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Android v iOS: The User Experience

iOS and Android. Two mobile operating systems, two dominant players in the market. Depending on where you're located, there's a high probability that your phone, probably the one you have in your hand right now as you're reading this, is using either iOS, or Android. Less than 2% of the world's users use a mobile operating system that isn't iOS or Android. Depending on what part of the globe you look at, you'll find different numbers of the usage across both operating systems. What separates the two? What similarities and what differences exist between an iPhone and an Android phone that sway a user towards one side of the fence? This isn't going to be a one versus the other topic. In many ways, both can be described as two sides of the same coin. A coin by the name of 'smartphone' that plays a significant part of our lives today.

I've used an iPhone for 10 years. I started off with an iPhone 5 and ended my journey with an iPhone 13. Since I've always had an iPhone, I never sought anything other than an iOS smartphone. The mere thought of an Android phone was alarming to me, likely because I had little to no information about Android devices as I was living in an echo chamber of sorts filled with iOS information. As I got older, I began developing more interest in technology and software, and experienced the way smartphones got better with time. This translated to more devices in my household, as each complemented the other with sublime synchronisation to enhance the end user experience.

However, with my phone, it was different. While the number behind my iPhone changed, the marginal utility I derived from each subsequent upgrade, began to increase at a diminishing rate. The hardware of my phone may have changed with an upgraded camera system, more powerful chipset, a brighter and more responsive display, and a bigger battery; the software inside the phone remained largely unchanged. Upgrading my phone became a quick process of transferring my data to a new device, getting a new case, and revelling in the thought of a shiny new product that just came into the market. The user experience though, didn't change for me. This can be perceived as a positive, or a negative aspect of technological change, as you'll see later in this blog post. However, I couldn't help but gravitate towards a particular new Android device that just launched as well, just to see what was waiting for me on the other side of the fence. Having made the jump 2 months in, there are a few key takeaways:

Price of a New Toy

The Android phone I decided to purchase was the Google Pixel 7 Pro. This isn't sponsored by Google, there was something about the design and software of the Pixel that got me attracted to it. Everything I'm going to talk about is purely from my own personal experience.

Upon switching to a Google Pixel 7 Pro, the first change I experienced was a drastic increase in my screen time. For better or worse, I was spending a lot more time on my phone, simply exploring all the new features at my disposal. The user interface (UI) of my first ever Android phone, and unfamiliar. It was as if I was taken back to my childhood and was given a new toy in my hand to play with. Every day, discovering a new feature excited the child in me, and kept me hooked to this new system. There was a whole lot of unlearning and relearning going on, as I was gradually getting the hang of what my new phone could do for me.

All this, for a significantly lower price than what I would've paid, had I gone for an iPhone upgrade. The price of smartphones varies across different global markets due to economic policy differences. In Australia, the Pixel 7 Pro starts at $1,299 while the iPhone 14 Pro Max (Apple's flagship) starts at $1,899. The two phones are comparable due to their size and specifications. Simply put, the best of Google and the best of Apple. A $600 difference in price, is significant. The $600 one saves can be spent on a new wireless headset or towards another device such as a smartwatch, TV, laptop, soundbar, gaming console, etc. Similarly, Samsung's flagship, the Galaxy S22 Ultra starts at $1,849 while the smaller S22 Plus starts at $1,549. Another difference in price between the various phones. In some countries however, this difference is even more significant, and so is an important factor in someone's decision as to which phone to upgrade to.

Despite this, Apple's iPhones continue to sell each year with thorough excitement from the crowd. Clearly, the formula is working, and price may not necessarily be the most important factor in the decision making process. If so, then what might be?

Family of Devices

There are features that I admittedly miss from an iOS device. Firstly, the majority of apps all across the board, are better optimised for iOS, than they are for Android. This means that I found the general UI for each individual app to be smoother and friendlier on iPhone, versus an Android phone. A big reason behind this is that when optimising for iOS, app developers work with one uniform OS for one particular set of devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). For Android however, there are multiple phones to choose from such as Samsung, Google, OnePlus, Sony and Motorola to name a few. As a result, app developers must optimise their app in accordance to each phone's individual hardware and software capabilities, screen size differences, display disparities and performance variations. The result comes in the form of an app that does the job, but often at the cost of a friendlier UI, especially when compared with iPhone. Apple has done incredibly well to create a centralised UI across their devices, which brings us to the next sub-topic.

Tech companies have become adept at creating what's commonly known as an ecosystem. Simply put, this is a network of devices from one company that seamlessly connect and integrate with each other through hardware and software. For example, Apple's ecosystem consists of its devices: iPhone, MacBook, iPad, AirPods and Apple Watch to name a few. These products work seamlessly together with Apple's software services such as iCloud, FaceTime, iMessage, AirDrop, Apple Music, Health and Find My Device. The deeper you enter into the ecosystem, the more difficult it becomes to leave given how easy the integration between your workflow becomes. So if you're using an older iPhone and are looking for an upgrade, you're more likely to purchase a new iPhone rather than an Android if you have a pair of AirPods and an Apple Watch.

Other companies have been implementing the ecosystem idea as well, given how effective it can be to retain customers. Samsung has a wide lineup of smartphones, along with its Galaxy Tablet, Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Buds. Google recently announced the Pixel Watch and Tablet that will work together with the Nest hub, Pixel phone and Buds along with Google's software and suite of services (YouTube, Gmail, Drive, etc.).

There may also be instances of peer pressure at play because of this when it comes to deciding what phone to buy next, particularly amongst teenagers. For context, if an iPhone user texts another iPhone user using iMessage, the colour of the message appears to be blue. This works in group chats as well, if the group consists of iPhone users or users with any Apple product, the iMessage will keep the colour blue. Until recently, if an Android user were to message an iPhone user, the message would appear as a green bubble rather than a blue one, since it would be a regular SMS, not an iMessage. Google's answer to this was the implementation of Rich Communication Services (RCS), the next generation of texting to enable file sharing, payments, calls and more to its messaging app. As trivial as they may sound, teenagers in USA are succumbing to peer pressure as the general consensus towards these 'green bubbles' is that they are 'unacceptable' amongst social groups.

Again, these are teenagers we're talking about.

Social pressures to buy a certain phone that instill fear that in not doing so, one would be excluded from a particular group, can influence the person in question to buy the phone just to 'fit in'. Keeping aside how affordable the phone may be for that specific individual, one may paint a picture to describe this. Are these people relying on materialistic objects to determine the strength of their relationships with one another? If so, how did that happen?

Over To You

If you're looking to upgrade your existing phone and are unsure which one to go for, there's a way to make this decision a little easier. Apart from the usual activities that people do on their smartphone such as communication, internet browsing, social media, there are a few other points worth discussing when deciding which OS to choose. Simply put, if you're someone who enjoys having a standardised process of doing everything on their phone, don't like spending too much time on customising and want everything done for you so you can carry on with your tasks and network with others who have the same phone, iOS may be the right choice for you.

Alternatively, if you're someone who loves the idea of customisation, who wants more freedom and flexibility with changing the way your phone feels with widgets, apps and animations, who are open to trying new features and even new hardware while keeping the core software elements similar, Android may very well be the way to go.

Regardless of which side you fall into, what we do encourage you to do is to open your mind to what lies beyond the fence. If you're an iOS user, open your mind to considering an Android phone, and vice-versa, if you're an Android user, consider trying an iPhone. Keeping aside the difference in price, availability and social user base, see how the software makes you feel. As mentioned earlier, they're in many ways two sides of the same coin. It's often word-of-mouth, advertising, preconceptions and peer pressure that influence people to close their minds to the possibility of what may lie beyond the fence. Looking past the pre-existing notions associated with either OS might help you realise how much you enjoy a particular feature that you never thought you would, simply because you just didn't have it earlier. Visit your local tech store and sneak a peek at what the other OS has to offer.

They won't bite.


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