Open Source = free garbage” I very much skew this cos every Samsung and HTC, now kindle fire sold devices, royalties goes to MS. Android free OS a definitely NO!

  • erich said:

    Great article. I wish more journalists would take this approach regardless of their personal stance. They are both strong and have equal but differing merits.

    Because they both exists, the winner is the market and two strong options for consumers. Go capitalism.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Guest — Thanks, I tried. And now, I hope the article is even better thanks to the miracle of editing 😉

    NeO — All too true. The “if you can’t beat ’em, sue ’em” attitude will result in little but ill will toward Apple.

    KlueMaster — Thanks for the kind words and I completely agree. I love to see Android and Apple constantly develop their stuff as the consumer ultimately wins. Just imagine how stagnant things would be if one or the other was the only game in town.

    einc70 — The war Apple is going through now does look very similar, doesn’t it? Apple wanted to control the OS and the hardware it ran on back then while Microsoft just wanted to sell its OS, and Apple’s approach is the same when it comes to mobile devices. Interestingly, Apple clearly lost the PC wars so one has to wonder if the results will be the same in the latest conflict…

    erich — Thanks! That whole diatribe was the result of researching the Kindle Fire (we pre-ordered one for my wife) and seeing it constantly compared to the iPad 2. I didn’t give a hang about the iPad 2 — I wanted to learn about the Kindle Fire, yet allegedly neutral journalists seemed more interested in claiming the Amazon product was inferior to the much more expensive Apple than writing reviews.

  • Shawnuff said:

    This is by far the best article I have read. Not that it got me any closer to a decision between Apple or Android, but it summed up what I’m feeling as a consumer searching for the best option (Android vs. Apple). I was stuck with BB as the only option, company phone, until this month. My phone is actually being turned off today and I have been so torn between Apple or Android that I’m now potentially going to be without service. I have literally been in the store three times, twice to pre-order the iPhone 4s & once to buy the Bionic. I left without making a purchase all three times. Bottom line is I want it all:) The good news is we wouldn’t know what “all” was if there wasn’t competition.

    Side note… I’m also struggling with the carrier. Sprint Unlimited vs. Verizon. I asked my wife if I could take her number since she was grandfathered into Verizon Unlimited and she said yes, but that might cost me a small fortune down the road if we aren’t both on Unlimited.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Shawnuff — It is a chore to pick out a phone these days, isn’t it? But, that’s good news ultimately. While I’ve grown to dislike my iPhone 4, the truth of the matter is that most of us only have to deal with the ramifications of our decisions for two years. That, in the scheme of things, isn’t long.

    That said, it all comes down to just a few factors. Considering that both platforms offer plenty to users, it’s a matter of hardware. In my case, I want the biggest screen I can get, a CPU that’s fast enough to last until it’s time to get something else and a physical keyboard. That all screams “Android,” but that’s a highly individual decision. If you don’t mind a completely locked-down OS, don’t mind a virtual keyboard and want a phone that you know will be reliable for a couple of years, perhaps an iPhone is fine.

    Here’s the point — there are a lot of great products out there right now. We, as consumers, should be celebrating and enjoying that rather than criticizing those who (gasp!) prefer one platform over another.

    Good luck choosing a phone and carrier. Of course, I lean toward vs. Verizon because that company has a huge presence in Arkansas (they bought Alltel out a few years ago), so that will probably be my next carrier.

    Biased? I sure am…

  • Gerard said:

    The possesive form of “its” doesn’t have an apostrophe. ( it’s Kindle Fire -> its Kindle Fire.)

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Gerard — good catch. Such things are easy to overlook at 2 a.m.

  • Paula said:

    great article. If everyone wrote like this I would have less “anaylsis paralysis” in trying to decide what to replace my 1st gen ipod touch with. An iphone (higher phone bill), an ipad (continue using plain prepaid phone), or a Kindle Fire. Most articles don’t give me the information I need to make a decision.

  • Gib Wallis said:

    Ethan, this was generally really well balanced, but I’d like to respond to a point or two…

    First, I’m an Apple fan, but not an iPhone/iPod/iPad fan. The Mac is a lot more customizable than the mobile Apple products. Also, I have loathed iTunes from its inception when Apple bought out the makers of SoundJam for the Mac (which was great and customizable) to port their code to the first iteration of iTunes (which was locked down and started violating Apple’s own UI rules).

    I do look at the iPhone and think, gee, it has so much going for it as a baby of the Mac, but it’s just not customizable. I think the open vs. closed thing is a canard for most people. That it has been locked into iTunes and tethered to a computer by a cable has also been a major drawback. I have a lot of friends who still post to Facebook “My phone got wet! Please email me all of your contact information” — and they have iPhones and just never back them up because wires are so annoying. It looks like the new iPhone and iOS 5 with iCloud may finally be solving that part of it, but friends who were fans of iTunes for simplicity have found themselves facing down major upsets when they switch computers or phones and MP3 players or stereo systems and find that tricky DRM keeping them from having their music when they migrate.

    For me, the iPhone 4S with Siri is pretty tempting, but I’d have to figure out the straight jacket ahead of time for those kinds of things.

    Second, have you seen that the Kindle Fire is really as locked down as an iPad? I haven’t seen any in-depth reviews investigating the Amazon version of Android. Because they haven’t jumped through Google’s hoops, they don’t have access to the market, but that’s very different from Amazon locking down the Kindle Fire from the standard Android setting of allowing non-Market sources. If you can get the APK files from other Android stores, just not the Android Market, then the Kindle Fire wouldn’t be as locked down as the iPad, because the iPad requires jail breaking to access other app stores.

    I’ve ordered a Kindle Fire because I like Amazon a lot. I’m hoping it will be more customizable as a tablet than the Kindle eInks are as eReaders (which, I don’t care I can’t customize it because I only use it for reading).

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Gib — Thanks for the comment. You know, you’re (perhaps) somewhat rare — a Mac fan who isn’t too hot on Apple’s mobile products. I may fall in the same category as I’ve liked Macs for years as I’ve used them often and still credit the company for pushing Microsoft to improve Windows over the year (well, with the exception of Vista, possibly). Do I own a Mac now? Nope. I simply want to get the best specs for the lowest price, perhaps strip the OS off the system and replace it with Linux, etc. Still, I learned to appreciate Macs back in my reporter and editor days — Photoshop, Quark Express, etc. all ran great on them in the 1990s when Windows machines struggled mightily with those programs.

    I do agree, then, that Apple has locked down its mobile products a light tighter than its desktop/laptop line. That’s one of the main reasons I’ll not deal with anything mobile Apple produces after the contract is up on my iPhone 4 and it’s time to get something else. Yes, one can open up those Apple products by jailbreaking them, but that’s a chore as Apple constantly comes up with “updates” to defeat those efforts, leaving one with a chore when it’s time to update (the notion of a “tethered jailbreak” bothers me considerably).

    Meanwhile, I’ve also come to hate iTunes as it’s a cumbersome pile of slop that is worthy of Microsoft and not a company that prides itself on designing programs that are easy to use. That monstrous program is simply a barrier to keep people from accessing their hardware directly to upload content and a store for Apple. I’ve got no use for that.

    At any rate, I did make mention of the very real possibility that the Kindle will be locked down as tight as an iPad. A good number of questions about that device remain unanswered and you’ve hit on some of them. Can one get APKs off the Internet for installing “unapproved” apps such as Netflix? Will Amazon actively seek to block people who root the tablets (it appears the company won’t do that)? Is sideloading MOBI files through a USB cable OK? I’d rather seem some efforts to get those questions answered than what we’re getting — carping that a $200 tablet doesn’t have the firepower of an iPad 2 and is, thus, worse. Odd…

    At any rate, I got my iPhone 4 solely because my experience with the Sony-Ericsson Android handset was so intensely negative. I’ll do my homework the next time around.

  • god said:

    “””” Which OS is “better” is a highly subjective question that’s as impossible to answer as whether Linux, Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows is objectively better.””””
    LINUX, any more silly questions?

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