How Does Android Compare to the iPhone? Top 5 Wins and Losses

Sure, on the surface Google's Android seems more like a shot through the heart of Windows Mobile -- or the head of Palm's Linux-based OS 2.0 aspirations -- but while those platforms enjoy their own historical and market share, it's Apple's iPhone that has all the mind share of late. That means, despite Google's CEO being on the Apple Board of Directors, Google's Maps, Search, and other services having a prominent place on both devices, and -- let's face it -- Google's full on tech-crush for the iPhone -- no one is going to hesitate to pit the two systems head-to-head. Including us!

So, what advantages does each one have? What drawbacks? Here they are, in our opinion: the top five iPhone vs. Android Wins and Losses... after the break!

How Android Wins

1. Hardware Options

Unlike the singularity of the iPhone, Android follows the current Windows Mobile model (and old Palm OS model) of creating a software platform meant to be implemented by a wide range of different manufacturers across an even wider range of hardware (some speculate beyond even the phone paradigm). Want a keyboard? Touch? Flip? Yellow racing fins? No problem, take 1 from column A and 2 from column B. After all, people tend to be diverse if not unique, and no single device can possibly meet the needs of each and every consumer. By letting manufacturers offer hardware choices, Android wins.

2. Developer Freedom

While the iPhone App Store has been a million (going on billion) dollar success, it has also been an endless source of controversy rooted not only in Apple's desire to control seemingly every aspect of ecosystem, but the capricious -- and callous -- way in which they've thus far chosen to exercise that control. By contrast, Google is offering what amounts to a totally free Marketplace where developers can pretty much create and deploy anything, limited only by their innovation and determination. Podcaster? Fine. Mailwrangler? Okay (even though it likely duplicates Google's built-in Gmail client). It's the classic Open Source argument. (Heck, even the OS itself is Open Source!) By being free as in speech (though Google is wealthy enough to spot developers at least a few beers as well!), Andorid wins.

3. Killer Cloud Connectivity

Let's face it, the cloud is the future, and while Apple has struggled (cough-MobileMe-cough) with that future, Google owns it. Google Search. Gmail. gCal. Google Docs. Google Maps. YouTube. Knol. Chrome. And the list goes on and on (and on). If they can flip the switch and truly, seamlessly integrate everything, not only between applications but across desktop, laptop, and handset, it will make for perhaps the most compelling offering ever on the market. By not being the next Windows-class platform (which superseded the earlier Mac), but by potentially being something even greater, Android wins.

4. DRM-Free Media

The iPhone is hooked into the largest and most successful media fountain in the business, iTunes. The record labels and Hollywood, however, fearing Apple will become another Walmart, able to dictate terms (taken, no doubt, to a Jobsian extreme) have with the exception of EMI, denied iTunes the higher quality, DRM-free music they are willing to give to competitors like Amazon. Google, despite being Amazon's rival in the data-center-driven cloud computing space, is leveraging Amazon MP3's musical advantage for Android. No word yet on whether they'll ever break the DRM-free TV and Movie barrier (not when Hollywood is cutting off so many noses to spite that face), but for as far as it goes, by providing consumers with content free of DRM that never stopped the real pirates, but made everyday use difficult to the point of exasperation, Android wins.

5. Sergey and Larry

Steve Jobs is the archetypal benevolent dictator, and a divisive one at that. Google's founders, by contrast, enjoy a shinier, happier public image. Whether it's their "don't be evil" motto or their willingness to let Google employees spend 20% of their time (1 day a week) working on solo "skunkworks" projects in the true spirit of innovation, (such as Sergey's gleeful Android "hang time" app?), their youthful energy and enthusiasm powers the Google brand. By presenting a kinder, friendlier, and -- arguably -- funnerer corporate culture to consumers, Android wins.

How the iPhone Wins

1. Unified Hardware/Development

Controversies aside, the App Store has changed the face of application development and deployment (and how scary is it that this represents only one of the iPhone's revolutions). Leveraging the ease of use and power of Cocoa, developers can create applications that will not only run on any iPhone (or iPod Touch) on the market, but be available for market (or for free), at the tap of a button, on each and every one of those devices. While Android developers will have to worry about whether some hardware has keyboards and some not, touchscreens or not (and what resolution?!), real headphones or USB adapters (really HTC? Really?) trackballs or accelerometers -- never mind the endless snafu potential of any manufacturer or carrier making any changes they want to the Open Source OS -- iPhone developers can "just work". By providing a single, unified hardware implementation and the unlimited on-device marketplace that comes with it, the iPhone wins.

2. Best of Both Worlds

While Android enjoys the most complete integration with Google imaginable, we can't forget that Google's business isn't making Smartphones. It isn't Search either. It's advertising. And to advertise, Google needs to be in front of (and holding on to) as many eyeballs as possible. This means Google needs to provide their services to the iPhone (and Windows Mobile, Palm, Blackberry, etc.) as well. So the iPhone gets Google Search, Maps, YouTube, and all the other Google applications they need anyway. What's more, Apple gets to carefully craft their own unparalleled user interfaces and mobile technology on top of and into those Google Services. Google's Android, however, gets nothing from Apple. By iPhone users getting the best of both the Apple and Google worlds, the iPhone wins.

3. Google Getting Slightly Less "Not Evil"

Apple can be smug, uncaring, and wrong-headed [redacteds], fair enough. But while Google professes "don't be evil", their growing size and power should be a concern to everyone who values privacy and security. Bottom-line: they know everything about you. You search for "very private personal issue". They know that, and your IP, and can cross-reference it with everything else you've searched for, and mapped, and (with the GPS in your phone) whether you're on the move. And their business is advertising. They own DoubleClick. Sure, Apple hooks into Google for Safari web search and maps as well, but on the iPhone you can at least choose not to search, or to search Yahoo!, and to turn off GPS. Maybe you can with Android, maybe not. Chrome has set a very poor precedent (no URL box, just search, means Google parses avery web address you type -- never mind the ULA controversy). Given their shiny, happy facade, this makes them all the more terrifying. By the sheer nature of Apple's business model being predicated on pleasing consumers enough to buy their hardware, and not slipping in advertising on the down low with little or no oversight or accountability, the iPhone wins.

4. iTunes International & iPod Ecosystem

For all the greatness that is Amazon MP3, it's entirely USA-centric. Sure, for many people that seems like the whole world -- but it's not. While Big Media deliberately won't give iTunes higher quality DRM-free music, the nature of international media rights is every bit as unfair to Amazon and their offerings. iTunes has had years to navigate this archaic quagmire, however, and while they're certainly not everywhere yet, iTunes Stores are available to a huge number of consumers around the world. And unlike Android at launch, iPhone users in some areas also have TV (including NBC... again), Movies, and the rest of iTunes' massive media content library available to them. Likewise, the Apple ecosystem is mature, providing everything from easy media conversion tools for personal content, to a plethora of accessories, to Apple's full line of other hardware and software products. By providing such a vast, and vastly simple set of content and spherically-integrated supporting environment, the iPhone wins.

5. Steve Jobs

Call him Steve, El Jobso, Dear Leader, or an arrogant [expletive], Steve Jobs has proven time and again to have an uncanny knack for knowing "what's next". Not innovation in the strictest sense, Jobs instead takes futuristic technology and realized it for the masses -- in whatever elegant shade of this and gorgeous material of that he knows is lust-worthy at that very moment. From the CLI of the Apple II, to the GUI of the Mac, to the portability of the iPod, to the multi-touch of the iPhone, Jobs more than anyone this generation has, over and over, pushed the boundaries of consumer technology and the entire industry around it. That's why every Stevenote brings the internet to a grinding halt, and Android's announcement barely registered a stutter on the tubes. You don't dent the universe by committee (which Google's Open Handset initiative and Android Platform most certainly are), and there's no better proof of that than the achievements of Apple under the -- admittedly dictatorial -- guidance of Steve Jobs. By walking onto the stage at Macworld 2007 and pulling the jaw-dropping surprise of the iPhone from his pocket, and by keeping every consumer on the edge-of-their seats waiting for the next Stevenote, and the next "one more thing", the iPhone won.


Every industry needs competition, and while we can't help but worry about our friends over on the Windows Mobile and Palm platforms, we also can't help but think, win or lose, Android will force the iPhone to up its game (and vice versa) as well. Either way, we consumers are the ultimate winners.

Agree? Disagree? Got your own top 5 wins for the iPhone? For Android? For both? Be sure to let us know!

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

How Does Android Compare to the iPhone? Top 5 Wins and Losses


Ok first off... this whole DRM thing is becoming silly.. IT REALLY is..
Tell me, PLEASE TELL ME what the freaking difference is if i buy the Lord of the rings soundtrack on Itunes for 9.99 vs buying the Lord of the rings soundtrack on Amazon for 9.99?? tell me the difference..
oh wait.. it's drm free right? i can use it in other devices? who cares. I'm only ever going to listen to music on an IPOD anyways.. pretty much forever.
And i don't think it's fair to use the "developer" freedom as a point. Apple wants things there way. Who cares, i would do the same thing. Why should i allow some stupid "Who's Rich" application on my App store for 1,000$ ? Why should i allow that?

Good analysis and a lot to agree with. The only place where I disagree is on Sergey and Larry. While they're the poster children of Google they don't run the place - Eric Schmidt does. He's using the founders to market the company much the same way that Microsoft did post Gates and so many companies did after their founders left or took on other roles within the company. As Google becomes less evil Sergey and Larry can simply point to Schmidt and say he did it and walk away with their reputation as sterling as it was before. Jobs can't do that since he's both founder and CEO and all decisions stop at his desk. So Google-5 is sort of an unfair comparison though still an interesting observation.

great review, the only thing i would have added is how the touch screen works for the iphone. i have used almost all the knock off's the dare,shine,voyager or whatever silly name the next knock off is the one glaring difference is the smoothness of the iphone's touch screen. it seems a small detail but when i look at all the functionality of the knock offs and iphone the input was the most annoying and when you think about it also the most used. my 10 cents

You forgot a BIG win for Android -- technical, not just licensing, freedom. Already, the IM client for Android looks light years ahead of anything available for the iPhone, and, due to SDK restrictions, Apple is ensuring that Android will always stay ahead on that front. Or, take a look at a program like Locale -- the iPhone hardware is certainly capable of this, but Apple will not permit it, unless they develop it themselves. This may not be a large Android advantage now, but there is a whole range of developer creativity that will focus on other platforms first, because of Apple's tightfisted grasp. The licensing issue only exacerbates the problem by alienating those developers whose applications are unaffected by the SDK restrictions. Eventually, these two items are going to tip the scales away from the iPhone, unless Apple wises up and treats developers better than their past two decades of history suggest.

I have a iPhone 3g. I have 900 songs on it, and haven't bought the first one. So what's the big deal.

This level of competition is going to be the best thing to ever happen to the iPhone. I think we'll see Apple taking the threat seriously and really pushing the iPhone forwards in all respects.

I would love to buy one of those Android phones... which ones have:
Built-in wi-fi that runs faster than the iPhone's?
Which phone opens Word, Excel and PDF file attachments?
Weigh less than 5 ounces?
Which of them are thinner than iPhone at 0.5"?
Which can I install more than 3,000 different apps into?
Which can I write my own code for?
Which phone has more than 8-16 BILLION bytes of ram? (Without buying extra mem cards)
Which have a better/faster browser than Safari?
Which have 100 accessories that I can buy at stores all over the world?
Which phones cost less than the iPhone's $199?
Which have multi-touch screens bigger than 3.5"?
Which phone sells more than 1 million units... just in the 1st weekend?
Which phone has more than 3 GPS methods? (Cell, satellite, wi-fi.)
Which phone gives you high-speed, UNLIMITED data for under $30/month?
Which phone has more than 25,000 developers writing apps for it?
Which phone can I buy in more than 62 countries?
Which screens are sharper than 163 pixels/inch?
Which phone quickly sold 10,000,000 phones?
Which screens can display more than 16 million colors?
Which has a built-in battery that last 5-10 hours of continuous talk-time?
Which phones let me leave 5000 songs on my home computer, but still play them on my phone from anywhere in the world?
Which phone let's me listen to more than 1,000 free radio stations, even though it has no radio in it?
Which phone can play 50,000,000 movies/videos/TV shows, without storing any of them in the phone itself?
Which phone can make free voice-calls over wi-fi, all over the world?

That has to be the most pernickity response I've came across in years... Clearly by someone suffering from iphonetisis :-p
Google will always be focussed on world domination...fact is they make it nearly impossible to argue with them as they continue to exceed even their own expectations with regards to the apps and services they produce...and allowing their own developers the freedom to independently produce even more will ensure they remain a dominant figure in software development... Apple is just as focussed on covering all corners of the global market, main difference is they're more honest about it. You know what you're getting into from day one.
I've seen both phones first hand and they're both awesome, but if you already have an ipod touch there'd be little point splashing out on the iphone tho as they're almost identical with the main difference being the phone and txt capabilities of the iphone.
Must admit one of my personal "wins" for the iphone would be Pocket Island...tis awesome! :-D

Wow Paula, someone really needs to do their homework on the iphone, and then compare it with the android. Thank You

My son has an iPhone, my wife has an iPod Touch. Both very nice. I've just got a T-Mobile G2 Touch (aka HTC Hero) and can see lots of points where it's better - and some mostly minor ones where the iPhone/Pod is better.
At first glance stylistically the matt-black G2 seems slightly odd but it rapidly grows on you. It's very comfortable to hold, looks great on the table. I now think it makes the iPhone look old-fashioned.
Going through Paula's misinformed statements here's my take on the G2:
WLAN - great speed with a good range
MS Office docs, PDFs - yup can open and read those. I have a PDF London tube map which I use regularly
Weight - Holding the iPhone and G2 they seem similar. If anything, the G2 feels slightly lighter
Memory - the G2 allows you to use the flash memory you want/need. Can you upgrade the iPhone to more memory if you need it? Can you use Class 6? No, I think not
Multi-touch screen - very good although I think the iPhone has better dynamics eg, bounce at the bottom of a scrolling screen. But am I really that bothered by that??
Browser - the built-in browser is excellent. It was a major major gripe with my old WM6 phone. And it supports gestures (multi-touch)
Sales - frankly, I don't measure the quality of a phone by volume of sales, but presumably Paula does. Personally, I think Apple has a big battle on its hands with manufacturers falling over themselves to adopt Android
Screen size - I suggest Paula takes a look at the Motorola Droid which, incidentally, also gives you a keyboard
Localisation - err, yes, the G2 supports cell, satellite and wifi). What planet are you on, Paula?
Now, on the reverse foot:
Music - Which iPhone/Pod allows me to play non-DRM OggVorbis music, or WMA or, of course, AAC? :-) And yes, I can store that music anywhere - on my PC, phone, etc, etc.
Battery - Which iPhone/Pod allows me to swap the battery out or to use a high-capacity version for longer life? Having seen a friend desperately trying to swap the SIM out of their iPhone into an ordinary phone in a coffee shop (anyone got a paperclip?) cos the iPod battery had gone flat, I like that I can simply carry a spare battery for those sorts of moments. Not all the time, of course.
Seriously I could go on, but I can see you're falling asleep. I don't doubt Apple's strengths and ability to exploit the marketplace. And I think this competition is good for us consumers. Just make sure you get your facts straight when comparing Android with iXXX products!

When will Iphone come to verizon? I don't understand if someone is so proud of there phone, why let only one courrier cary it? It doesn't make sence accept for AT&T to get the big money not Apple. As soon as Iphone comes to verizon I will buy one.

Have u considered that not all the crappy android apps are compatible with each other on all phone? iPhone can open ms docs and PDFs as well u idiot. Why would u carry a battery with u? If you need an example of an application running crap on android look at angry birds. Some phone providers refuse to update android and as a result ye angry birds developers had to make separate versions for different android phones. Also look at how many confusing stores the android has. Not all these stores are compatible with every phone.

In conclusion, Rene (the author) said: "Every industry needs competition". That what Android is. It is a competition within itself. It does not even need to compete with iPhone. The competition within itself will naturally make this platform the industry standard in the very near future. Well, at least that is my prediction. One web site put this in such an elegant way. It compares Android and iPhone at is core. Quite informative:

I think there are a couple of other things that were left out on both sides.
On the downside for the iPhone, comes the insurability problem. iPhones cannot be insured against loss/theft through the base cell plans. (Already know of a couple of people that had their iPhones stolen and had to buy brand new units since theft insurance wasn't available.) Also they are generally non-returnable if a customer is displeased with the service.
On the downside for the Android/DROID type phones is the multitude of proprietary power/interface jacks because the base units aren't always standardized through manufacturers. To my knowledge, (and I could be wrong) all iPhones use the same power bases and connectors. The connectors on any other given cell device are not necessarily identical to that of another phone by the same if you need to purchase a replacement while on the may not be able to find the right cords at any given retailer.
I'd stress that these aren't preference or technically driven comparisons. Rather these are simply end user concerns that can come into play.

Paula as I read your comment I was half expecting you to buy an android phone because almost everything you mentioned as iphone only pros the android does flawlessly and 5-10 hours of battery life? Try 12 -16 on the devour not to mention if my battery does die I can just. Swap it out with a fresh one. Try that with an iphone. My friend has an I phone and told me flat out it was not worth the money and he would buy a devour like me or a droid if he wasn't under contract with at&t. And price wise I got my phone for $140 its now on sale at best buy for $70 with a contract so really check the facts before you post a rant about things that you think are facts when your truly beibg ignorant

Ths thread seems to be all about paula lol.
I am not quite sure what her aim was, but she definitely caught the most attention. Lost my iphone yesterday, (I only had it for 2 weeks) and part of me is not that upset. I felt so constricted in this itunes world: i felt like I had made an engagement with apple and i was deffo not ready for that. This having to use to itunes to anything did my head in. The business ot being able to transfer numbers from phone to sim, and do millions of things I can do with an old nokia: easily put whatever tone i want, change the battery when it's flat. Everything is so expensive with an iphone. The bloody charger cost £20: dear me!!! I could not go back to my old nokia now though. I had a taste for smart phones and i need to buy android phone. Not too bothered, I'd love a touch screen one, and one that can have echofor on it, and i can access my hotmail, that's all i do: text, tweet till the cows come home, and surf. any suggestions are welcome. xx
thank you for reading

liloo, if you are a nokia fan with a craving for smartphone features and touchscreen, with a quality finish to go with it, why not try out the the Nokia n8.

I think some people are mac (iphone runs mac os x) and some are ....ehhhh android.
Both have strong points, but the iphone is backed up by mac os x(clearly the best os yet) and ios uses its technologies. So purely the non ui of the os in ios is better. However, i understand why people like android phones. More developing freedom .... And flash? Both just make the system unstable, and flash is , with exeptions(youtube...), only realy used for ads. Anoying ads. They are both unix based, so thats nice. (ms-dos based = fail). Love the way my iDevice integrates with my IMac. I'm a Mac.
Ps: to the guy who said that Android-phones are for smart people... Cmon dude , wth ??? Dont think thats statistically true. I do know (look it up) that mac users are, on average smarter.(just cause i thought thatd be interesting to say)
i prefer apples bussiness model. F****ng ads!!

iPhone is clearly superior then android. My friend was having problems with android when he tried to download a an app. It wasn't compatible with his phone because Sprint refused to allow android to be updated. iPhone has clear uniformity and thus everything runs like it's supposed to. All android is, is another Microsoft windows for phone. The interface is also slot superior on the iPhone in my opinion. The graphics are alot sharper and cleaner then any android phone I've seen.

You spoke about quite a few engaging points here. I found this by searching Bing and I've got to confess that I already subscribed to the blog site, it is quite great ;)

When Android realizes its potential and becomes better than the iPhone I'll by one. Until then I'll stick with my iPhone.

As an iphone4 user myself the current situation recalls to the the mac vs pc since the early 90s. I am still with a PC today. Surely PC users get to choose more abundantly over the limited choices on mac in terms of hardware and software. Prime example; one button mouse vs 3 button. Mac was adamant on their solo button mouse ventures for eons. Many mac users tend stay on with apple regardless of the competition or don't paying through their nose for an equivalent. Apple's closed policy fostered the loyalty from these consumers. The marriage between hardware and software seamlessly integrates as one complete product. That has a branding association and identity attached in this ploy. Apple does a pretty damn good job in the marketing, GUI, industrial design and all the way to the how products are put in a box to the shelf. Now with phones, Andriod's open policies in itself is it's own "flaw". There will never be the kind of hardware/software integration as the founding platform of apple products. There will never be the sort of lifestyle association tied in. The ongoing war shall enable smartphones as an affordable common accessory for the masses.

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